of the II Special Assembly for Africa
Ecclesiological dimension: We note from the outset that the Church as the Family of God in Africa is the ecclesiological model operating in the whole document. It is like a thread weaving the document together giving it coherence and direction. Like any other model, it has its strong and weak points. It is helpful to note that the Lineamenta underlines the sense of family that characterizes the African world-view and then brings us along to see clearly the challenges facing the Church as family. The Church-family of God is the sign of Christ’s presence amongst us. EveryPresentation given in Rome, on 3 November 2006, at the General Assembly of the Africa-EuropeFaith and Justice Network (AEFJN). The Lineamenta for the 2nd Synod for Africa, to be celebrated in the year 2009, were published on 27 June 2006. They can be found at the following link:
The Arms Trade
The arms trade has caused economic hardship and untold suffering, fuelled political tension, displaced people both internally and across national borders, and has put civilians at grave risk. African political leaders and unscrupulous business people indulge in this illegal trade to perpetuate their position of power and make money at whatever cost (# 17). The purchase of these arms has meant the plundering of the resources of those countries to meet the cost. “This is great injustice and thievery” (# 78). Africa has been a market for the sale of small arms such as pistols, rifles, machine guns and anti-personal landmines. We have seen terrible cases of landmines in Angola and Burundi. Landmines are indiscriminate, inhumane, and deprive people of land and infrastructure because they go beyond any question of ceasefire. A BBC report on March 15, 2000 estimated 100 million illicit small arms circulating in Africa. In 2000 and 2001, Slovakia for example, exported arms to Liberia and Angola. Many of the weapons exported were surplus weapons it was shedding as it prepared to enter the European Union. The Lineamenta rightly attests that international arms trade is a key factor that keeps Africa in a perpetual state of war (# 17).
The challenge facing Africa is how to mobilize forces to put a stop to this evil trade. An effort was made in 2000 when ten countries in Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti) signed an agreement to stop the proliferation of small arms in the region of the Great Lake and the Horn of Africa. They agreed to a greater cooperation and coordination of their police, custom and intelligence officials. Somalia was unfortunately absent for lack of government. Its absence therefore weakened the agreement. The strength of this agreement, therefore, was at its weakest point.
Low Literacy Rate
Africa’s economic and political predicament cannot be described without reference to its low literacy rate. At the dawn of independence, only 16 per cent of the total population of Africa was literate. In sub-Saharan Africa with a population of about 200 million, only 8000 were secondary school graduates. There was no university in the former French colonies. This means that Africa started self-government in the 1960s with an acute shortage of skilled professionals (Meredith, 151). Illiteracy undermines our fragile democracies and leads to unjust exploitation of our resources, imbalances in trade agreements, cheating of rural farmers, etc. In December 2000, the UN proclaimed 2003 to 2012 the “literary decade” and entrusted the programme to UNESCO for coordination. It intended to halve adult illiteracy by the year 2015. According to a 2002 UNESCO report, four out of ten sub-Saharan Africans can neither read nor write. It further stated that, “Of the 21 countries where estimated adult illiteracy rates remain higher than 50 per cent, 13 are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Women account for two-thirds of them” (See “The Long Road to Literacy in Africa” at www.unesco.org). The Director General of UNESCO appealed to governments around the world to assume their responsibilities in the struggle towards a literate world and to guarantee basic education for all citizens. The Lineamenta affirms that Africa’s literacy rate continues to be amongst the lowest in the world (#15, 21) mainly on account of the deterioration of the educational system. We expect that African governments would show greater commitment in providing facilities for education, creating conducive environment for studies, and training good teachers for the classrooms. Creating a literary environment is essential to eradicating poverty, achieving gender equity, and laying the foundation for a democratic society and sustainable development.
The Lineamenta identifies the failure of the agricultural sector as one of the primary causes of socio-economic evils in Africa. The agricultural sector in Africa is heavily dependent on rudimentary agricultural production techniques making farming more a subsistent affair. It also depends heavily on natural factors such as the climate and soil. The climate in Africa is harsh and uncertain, rainfall inadequate and drought a constant hazard, and so food-production is poor and inadequate, barely one-tenth of its needs (# 16).
