News Archives » africa
With support from the Oblate Sharing Fund, our partner organization Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN) based in Washington DC, has launched educational awareness programs about Land Grab in Ghana. Other local based awareness programs were launched following conferences on the issue in Kenya (2015) and Cameroon.
Land grabbing is a serious problem across Africa and several developing nations. Large investment firms and multinational corporations make deals with local governments to cultivate lands mostly for crop export or to extract minerals. These deals displace thousands of poor small farmers, offer inadequate compensation to land owners, pay low wages to workers, pollute the local water supply, deprive residents of their natural resources and threaten their livelihoods.
Church Organizations Host Conference on Land Grab and Just Governance in Africa November 23rd, 2015
Land grabbing and just governance discussed in a unique pan-African conference from November 22-28, ahead of Pope’s visit to Africa.
Land grabbing is a serious problem across Africa, requiring urgent attention since it threatens livelihoods and food security. It has already dislocated hundreds of thousands of people from their lands, deprived them of natural resources, and threatened their livelihoods.
Land grabbing and just governance, issues that constitute a significant threat to food sovereignty, will be discussed at the conference “Land Grab and Just governance in Africa”, from November 22-28 in Nairobi, Kenya, and organized by SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) with the collaboration of AEFJN (Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network), AFJN (Africa Faith & Justice Network) and CIDSE (network of Catholic development agencies). The event will gather about 150 participants from the African continent and beyond, including many people directly involved in land grabbing struggles.
Land grabbing is most often described as the acquisition of large areas of land in developing countries by international firms, governments, or individuals. In recent years land grabs have increased following the worldwide spike in food prices in 2008, prompting investors to look toward the Global South, particularly Africa, for potential land investment to produce food and biofuel for export and international markets. Large tracts of land are also being acquired for speculative purposes, known as “land banking”, where the buyer holds the land and sells it later.
Among the cases that will be presented during the conference is the one involving the Italian project Senhuile SA, which has leased 20.000 hectares of land in the Ndiaël Reserve in Senegal, land used for decades by residents of some 40 villages in the area. This resulted in an ongoing conflict with the villagers, who want the project stopped. The case of farmers in Nigeria’s Taraba State and in Kenya, who are being forced off lands that they have farmed for generations to make way for US company Dominion Farms to establish a rice plantation, will also be a subject of discussion. Cases involving Bollore land deal in Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Liberia as well as in Sierra Leone and cases from Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali will also be showcased.
This conference takes place ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic. The Pope has previously voiced great concern about the issue of land grabbing. In a speech delivered at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome in June 2015, Pope Francis warned against the “monopolizing of lands of cultivation by trans-national enterprises and states, which not only deprives farmers of an essential good, but which directly affects the sovereignty of countries”. The Holy Father also pointed out that: “There are already many regions in which the foods produced go to foreign countries and the local population is doubly impoverished, because it does not have food or land”.
Further guidance and indications in relation to the dangers of land grabbing were expressed in the Pope’s Encyclical letter Laudato Si’, in which he denounces an exploitative approach towards land while recalling: “For them (indigenous communities), land is not a commodity, but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for [industrial] agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.” (146). In support of Laudato Si and ahead of the climate conference COP 21 in Paris, the bishops’ conferences across the world signed on the 22nd of October an appeal which called for COP 21 “to ensure people’s access to water and to land for climate resilient and sustainable food systems, which give priority to people driven solutions rather than profits.”
The conference aims at developing strategies to support and strengthen local communities in their struggles to stop this menace and to build resilience.
–SECAM (based in Accra), the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, is an association of all the Catholic Bishops Conferences of Africa and its islands. Since its establishment in 1969, SECAM has shown concern for issues pertaining to human development. For this reason SECAM set up a Department of Justice, Peace, and Development in its Secretariat in Accra, Ghana. SECAM brings all the dioceses in all countries on the continent. SECAM represents almost 20% of the total population of Africa who are Catholics.
–AEFJN (based in Brussels), Africa Europe Faith & Justice network, is a sister organization of AFJN founded on the same core values and ethos by European based religious congregations. However, the AEFJN is founded in 1988 to promote more equitable economic relations between Europe and Africa through its advocacy at the EU and currently has more than 43 religious congregations in its membership. AEFJN recently completed case studies on land grabs and “extractivism” in Senegal and Madagascar respectively
–AFJN (based in Washington), the Africa Faith and Justice Network, began in 1983 as a response to what Catholic missionary congregations witnessed on the ground in Africa. AFJN was formed to promote more responsible and just relations between the United States and the countries of Africa, and to fight against policies detrimental to Africa. AFJN has 34 organizational members. From its offices in Washington D.C., AFJN continues its advocacy work with congressional lawmakers and with U.S. administrative agencies.
– CIDSE (based in Brussels) is an international alliance of Catholic development agencies working together for global justice. Our 17 member organizations from Europe and North America come together under the umbrella of CIDSE to fight poverty and inequality. We challenge governments, business, churches, and international bodies to adopt policies and behavior that promote human rights, social justice and sustainable development. Find more information about CIDSE’s work on just food here.
The process of engagement between the mining industry and faith community took a very different and innovative step on October 9th when the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, hosted a conversation that focused on mining in southern Africa and even more specifically on South Africa. This event was preceded by three previous Days of Reflection; two hosted at the Vatican by Cardinal Peter Turkson, and one at Lambert in London hosted by the archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the British Methodist Conference. The conversation was bathed in the traditional prayer moments of Evensong and Morning Eucharist. The event opened in the cathedral of St George the Martyr in downtown Cape Town and the morning Eucharist was celebrated in the historic church of The Good Shepherd Protea, located at the edge of Kirstenbosch and near Bishopscourt, the residence of the archbishop.
