By Aniedi Okure, OP, Executive Director
This article was first published in our Oct-Dec 2012 “Around Africa” newsletter
On November 21, 2012 AFJN, had an opportune to make a presentation on Catholic Social Teaching and Empowerment of Local Communities for Good Governance to about seventy church leaders and consultants gathered in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania from November 20-25, 2012 for a work-shop on Faith, Culture and Development. Participants included Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Religious, Lay People, and re-source persons. They represented the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Mada-gascar (SECAM), the Pontifical Council for Culture, MISERIOR, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) of Tanzania and representatives of several Catholic Universities in Africa and Rome. The conference was opened by Cardinal Pengo, Archbishop of Dar-Es-Salaam and President of SECAM and was co-chaired by Cardinal Sarr Archbishop of Dakar and 1st Vice President of SECAM, and Arch-bishop Adoukonu, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture at the Vatican.
AFJN – SECAM Collaboration
AFJN’s presence at SECAM Forum is part of our effort to establish strong collaboration with African Church leaders, to listen to their voices so we can better represent Africa in our advocacy mission. We hope to partner with African Church leaders to embrace elements within African cultures that provide a niche for Catholic Social Teachings. Such elements include (1) Human solidarity that finds exaggerated individualism repugnant to communal life, (2) The common good – that decries excessive accumulation of wealth while neighbors die of hunger, (3) Communal ownership of the resources of the earth, and (4) Respect and care for the earth that is captured in African proverb: “We who are alive now do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” These elements are the cornerstones for building a strong civil society. Strong civil societies facilitate social and political participation and are particularly important for the development of enduring and working democracies.
During the work-shop participants discussed ways to facilitate good governance and African policies for development that are anchored in the Gospel. At the heart of Catholic teachings for society and governance is the idea of the common good which requires that each citizen transcends self interest and promote the good for a just communal life. This aspect is captured in the African expression: “I am because we are.”
AFJN Proposal for Civil Societies
AFJN proposed to African Church leaders the creation of civil society organizations whose political values reflect traditional Catholic teachings to be developed in partnership with the appropriate departments of SECAM and its Regional Episcopal Conferences, especially the offices of Justice, Peace, Development and Good Governance and Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies (IPR). Such will be parish based and led by lay people with diocesan oversight. What is imagined in AFJN’s proposal is a sustained
AFJN at SECAM Meeting in Dar-Es-Salaam
process of education and cultivating enduring civil society organizations that are informed by the Church’s rich teachings on justice, accountability and transparency, the principles of subsidiarity and the common good as they apply to different contexts. Several African emerging democracies would greatly benefit from civil society organizations that empower local communities on issues of citizenship and government accountability.
Shady Deals by “Agro-Investors”
The issue of land grab throughout Africa, disguised under the banner of “agro-investment” was mentioned as a case that deserves urgent attention, a social cancer that remains unchecked because of the lack of strong civil societies. The process of land acquisition by investors is marred by shady deals between investors and African political leaders, displacements of local communities from fertile lands, interfering with water supply sources and human rights violations, in addition to mortgaging the resources of future generations to unscrupulous investors. The consequences of land acquisition if allowed to continue will be worse than colonialism.
A Warm Reception of the Proposal
The presentation was well received and several Church leaders at the workshop expressed strong interest in the proposal. AFJN looks forward with eagerness to the next steps in translating the proposal to reality.
By Aniedi Okure, OP, Executive Director