April 2000

Table of Contents
Caroline Obonyo Joins AFJN Staff

Cancel Mozambique's Debt
African Updates
New AFJN Project
National Summit on Africa

A Blessed Easter to All of You!
We wish you the blessings of a renewed faith and spirit as we enter this sacred Easter Season. At AFJN, we felt a special surge of fresh energy at the end of February when a new staff person joined us here in D.C.! Her name is Caroline Obonyo and she fills the position of Organizational Advancement Manager. We're overjoyed to have Caroline with us. You can read more about her in this issue.

We are also excited that AFJN is undertaking an original project called the Africa Grassroots Response Initiative. We are relying on it to expand and amplify our justice efforts for Africa. We'll begin reporting on its progress in the next couple of months.

May Easter be a time for us to recommit ourselves and intensify our ministry of justice and peace. May God bless Africa and each of us.

Larry J. Goodwin, Executive Director
Ezekiel Pajibo, Policy Analyst
Caroline Obonyo, Organizational Advancement Manager
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Ms.Caroline Obonyo Joins AFJN Staff
We are extremely pleased to announce that in February we welcomed Ms. Caroline Obonyo to our AFJN staff. Caroline joins us to take on the new position of Organizational Advancement Manager. She will have primary responsibility for the vital areas of member and resource development and database management.

Caroline is originally from Uganda and has lived at various stages in East Africa and Sudan. Due to political insecurity, her family fled to the United Kingdom in 1988 where they were granted refugee status. Having personally suffered the consequences of human rights abuse, Caroline committed herself to ensuring these essential freedoms for every man, woman and child and decided to train as a Lawyer. During the summer of 1996, prior to commencing her legal practice, she undertook an internship at the South Carolina Capital Litigation Center. Since then, her legal career has included practice in employment, family and criminal law.

In 1999, Caroline was the recipient of the Ralph Bunche Fellowship with Amnesty International USA=s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. One of her main fellowship projects was coordinating the National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty, challenging communities of faith to advance death penalty abolition. We are very happy to have her with us and wish her blessings in her important work for AFJN.
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The Mozambican Debt Group is renewing its appeal for an immediate cancellation of the country's external debt. Mozambique is currently paying $1.46 million a week in debt services. The debt crisis has hindered the development of the country for decades. The economic situation of Mozambique was precarious already before the flooding that started in February - now the economic situation has gone from precarious to catastrophic.

Statistically, the Mozambican economy has been growing rapidly during the last years. The growth has, however, mainly benefited the commercial centers: Maputo and the so-called development corridors that link Mozambique to its neighboring countries. Most of Mozambique has not seen the fruits of this growth. Nearly 70 per cent of Mozambicans live in the countryside. It is the life of these people that has been worst affected by the flooding.

The emergency aid and the money needed for long term development should at no point compete with each other. The World Bank and IMF officials have estimated that the economic impact of the floods will be limited to about one per cent of GDP. Almost one third of the country has been flooded, approximately one million of the population of 17 million have been seriously affected. With the harvest gone, these people have lost their livelihood. The estimates of the WB and IMF clearly show the lack of connection between their statistics and the reality. Positive economic indicators are no guarantee for even distribution of wealth.
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Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On Feb. 24, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to send peacekeeping troops to the DRC. The proposed UN force includes 500 military observers and 5,000 UN troops. The UN decision followed a Feb. 23 regional meeting held in Lusaka at which leaders from Zambia, DRC, Rwanda, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe and Uganda expressed readiness to assure the security of the UN presence.

In mid-February, Cardinal Frederic Etsou of Kinshasa, DRC, visited Washington, D.C. to meet with administration and congressional officials and seek U.S. support for the urgent deployment of UN peacekeeping troops to his country. The Cardinal also met with NGO representatives, the United States Catholic Bishops= Conference, and Cardinals James Hickey of Washington D.C. and William Keeler of Baltimore. He consulted with Catholic Relief Services and participated in the National Summit on Africa. His visit was facilitated by AFJN and the National Endowment for Democracy.

The Burundi Government's decision to close down at least 10 re-groupment camps is moving at a painfully slow pace. So far only one camp has been closed. The decision resulted from criticism by human rights and relief organizations of the horrendous conditions in the camps.