The day of courageous conversation was intended to provide a safe space for a multi-perspective examination of the issues, opportunities and challenges that mining in South Africa presents, and to explore what initiatives might be undertaken to address these realities.
In both the opening prayers and his opening address, Archbishop Magoba did not shy away from the harsh and painful realities that the industry has encountered and caused. In the opening service the following prayer was offered. The archbishop composed the prayer during the protracted strike at Marikana, a site of major confrontation between miners and police in August 2012 when over 40 people died.
“Lord we are still mourning and grieving. We are still searching for the full truth about Marikana. We can’t kill and maim to sustain inequality. Lord, there is something amiss in this economic system and we know it. May owners, investors and shareholders feel the pain and longing for peace. May workers and mine owners find one another. May further hurt, pain and killings be averted, and may politics serve the people for the sake of peace.
In his opening address the archbishop recounted his own connections with the mining industry. He talked about how his father, “a self-supporting church minister”, traveled as a clothing salesman through the mining towns west of Johannesburg. He also spoke of his own experience as a psychologist working with miners who had suffered spinal cord injuries.
He recognized that one of the important steps in a day of courageous conversations is the recognition of shortcomings and failures and he listed some of the ways in which the “churches have failed the mining industry”. These included “how risky mining is economically”; how we have not understood “the aspirations of people who want to earn R12,500 a month (about $920 US dollars) for working in conditions of extreme heat on stopes (cut out open spaces) lying kilometers down in the earth”; or the “constraints on managers facing the relentless pressure of meeting shareholders’ expectations for better results every quarter”.
He suggested that the process for the conversation be one “of lamentation in the sense of the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament,” where we move beyond navel gazing and exposing one’s vulnerability but “exposing it as a tool for leadership, because you can’t say let us move forward together without acknowledging the failures of the past”. He further explained that the objective for the day would be achieved if each participant brings “their own unique concerns and contributions to this conversation, and what is of overriding importance is that each one of us tries to put ourselves in the shoes of those with whom we are in dialogue”.
Archbishop Makgoba listed the following concerns that were on his mind: mine health and safety issues, environmental degradation, social cohesion and wealth disparity. He called on labor to look at models for working jointly with management and asked management to “look at the huge disparity between executive pay and that of workers”.
Throughout a series of panels and small group discussions, the 30 plus participants followed the advice of the archbishop and were frank and attentive in their remarks and in their listening. Among the additional issues raised were concerns about “collective wealth and income inequality”; the inadequacy of the percentage of profits that are returned to local mine site communities; and the role of government and the loss of their voice in the conversation (the event overlapped with the annual convention of the ruling party). Questions raised for consideration and action included the prophetic and imaginative roles and platforms of the churches; a role for the church in managing conflict when it arises between parties; “when are excessive profits immoral”; increased transparency by the industry, especially with local communities; and development of an agreed upon set of best practice principles for community engagement.
The day concluded with a number of pledges for action being offered and accepted by both industry and the church. These embraced very specific projects at local mine site community levels, as well as developing a strong capable institute that could serve as an impartial resource and party to wrestle with many of the issues that could only be identified and briefly considered during the course of the day. This included issues and concerns that are very local and immediate, as well as the broader cross cutting issues of employment, energy, technology and environment that are present in communities across the country and the world.
Recently, a Catholic parish of St. Mary of Sorrows in Virginia,United States donated to the local community in Bhomela in Zimbabwe. This generous gift has enabled people of Bhomela to get a borehole for clean water supply and help in development of local farming initiatives during the prolonged dry season. Bhomela community is a mission church for the Zimbabwe Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
“Many children suffer from water-born diseases as well as malnutrition in Bhomela area. This borehole project will go a long way in alleviating these problems and developing ‘self-help’ initiatives in solving local problems,” says Zimbabwe Missionary Oblate, Fr. Charles Rensburg, OMI speaking on behalf of the local community.
“Words cannot begin to describe the community’s joy in having received a ‘life-line’ of water for the whole village. The borehole will be maintained by the local Catholic community whilst at the same time, complete access has been given to the whole village of over 3000 people.”
JPIC Report Fall/Winter 2014 Issue Now Available On-Line September 17th, 2014
Please contact Mary O’Herron in the JPIC Office if you want to be added to the mailing list.
You can find all issues of JPIC Report on this website in the Resources section. (Download a PDF of the latest issue)
Financial Transparency Coalition Meets in Africa on Problem of Illicit Financial Flows September 30th, 2013
The new Financial Transparency Coalition is meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on October 1-2. The theme for the conference, is “Towards Transparency: Making the Global Financial System Work for Development.” Fr. Seamus Finn, OMI, US JPIC Office Director, is officially representing ICCR (Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility) at the conference.
Nearly a trillion dollars a year has been secreted out of developing countries, robbing them of revenue needed desperately for development. The coalition was formed to do something about this problem that is central to the development of poor countries. According to the Coalition, half of the illicit financial flows – a staggering $500 billion – is coming from Africa. Flowing from crime, corruption, and tax evasion, these illicit transfers represent a drain on developing economies that is equivalent to eight times the size of global foreign aid.
The US JPIC Office is involved in several inter-connected organizations in Washington, DC, working for greater financial justice and transparency. These include the Tax Justice Network USA, (where Fr. Finn serves on the Board), and the FACT coalition (Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Campaign). The international Financial Transparency Coalition was launched in May of 2013, in response to the growing awareness and activism around the problem of illicit financial flows.