JOHANNESBURG - "The church in Africa is a sleeping giant that must be reawakened so that Africa can be saved." With these words Bishop Dr Ambrose Moyo, Executive Director of the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa (LUCSA), urged representatives of churches in the region to "unleash the power of the church" to engage governments and the public in debate on public policy development.
Moyo's opinion was echoed by a majority of LUCSA church leaders at a recent consultation in Johannesburg on the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). The initiative outlines a reciprocal set of commitments between African states, donor governments, and the private sector as a framework for managing the continent's integration into the global economy. It was approved by a majority of African leaders in October 2001, and enjoys the support of industrialized nations. South African President Thabo Mbeki was one of its initiators.
Churches and civil society in Africa appreciate NEPAD as their political leaders' vision for the continent's sustainable development through democratic governance, peace and economic growth. But there is criticism about NEPAD's failure to involve the public at all levels, and for its emphasis on integration in the current global economy and accelerated growth for the private sector. In the church and at grassroots level, there is concern that emphasis on a vibrant private sector will lead to increased poverty and unemployment. Privatization of basic services such as water and electricity has already led to high prices and further marginalization of the poor in South Africa.
It is against this background that Moyo invited the Lutheran church leaders to the November 25-27 conference to reflect on NEPAD as "one of the most challenging African initiatives that will have far-reaching consequences for church and society. The public needs to be educated and given the right information ... so that they can stand up in defense of their basic human rights," he stressed.
After most countries attained independence, church leaders in the region neglected the church's prophetic task, noted Moyo, former head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. He challenged clergy to disengage themselves from the "dangerous alliances" with ruling parties that they supported during the liberation struggle and instead use their position to hold those elected to public office accountable.
The Rev. Louis Sibiya, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, supported Moyo's call. "The great advantage of the church is that it has an efficient structure in place and does not need additional structures in order to reach out to all member churches, congregations and countries," Sibiya said.
Presentations by trade unionists, theologians and other scholars provided the necessary background information and different perspectives to the discussion on NEPAD. The consultation brought together 48 church leaders from the 16 LUCSA member churches in Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was a first step in the implementation of LUCSA's Civic Education and Public Policy Program which aims to "build the capacity of the churches and the communities they serve to engage governments and the public in debate on public policy development."
In a final statement, the LUCSA consultation agreed to welcome and support NEPAD as a program to eradicate poverty in Africa, but questioned the "economic path" toward that aim. The church leaders stressed that they regarded NEPAD's policy paper as an unfinished document, "that needs further discussion and consultation with civil society." The consultation resolved to promote support and solidarity among LUCSA member churches, to speak out against incompetent governance in their respective countries and hold follow-up consultations on NEPAD at the respective local levels.
By Albert H. Lee