The treatment of the agricultural sector by the Lineamenta shows a Church interested in the broader question of the development of society. Any programme that aims at reducing poverty must recognize the agrarian sector and the need for its reform. The majority of Africa’s population are rural-based and depends heavily on agriculture for their livelihood. Agriculture accounts for about 35 per cent of the continent’s GDP, and 70 per cent of its total employment. Consequently, if this sector is neglected and or is unproductive, a greater percentage of the African population becomes adversely affected.
The Phenomenon of Migration
The Lineamenta raises the phenomenon of migration (# 16) as another issue of concern. It is seen in the number of refugees, immigrants and rural exodus (# 23). In recent months, the media has become interested in the migration of Africans to the North and West. We have listened to some young people tell chilling stories of their experiences as they attempt to cross the wide and deep ocean dividing Africa from Europe. Their purpose is to run away from the economic woes of their countries, the lack of employment, poor salaries, low productivity of the agrarian sector, etc. Their dream is to make life in the developed countries, but often to their disappointment. In recent years, more and more women are also migrating within and from Africa to satisfy their economic needs. Female professionals, for example, nurses and doctors, are recruited to work in the UK, USA and Saudi Arabia for better pay packages. We add to this phenomenon the trafficking in human beings often women and young persons for sexual exploitation. Migration has become a family economic survival strategy. However, it is depleting Africa of its work force and, thus, reducing the level of economic production. It is reflected in the brain drain prevalent in the region. The Lineamenta describes the situation of Africa, as follows; “To a certain extent, Africa produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does produce” (# 16).
The Cancer of Corruption
The Lineamenta calls corruption a grave injustice that needs to be overcome. It remarks that Christians are themselves unfortunately involved (# 51). Today’s Africa needs liberation from the evils besieging the continent including corruption (# 74). The public sector is tainted with corruption of all kinds; embezzlement of public funds meant for development use, transfer of public money into private overseas accounts etc. This is a serious obstacle to development. The Lineamenta hints that there is an awareness of a “growing opposition to corruption” (# 7). African Union ministers have agreed to propose for adoption by their Heads of State tougher measures to combat this cancer. Africa needs the support of advanced countries whose businessmen offer bribes and collude with their African partners in this “trade”. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace observed in its recent seminar on “The Fight Against Corruption” that poor countries must be helped especially when there are voids at the level of legislation and when they do not have adequate legal structures to fight corruption (p. 15). Fighting corruption in Africa is a new development amongst others that merits to be pursued.
Conflicts, Violence and Wars
The Lineamenta devotes a great amount of time to calling our attention to the horrendous situation of conflicts, violence and wars in Africa. The situation is destroying the continent. It does not allow a peaceful environment for development, forces people into refugee crisis, inflicts hunger and causes unnecessary suffering and diseases of all kind. It humiliates people. It is a contradiction to speak of Africa as having a deep sense of family, solidarity and fellowship, whilst at the same time there are so many ethnic, fratricidal and regional wars, massacres, and genocides (# 36). The message of the Lineamenta is clear, “you are all brothers and sisters, (cf. Mt 23,8), stop wars”(# 40). Making this message reach the hearts of all Africans is a great challenge to the Church as family of God (# 13). The following data will help us understand the gravity of the situation.
- Millions of people in the Darfur region of Sudan remain in windswept camps. Others have died in what is being called genocide as Arab herdsmen and non-Arab largely farmers compete over scarce land and water resources. Behind this conflict is the dispute between the government and the southern rebel groups over how to share oil revenues.
- Somalia disintegrated into bloody chaos more than 15 years ago, and still doesn’t have a central government.
- The Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda continue to cause chaos leading to the death of about 12,000 people and 1.4 million fleeing for their dear lives. Some 20,000 children have been conscripted as soldiers or sex slaves.
Angola fought between 1974 and 2002 between three interest groups, a proxy war for US and Soviet interest. It was the longest civil war in Africa.
- In Sierra Leone the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and government forces fought between 1991 and 2002 for control over the country and diamonds. RUF used diamond to purchase arms and mercenary support from Charles Taylor in neighbouring Liberia. The conflict conscripted a large number of child soldiers and amputated the arms or legs of many civilians. Diamonds became known as “blood diamond”.
