Each year, the AFJN Staff and Board take some time to consider the major issues arising in the continent of Africa and subsequently choose new focus campaigns. For the past couple of years, AFJN has been devoted almost entirely to raising awareness of the war in northern Uganda. The organization has also tracked the havoc that HIV/AIDS is wreaking on African communities; the challenges posed by Genetically Modified (GM) seeds; the unjust nature of US farm subsidies; and the crises that have been unfolding in places like Zimbabwe, Darfur, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Horn of Africa. Depending on the passions of the current Executive Director and the capabilities of the staff, AFJN must continually reevaluate and shift its foci in order to be the best possible advocate for the peoples of Africa. The staff must also consider where AFJN can take the lead and have a larger influence among the sea of advocates in Washington.
For the remainder of 2007 and through 2008, AFJN will devote its time, energy, and resources to four very important areas of concern: the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), restorative justice, the 2009 African Synod, and the crisis in DR Congo through Congo Global Action Coalition.
AFRICOM and restorative justice are both issues that necessitate greater US and international attention – AFRICOM for its insidious structure, restorative justice for its lack of Western understanding and support. The African Synod is an opportunity for AFJN to take the lead in bringing African issues to the attention of the United States. In the Eastern region of DRC, the fighting and subsequent suffering of civilianscontinues unabated and unattended by the international community.
As recent articles have detailed, the central objectives of AFRICOM include counter-terror operations, resource (oil) protection, and humanitarian work. AFJN, with its long member-history on the continent, is troubled by the blending of civil society and armed forces. A soldier who is one day hunting an alleged terrorist in a village and the next day building a school is a confusing figure for Africans – not to mention the example it sets for fragile governments who already overuse the military in their societies. Furthermore, the foreseen involvement of defense contractors such as Blackwater or DynCorp International does not bode well for improved stability or training among Africa’s militaries. AFJN has been working with several other DC-based organizations to devise a strategy for countering the harmful goals of AFRICOM and will be asking for your assistance in amplifying our concerns.
Restorative justice, or transitional justice, is a means of repairing a community after civil conflict to produce long-term stability. Contrary to the Western form of criminal justice, many African societies have a system that allows a perpetrator to be reintegrated into a community, as long as the grievances of that community are addressed by the perpetrators’ apologies, temporary shame, or ceremonial recompense. Of course, it must be recognized that restorative justice often takes place alongside criminal justice, as there are some crimes for which there can be no pardon. But it is vital that the United States support measures of community justice in Africa otherwise the wounds of a torn society may never rightly heal. Again, AFJN has been working with a coalition of other organizations in Washington to introduce a resolution in the House and to raise awareness for this issue in Congress.
Shortly after the African Synod of 1994, AFJN published a book detailing the process and the outcomes of the Synod. The next Synod will be in October of 2009 and AFJN, along with the Catholic Task Force on Africa, will work to invite the United States Church to be in solidarity for this ecclesial event. The theme of the Second Special Assembly for Africa is “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace.” AFJN is developing partnerships with dioceses, Justice and Peace Offices, and Bishops in Africa who have begun reflecting on the lineamenta, or the ‘working paper,’ in light of this Assembly. AFJN hopes to be attendance in Rome in 2009 and we invite you to share your reflections with us on this important event.
Thus, it is on these three issues, along with Congo Global Action Coalition that AFJN will focus its energy. Restorative justice is a long-term point of advocacy while AFRICOM and the African Synod each have a direct time-frame and will require strategic efforts to ensure AFJN’s effectiveness. All told, the Staff and Board believe that these are important, timely, and relevant issues that will further AFJN’s mission to promote peace and justice on the continent of Africa.
However, we cannot do this work alone. We need your energy and support or our goals are not likely to be met. As always, the best way to receive updates on how you can take action is to sign up for our eNetwork on the AFJN website (ww.afjn.org), if you have not done so already. Also, please feel free to communicate with us, to make a donation to further our work, and to tell your Senators and Representatives in Congress what they can do to promote more responsible US-Africa policy. The members of Congress are your employees – help us hold them accountable for the laws they make.
Thank you for your support and we look forward to working with you as we continue to advocate for a shift in US policy and mentality toward Africa.