Meanwhile, former South African President Nelson Mandela held a second meeting in Arusha, Tanzania to forge a peace agreement on Burundi. The Feb. 21 meeting included three European ministers and leaders from six African countries. France and the U.S. addressed the meeting via tele-conference.

In the last several weeks, hundreds of people were reportedly killed during clashes between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. The violence followed protests by Christians in Kaduna State where Muslim leaders were proposing the introduction of Sharia (Islamic) Law. Hundreds of homes were burnt as well as mosques and churches.

Following a meeting of the National Council of States (NSC) in early March, implementation of Sharia law in northern states was suspended and the NSC called on religious leaders to urge their followers to halt the violence. Muslim leaders responded with a plea for peace.

Ethiopia/Eritrea Conflict Flares Again
During the week of February 24, fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia erupted again. Both sides traded accusations over who renewed the clashes. The fighting was reportedly brief but it complicated the work of peace envoys from the U.S. and U.N. in the region to facilitate mediation.

Sierra Leone
Representative Tony Hall (D-OH) has introduced the Consumer Access to a Responsible Accounting of Trade Act (H.R. 3188) which seeks to disclose the source of gem quality diamonds and diamond products imported into the United States. According to the bill, the U.S. imports more than half the world's diamonds and consumers increasingly want to know if their purchases are helping to fund war or human rights abuse. Several wars in Africa, including the recent one in Sierra Leone and ongoing conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are largely funded by diamond sales.
Write to your representative and urge her/him to co-sponsor H.R. 3188. Write to: U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515.

Liberian Immigration Bill
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is the original sponsor of the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1999 (S. 656). This bill would protect Liberian refugees and their families from being forcibly deported when their lives and freedom might be under severe threat. Human Rights reports from the U.S. Department of State and Amnesty International have called attention to the continuing pattern of abuse against citizens by the Liberian government.

Since March of 1991, over 10,000 Liberian refugees have resided in the United States. Their "Temporary Exclusion from Deportation" status was extended by President Clinton until September of this year. Against this backdrop, Sen. Reed mounted his effort to accord certain Liberian nationals lawful permanent residence.
Urge your senator to support S.656. Write to: US Senate, Washington, DC 200510.
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New AFJN Project
Africa Grassroots Response Initiative

This year AFJN is launching a new project called the Africa Grassroots Response Initiative. With the support of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Jesuit Office of International Ministries and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), the project aims to build a mutually supportive relationship between AFJN and social justice leaders in Africa to foster U.S. economic policies consistent with Catholic social justice principles. AFJN will seek out select project partners from among diocesan and regional Justice and Peace Offices, African NGOs, missionary personnel and colleagues in the U.S. and Europe. One of the primary objectives will be to establish a professional level electronic communication network between AFJN and the project participants focused on links between U.S. African policy and human rights, economic justice, conflict resolution and sustainable development, with particular attention to the impact of globalization on Africa's poor majority.

In order for AFJN and other Catholic social justice groups to assess what kinds of U.S. policies truly benefit Africa's people, Africans, church leaders and development workers at the grassroots level must be an integral part of the process. It is imperative for the Catholic social justice community to help U.S. policy makers heed the small holder farmers, women, laborers and local business people who will be most affected by policies the U.S. enacts toward Africa. AFJN is well positioned to play a crucial role in seeking out those African voices and channeling them into the policy debate.

AFJN can develop and effectively use electronic networks to share and disseminate country-specific reports, action alerts on debt, trade and human rights, social justice statements by African bishops and bishop's conferences and information on how U.S. policy decisions affect poor people. More importantly, AFJN can use these networks to direct African church, civil society and grassroots concerns about U.S. policy to church organizations, public policy groups and government leaders in the U.S.

The Africa Grassroots Response Initiative is an exciting step forward for AFJN. In collaboration with CRS, the Jesuits and the OMIs, it will enable AFJN to amplify the scope and impact of its work. As the project develops and matures, we will report about it regularly on our web site. There will also be updates in future issues of Around Africa, and we plan to set up email groups for direct participation in the project. We are confident that the Africa Grassroots Response Initiative will provide tools for AFJN members to do more effective advocacy with U.S. public policy decision-makers. We welcome your feedback and reflections as the project takes shape.