- There have been two successive civil wars in Liberia between 1989 and 2003. The beautiful forests of Liberia became known as “blood forests”.
- In 1994, 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians were slaughtered by machete-wielding Hutu militias in Rwanda. The genocide has became one of the most notorious conflicts in the 20th century. In the midst of wars, African slums, with no proper sanitation, portable water, and decent and durable housing, are growing faster than anywhere in the world. (Jason Beaubien, Wars Hamper Social Progress Across Africa. Visit http://www.npr.org; Jennifer Brea, Your Guide to World News, http://worldnews.about.com ). It is easy to understand why development in Africa has stagnated, retarded or heavily retrogressed. Unless there is peace there is no way to do any sustainable development.
It is along this same line that the Lineamenta invites us to develop a spirituality of commitment (# 88). According to St. Thomas, a true worship of God must lead to a truly Christian life. Our mission of stewardship is an expression of our commitment in sharing in God’s creative act. Sharing in God’s creative act is a deep consciousness in carrying out our individual tasks. Love must sanctify our work.
It is imperative that there be good governance (# 11, 46); a government that is accountable, transparent, responsive, participatory, consensus oriented, equitable and inclusive, effective and follows the rule of law (www.unescap.org). While affirming that the common good is the responsibility of both the State and its citizens, the Lineamenta underscores the responsibility of the State to ensure that there is “cohesion, unity and organization” in the society and that all its citizens contribute to the common good (# 46).
The insistence of the Lineamenta on the importance of educating the laity is a laudable contribution. The sub-title, “The Salt of the Earth”, following on the last Synod, emphasizes the role lay persons can play especially “in those places where only a lay person is able to render the Church present”. Taking inspiration from first Synod, it focuses on Catholics in public life, (professionals or teachers, businessmen or civil servants, law enforcement agents or politicians), to give witness to their faith (EA # 108). Good governance is the responsibility of all sectors of society, but it requires the formation of a healthy political and moral conscience to execute it. The formation of “a group of Catholics” or “competent Catholics”, people who are faithful to Christ and highly committed to society”, is a necessary condition for good governance.
The Lineamenta invites the local Churches to set up structures of formation where the laity will be made aware of their responsibility in economic and political life and will be equipped with the necessary intellectual tools to protect and promote their civic, political and social rights (# 66). It also calls on the Church in Africa to find ways and means to encourage “honest politicians who are determined to protect the common patrimony from all forms of waste and embezzlement” (# 15). In many ways this invitation re-echoes the plea of the first Synod for “holy politicians and saintly Heads of State who profoundly love their own people and wish to serve rather than be served” (EA # 111).
Reconciliation, Justice and Peace
This takes us to the question of reconciliation, justice and peace, a central theme in the Lineamenta. Looking at the fact of wars, conflicts and violence in Africa, there is no way the theme of reconciliation, justice and peace cannot be paramount on the agenda of a Synod dedicated to creating paths for the transformation of Africa. The Church is not only a privileged place where the subject of reconciliation and forgiveness can be treated (# 6) but also an ambassador to the world pleading for forgiveness, reconciliation, justice and peace. It is the mission of every member of the Church to be a sign of Christ our reconciliation, justice and peace.
The Lineamenta insists that working for reconciliation, justice and peace could be an area where the three main religions in Africa, African Traditional Religions, Islam and Christianity, could collaborate. There can be no peace without the collaboration of these religions (# 24). All the three religions contain the necessary elements to facilitate this dialogue and service to the continent. Linked with this is the proposal for the education for peace (# 76). “Non- violence and peace are cultural entities; they must be built, taught and learned”, it affirms. Therefore, we cannot leave peace to the pursuit of individuals. It is a collective action.
You would expect that a document devoted to the transformation of Africa would devote considerable attention to the AIDS pandemic. At first glance, it does not seem so. AIDS is mentioned only once as a “worrisome situation” (# 8). But the situation is more gruesome than that. Sub- Saharan Africa is said to be the region most infected by HIV and AIDS within the global picture. AIDS has killed more people in Africa than the conflicts. An estimated 24.5 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2005 and approximately 2.7 million new cases occurred that year. In the past year 2 million people lost their lives to the epidemic. More than 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS (UNAIDS, “2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic”). The next ten years will be more terrible as all these infected cases will have to give up their lives. It is imperative that the international community expand prevention, treatment and care efforts massively. The masses are dying while the pharmaceutical companies continue to do “politics”.
