This article is from the April-June issue of Around Africa, AFJN’s quarterly newsletter.

The Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) reaffirmed its commitment to seek observer status at the African Union (AU) during its meeting in March 2011, in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). SECAM, a Catholic Church body made of 37 National and 9 Regional Episcopal Conferences representing all of Africa, is convinced there is an imperative need for a strong advocacy role and voice at the level of the African Union to complement existing national and international Episcopal Conferences efforts.

Under the umbrella of SECAM, African and Madagascar bishops speak with one voice on a range of national and international issues:

Good Governance
On a long list of issues of continental importance, SECAM has made good governance one of its priorities. In October 2009, during the second African Synod of Bishops held in Rome, the bishops addressed the issue of good governance in these terms: “The common good should find legal expression in the Constitution and requires the exercise of good governance. Its practice also needs to respect the principles of democracy, equality among persons, the sovereignty of peoples and respect for the rule of law. Otherwise, democracy loses its vitality and dies.” (Proposition 24)

Peer Review
The bishops urged African heads of states to submit themselves to the Peer Review Mechanism, an instrument of accountability for African leadership which is proposed to be a key component of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

Millennium Development Goals (MDG)
In light of Catholic Social Teaching, SECAM has spoken and welcomed many of the MDG objectives such as childhood immunization, woman in decision-making roles, and reduction of the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. However, SECAM sided with some states and non-profit organizations (NGOs) in rejecting the unacceptable agenda behind the MDG target “to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015”. The Bishops argue that it is not in the best interest of the African people to adopt the gender ideologies going on in the West, the promotion of abortion clinics, contraceptives and sterilizations and emerging alternative life styles such as same sex marriage.
This issue was also addressed during the Second African Synod of African Bishops. In its proposition 38: “As an institution, the family has a divine origin. It is the ‘sanctuary of life’ and the nucleus of society and the Church. …Because of its capital importance and the threats this institution faces, notably, the trivialization of abortion, the devaluation of maternity (child-bearing), the distortion of the notion of marriage and the family itself, the ideology of divorce and a new relativist ethic, the family and human life need to be protected and defended.”
The Catholic Church in Africa has already been called upon to play a key role in helping find a peaceful settlement to political crisis. We can point to the case of Fr. Apollinaire Malu Malu Muholongu who served as president of the Electoral Commission in Democratic Republic of Congo 2004-2006) and then Bishop and now Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya who was Speaker of the Transitional Parliament of the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1990-1994. These examples are of individual Church leaders who either spoke truth to power or personally got involved in improving the situation of their countries.
The bishops have no doubts that the African and Madagascar Catholic Church must be present in national, regional and continental institutions in Africa. By seeking observer status at the African Union, SECAM wishes to have an opportunity for the church as a corporate body to actively be heard by engaging and sharing its experience with the work of the African Union.
During a visit to Washington in early May 2011, a delegation of the SECAM leadership told local members of the Catholic Task Force on Africa that they expect to sign a memorandum of understanding with the African Union with regard to the observer status request by the end of this year.