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Faith-based Leaders Specify Five Challenges in Africa They Want Pope Francis to “mention”

Official logos for Pope Francis’ Apostolic visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage to the South Sudanese Land and People. Credit: Vatican Media

Officials of the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) have specified challenges in Africa they request that Pope Francis highlights during his July 2-7  two-African-nation trip scheduled to begin in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and conclude in South Sudan.

In a Wednesday, June 8 statement, AFJN officials request that the Holy Father includes five challenges in his messages during his third trip to Africa. The five challenges include the growing security deterioration”, the need for good governance, the fight against corruption, discrimination characterized by tribalism, xenophobia, and racism, and land grabbing, 

“We wish to be in communion with you and associate ourselves with your ministry during your upcoming visit to the African continent,” officials of the community of advocates for responsible U.S. relations with Africa say in their message addressed to the Holy Father.

They call the attention of Pope Francis to what they say are “some of the ongoing challenges confronting the continent” of Africa, adding that their call is made in partnership with “civil society organizations from different continents, in solidarity with our African brothers and sisters”.

The Holy Father needs to speak about insecurity because “currently peace in Africa is very fragile,” AFJN officials say, and add, “Many kinds of wars are being fought on the African continent. Nations are fighting against one another.”

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“Many wars are secessionist, separatist, civil, and religious. People are rioting against violent, tyrannical, and kleptocratic regimes,” they further say.

In their June 8 statement, officials of the entity that emphasizes issues of peace building, human rights and social justice that have a direct relationship with the Catholic social teaching regret the fact “decades after fighting for independence, Africans are fighting neo-colonization wars involving non-Africans. Multinationals have emerged as the new colonial masters, using the soft power of corruption and financing wars to get access to natural resources.”

They identify “the DRC, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Libya, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Cameroon” as zones in Africa where the challenge of violent conflicts is a cause for concern. 

AFJN officials would like Pope Francis to address the challenge of bad governance because, they say, “It is fiercely urgent that African governments govern justly.”

“The people of Africa no longer want kleptocratic, tyrannical, or autocratic regimes. Such unaccountable regimes led by a few elites, often circumvent the laws to oppress their own citizens while protecting themselves, their families, and their properties,” they say.

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The unaccountable regimes in Africa, AFJN officials lament, are self-centered. “Their reckless disregard for the common good continues to undermine whatever progress has been made in oppressive states,” they say, and add, “Functioning institutions are fundamental to building the kind of democratic Africa that Africans desire for themselves.”

Officials of the entity that carries out its mission closely with Catholic Missionary Congregations and other Africa-focused coalitions of a variety of persuasions want the Holy Father to address the challenge of corruption in Africa because the vice “is one of the reasons why poverty persists in Africa.”

They explain, “Leaders use their positions to misappropriate public funds, land and other resources at the expense of those they govern. Corruption thrives in schools and hospitals. Judges do not render justice, and courts prosecute trumped up charges. Prisoners are released not because they have served their time, but because they have paid money.”

AFJN officials further explain, “Corruption is not only financial. Evidence shows that the workplace is often unsafe for women and girls who are forced into unwanted sex as a condition for employment, promotion, or retention.”

They make reference to a 2013 pastoral letter of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) in which Catholic Bishops in Africa addressed “Governance, Common Good and Democratic Transitions in Africa” and termed corruption ‘a cancer that stands in the way of Africa’s development.’”

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In addressing the challenge of corruption, AFJN officials want the Holy Father to specifically mention “nepotism and favoritism”, which they say “continue to hamper productivity and prosperity in most African countries. Corruption is widespread, whether Christianity or other faith traditions form the majority.”

They want Pope Francis to include the challenge of discrimination during his six-day visit to Africa because “tribalism, xenophobia, and racism continue to claim lives and divide communities across the African continent.”

Discrimination based on tribe, AFJN officials tell the Holy Father, “Has led to countless deaths in Africa including most recently the two countries you are visiting – DRC and South Sudan.”

“In South Africa, xenophobic violence against African immigrants has been an all-too-common occurrence,” they say, and add, “Racism and xenophobia against sub-Saharan African migrants journeying to Europe for a better life is on the increase.”

Officials of the entity that describes itself as “an extension of missionary witness in the different yet important arena of US political decisions that affect African people” say it is important that the Holy Father speaks against discrimination because there is no justification for it.

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They say, “No matter the reasons, violence, hatred, discrimination, and hostility against anyone based on origin, ethnicity or race has no merit and must be condemned in the strongest terms and fought. Politicians and church leaders must become models of tolerance in order to build nations and communities of peace and prosperity.”

Officials of the entity that relies on individual and organizational membership, many of the latter being Catholic missionary communities in the US and Africa want the Holy Father to address the challenge of land grabbing, which they say is “often disguised as investment” and “has led to a new scramble for the partition of Africa.”

They explain, “As of June 1, 2022, data by Land Matrix shows that 12,543,089 hectares (125,430.89 square kilometers) of Africa’s arable land has been grabbed by foreign agribusinesses. These lands have been had for as little as $0.50 per hectare per year for up to 99 years, subject to renewal.”

“In the DRC, the land acquired by multinationals totals 52,147.42 km2, which is a little more than the size of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” they say about one of the two countries the Holy Father is to visit.

AFJN officials say, “The acquisition of Africa's land on a large scale by multinational agribusinesses amounts to an organized land-grabbing scheme with potential consequences worse than colonization.”

Land grabbing, they further say, “threatens lives, livelihoods, the environment, the peace and the sovereignty of the affected countries. Populations are being displaced and landowners are becoming landless.”

AFJN officials regret the fact that “Prohibited toxic fertilizers and pesticides are being used on these lands, causing serious damage to rivers, lakes and even underground water sources.”

They lament, “The current rate at which Africa is losing much of its arable land, threatens the continent’s food security and sovereignty. This must stop.”

In their June 8 statement, AFJN officials appeal to Pope Francis ahead of his third trip to Africa, saying, “Your Holiness, notwithstanding many issues of equal importance including human trafficking, women’s economic empowerment, arms trade, illicit financial flows, drug abuse by youth, and widespread unemployment, we strongly believe that your voice on the issues we have highlighted will have significant impact.”

“We hope that you will consider these issues as you address the people of God in the host countries and that you will call upon Africans and all people of good will to join hands in finding adequate solutions,” AFJN officials say in their three-page letter that is copied to Apostolic Nuncios in DRC and the US.