Once again, the world’s eyes are on Africa. This time the Ebola endemic raises our alarm. Each time I read about its expansion and morbid conquests, the bishops of Africa come to mind.
So many of the ills that beset that resource-rich continent are avoidable. The poverty, violence, ignorance and mortality rates are not inevitable, and, to their great credit, the African bishops are telling the world why.
Governance. The persistence of dictatorial governments is the root cause of the afflictions that frustrate the development of those unfortunate people. There is massive corruption and more money flows out of those countries to private accounts than all the funds coming in from donor countries. Repressive governments have benefitted the privileged few and have done nothing to improve the conditions of their people who rank among the poorest in the world.
And, all this is in spite of the continent’s abundant natural resources.
Last year at their 26th plenary session the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the bishops of Africa met to address “the Church, the family of God at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace.” They issued an admonitory pastoral letter to the political leaders of the continent urging them not to work in their own interests but for the benefit of all the African population so that the “rights proper to human dignity could be enjoyed by all, in all areas of life.”
The surest counter to corrupt governments and the most effective agent to achieve good governance are a populace cognizant of its human rights. The bishops understand this and they are putting their call to action in effect by encouraging local churches to empower their congregations by training them in community development and leadership.
Helping them implement this are two organizations in the United States: the Africa Faith & Justice Network which was established 30 years ago and comprises 34 religious congregations with a presence in Africa, and the Institute for Policy Studies at Catholic University. This latter group is developing the training materials to be used in pilot workshops that have been identified around the continent.
St. Irenaeus wrote that the glory of God is man fully alive. As their education in human rights and in human dignity spreads, the men, women and children of Africa will discover in the forces of subsidiarity and solidarity that power that brings them fully alive. Rather than being a cause for alarm that strife torn land will become a vibrant source of hope for Africans and – for the rest of us – an example of the Kingdom advancing.
Dana Robinson is chair of the board of the National Catholic Community Foundation.