Heal “injustice of poverty” in Africa to Successfully Contain COVID-19: Jesuits

Logo of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), the body that brings together Jesuit Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar.
Credit: Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM)

Members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Africa and Madagascar have, in a Press Release May 15, expressed concerns about the level of poverty on the continent terming it an “injustice” and addressed various entities that could help address the challenge amid COVID-19 crisis.

“The Jesuits have called on both the African Union, individual African governments, and the international community to heal the injustice of poverty and its structural causes if they are to be successful in containing crises like COVID-19,” the members of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) have stated in their collective statement shared with ACI Africa.

They add, “If African countries and the international community are serious about eradicating diseases like COVID-19, then Governments in Africa and the international community must provide for the more than 400 million extremely poor people in Africa, with continuous access to water, food and decent housing.”

With its Secretariat is Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, JCAM is the coordinating unit of common apostolic engagements for the Jesuits ministering in Africa and the Indian Ocean Island of Madagascar.

In the two-page statement, JCAM members underscore the importance of basic human needs writing, “Effective social protection systems for the poor to ensure that they have access to basic life necessities such as water, housing and food are crucial when a crisis like COVID-19 hits.”

They regret, in reference to social protection systems on the continent, that “in many countries in Africa, such systems remain limited in coverage and will need significant upgrading to respond to a pandemic like COVID-19.”   

The World Bank has predicted that COVID-19 is pushing 40 to 60 million people into extreme poverty globally with 23 million of the people to be most affected projected to be in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

In their collective statement, the members of the 485-year-old Society based in Africa and Madagascar also caution “African governments that telling the poor to social distance without providing alternatives for them to access food and shelter is a serious lack of concern for the vulnerable and poor and failure to protect them.”

“The Jesuits serve in 34 of the 46 sub-Saharan countries that are home to the continent’s largest slums and to some of the poorest populations, where most families thrive on a hand-to-mouth scale,” JCAM members say and add, “Water access points are hard to find and are even harder to get to when restrictions on movement are in place in the hope of preventing further spread of the disease.”

They recount a case in one of Kenya’s informal settlement, “As one resident in Korogocho, Nairobi, Rose Mbone put it: We don’t have enough food to eat; we don’t have enough water to drink and to cook our food, so where will we get water to wash our hands frequently?” 

In response to the challenges relating to the global pandemic, Jesuits across the continent have launched various “COVID-19 Response” initiatives in different countries to reach out to the vulnerable, providing them with the necessary aid, JCAM members say in their May 12 statement. 

“The Jesuits in Africa believe that reaching out to the poor is an important preferential option as the effects of Covid-19 have been more severe on the poor, affecting families with low income, poor housing, and limited access to basic needs,” they note.

JCAM members make reference to the Nigeria-based Jesuit Superior of the North-West Africa Province, Fr. Chukwuyenum Afiawari and say, “In most urban settlements, many people who are daily wage earners in the informal sector have been sent on unpaid leave and staying at home means going without necessities like food and hygiene supplies.”

The members also make reference to the explanation, which JCAM President, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator has made regarding Jesuits’ initiatives on the continent saying, “The inspiration behind the interventions of Jesuits in Africa is the prioritization of the most urgent and life-saving provision necessary to help governments and other men and women of goodwill to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the poor and vulnerable.”

While Jesuits care about feeding the hungry, they also are concerned about the structural injustice and disparities that lead to poverty and hunger, JCAM members quote Nigerian-born Fr. Orobator as saying and add, “We do not end at giving bread to the hungry; we care about why the hungry are hungry.”

JCAM members are “collaborating with other Jesuit networks across the continent” in a bid “to assist the poor and vulnerable during the pandemic in at least 25 countries,” an initiative that targets “some 24,264 families in urban and peri-urban locations,” their collective statement indicates.

The Jesuits ministering in Africa and Madagascar say they are “prioritizing the elderly, children, single-headed households, refugees and migrants and people living with chronic medical conditions who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of the disease.”

 


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]