In October of 2002, Sierra Leone was an extremely poor African country worn out by eleven years of civil war. The war left 50,000 dead, two and a half million homeless, and 10,000 missing a hand or an arm, mutilated by machete blows. John Kanu was a willful 30-year-old man from Sierra Leone who, after heroic efforts, was able to obtain admittance to Oxford and managed to earn a master of applied Social Science. The story of how he convinced his family to send him to school (the only child in his village to do this), and how he continued his studies after the death of his father, and how he managed to obtain a visa and a scholarship to study at an English university, could in itself have been the subject of a whole book.
Of the six Oxford graduate students at Oxford from Sierra Leone, five headed for the United States or Canada or stayed in the United Kingdom. Only one, despite a job offer on English soil, decided to return to his devastated homeland—the same John Kanu. Was it nostalgia for his home, regardless of its derelict condition? Political ties? Not at all. You will never guess. “I had discovered Gilbert Keith Chesterton,” says Kanu, “and I wanted to apply his ideas about man and economics to my country”.
Except for those who are passionate about this English Catholic writer, there are only a few who know that Chesterton, together with Hilaire Belloc and Vincent McNabb, is considered the main proponent of Distributism, the economic philosophy that is an interpretation of the social Christian doctrine contained in Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII, and offered as a third way between Socialism and Capitalism.
Among the Oxford professors, Kanu found Stratford Caldecott, director of the Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture. They became friends, and the Englishman introduced Kanu to Chesterton’s thought. “Three themes struck me in particular: the need for, as much as possible, the wider distribution of property among all members of society; the importance of the local economy and the artisans who live by the work of their hands; and the vision of the family as the main unit of society and consequently the base of a more extended multi-generational family. I told myself, ‘This is the best of the traditional African culture, reflected in the economic philosophy of a Catholic writer born at the end of the 19th century. And we are about to lose him.’ I started to think that, when I returned to my homeland, I would found a Chesterton Society in Sierra Leone”.
More here: The African Who Brought Chesterton to Sierra Leone