In 1999, the US threatened South Africa with trade sanctions for trying to develop generic and cheaper drugs to fight AIDS, etc. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo-Wellcome, and Pfizer which are in the industry of making AIDS drugs, charged South Africa with violating the World Trade Organization’s patent and intellectual property law. Yet South Africa was only responding to an emergency situation by producing cheaper drugs, something that does not contravene Patent and Intellectual Property Rights. Clearly the underlying goal of the pharmaceutical companies is “profit at all costs” whilst the masses continue to die. The pressure from the pharmaceutical companies continues (www.globalissues.org ).
Other relevant questions
The NEPAD Initiative
Ideologically, the year 2002 could be called the year of the great new start. It was the year of the launching of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union (AU). NEPAD has been baptized the “economic programme of the African Union”. The launching of these two (institutions) triggered off so much debate on whether or not Africa is now braving up to the challenges of development.
The content of NEPAD did not seem clear. People therefore became suspicious. The suspicions carried into assessing this new economic initiative were based on deficits demonstrated by previous economic policies; The Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) of the 1980s, the Cairo Agenda of the mid 1990s, the OMEGA Plan of Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Thabo Mbeki’s Millenium Action Plan of the year 2000, domestic Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs), etc. Also, the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa established in 1958 and has helped to articulate national and regional development plans, provide technical cooperation, and support the OAU’s anticolonial struggles has not been seen to work. On a more practical level, Africans have lost confidence in their political leaders and feared that NEPAD is another programme to distract the population and not a serious programme to address Africa’s predicament. In reality NEPAD is not a totally new partnership programme.
Africa and the International Community
All socio-economic indicators are proving that Africa needs the collaboration of the international community in combating trends that militate against development on the continent. In recent years, and especially through the NEPAD initiative, a new awareness of ownership of Africa by Africa is growing in Africa. This will need to be complemented through the interactive process of partnership or collaboration with Africa by the international community.
Africa will no doubt be required to employ its “abundant natural resources for self-sufficient and sustainable development” so that it would enjoy the benefits of trade and industry (TICAD Tenth Anniversary Declaration in Sept 2003). In such a venture we expect that political leaders of African countries will exercise “committed and progressive leadership” in order to stand equal to the challenge of partnership and cooperation with their partners of the developed countries. In this partnership model, the international community will need to collaborate with Africa in order to consolidate the peace that is coming to the continent and to put an end to the remaining conflicts. They would do Africa a lot of good if they installed measures to stop the illegal trafficking of small arms and destructive weapons to Africa. Lisa Misol, a researcher of the Arms Division of the Human Rights Watch said that “current NATO and EU member countries themselves could do more to stop this illegal trade”.
Conclusion: Investing to Break the Poverty Trap
However, they are not gained overnight. The Church as Family of God faces this challenge in its evangelizing mission. It can be said that, in general, the Lineamenta makes two assertions: (a) Africanleaders have the primary task to finding African solution to the problems of Africa (#7). Individual governments need each other in this enterprise, (b) the Church, the sacrament of Christ among us, recognising itself as a “community that heals, reconciles, forgives and encourages” (# 40), has equal responsibility. At the same time, it cannot do it alone but in collaboration with other religions on the continent.
Questions for further reflection:
- What direction does the Lineamenta give so that the Church in Africa would contribute effectively to the reconstruction of Africa?
- What major points are missing in the Lineamenta?
- There have been many initiatives to lift Africa from its economic difficulties.
Why have they not worked?
- Adesina, J. O. ed. 2005, Africa and Development Challenges in the New Millennium.
- Beaubien, Jason, Wars Hamper Social Progress Across Africa. Visit http://www.npr.org.
- Brea Jennifer, “Africa’s Civil Wars” at http://worldnews.about.com.
- Frérot, Anne-Marie, éd. 2004, L’Afrique en questions
- Meredith Martin, 2006, The State of Africa.
- O’Connell James, A Continent in Transition
- Sachs Jeffery, 2005, The End of Poverty.
- UNESCO Report, 2002, “The Long Road to Literacy in Africa” at www.unesco.org