If you would like to help support the Africa Grassroots Response Initiative, please send your check to AFJN and write "AGRI" on the memo line.
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National Summit on Africa
AFJN staff were among some 2,300 delegates who gathered from February 16-20 in Washington, DC, for a summit whose stated purpose was to build a political coalition for Africa. The summit
=s program was weighted heavily toward the presence of U.S. and African government officials. U.S. corporate interests were much in evidence throughout the proceedings, and African expatriates were highly visible among the delegates. There was good representation from the NGO and faith based communities.

The National Summit on Africa (NSA) was the culmination of a four-year effort funded largely by the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The end result was approval of a 254-point platform B an at-times contradictory list of policy recommendations B called the "National Policy Plan of Action for U.S.-Africa Relations in the 21st Century."

Beginning in May 1998, the National Summit on Africa convened a series of regional summits around the U.S. that focused on five broad themes

  • democracy and human rights

  • economic development, trade and investment, and job creation

  • education and culture

  • peace and security

  • sustainable development, quality of life, and the environment

Regional summits in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Denver, San Francisco and Baltimore elected state delegates who, together with 500 national at-large delegates, were charged with formulating the recommendations for the National Policy Plan of Action. Many of the proposals endorsed by the summit urged the U.S. to commit to laudable things like providing increased funding for AIDS prevention, supporting a ban on land mines, ending small arms sales to Africa, funding peacekeeping missions, protecting Africa's environment and comprehensive debt relief for Africa. However, in spite of considerable opposition, an obvious pre-determined goal of the summit=s leadership was to promote passage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade bill supported by U.S. corporate interests but opposed by AFJN and other social justice groups. Even though a fractured deliberative process resulted in a contested final statement of support for the bill, a press release at the end of the summit dubiously attributed backing for passage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act to the entire delegate assembly.

As originally conceived, the NSA was meant to disband after the formulation of the National Policy Plan of Action. However, the NSA leadership are now urging that the summit be institutionalized under the name of the AAmerican Council for Africa,@ headed by a board with 50% corporate representation. Many summit participants and even some NSA board members oppose this move. In fact, some board resignations have resulted from this proposed action.

Many African and NGO delegates were angered at sponsorship of the summit by corporations like Chevron with poor social and environmental records in Africa. They were equally offended by the appearance of Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi as the sole African head of state to address the meeting. Demonstrations against his presence gave voice to their feeling that his human rights record did not provide a sound basis for constructive U.S.-African relations.

Indeed, the question of who was speaking for Africa at the summit was highly disputed. A petition signed by scores of delegates noted that "Whereas representation by African official and privileged sectors is strong, representation within the official summit process by other Africans in the U.S. and byAfrican civil society, including women=s, farmers', labor, human rights, youth and other grassroots organizations is woefully inadequate. If the NSA is about people=s participation in policymaking, why are these views and voices not given equal prominence?" The petition also charged that the summit process was concentrated in a small, centralized group. It called for a "full evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses" of the summit and the adoption of a "Framework of Guiding Principles" on governance, participation, and transparency before any decisions are taken on the organization's future.

The National Summit on Africa did demonstrate that a vital network of activists committed to working on African issues exists in the United States. It also conveyed the impression that the summit's leaders were largely focused on business concerns and gaining mainstream acceptance of current U.S. policy toward Africa. Notwithstanding the laborious efforts by many of the delegates to articulate a principled basis for U.S.-Africa relations, AFJN and other social justice advocacy groups were dismayed by the summit leaders' seeming lack of urgency about human rights, conflict resolution, debt cancellation and broad based sustainable development. It was correspondingly apparent in the deliberative sessions that the justice and peace community was not prepared to endorse a U.S. and corporate dominated agenda that it believed could work against the interests of the majority of Africa=s people.

The NSA organizers have indicated that they want to head in a corporate friendly direction. This means that Africa-focused groups centered on socio-economic justice will very likely feel obliged to channel their energies in other directions. In spite of their lofty rhetoric, the National Summit on Africa leadership did not manifest an overriding or inclusive commitment to issues of human rights, equitable trade and investment, conflict resolution, sustainable agriculture, food security, the environment and economic justice as they pertain to U.S.-African relations. The hard work of turning those issues into political reality will remain with the NGO, grassroots and faith-based organizations -- and with the many summit delegates fired up by the same principles and concerns. Perhaps one of summit's most important outcomes was to reinforce within the social justice community its need to be more intent than ever on mobilizing effectively to ensure that U.S. policy benefits Africa's people in a fair, broad based way.
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