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Interfaith Summit on Africa: "The Intelligence is in Africa"

Via World Faith News

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 1, 2006 — The Interfaith Summit on Africa, presented by Church World Service and the All Africa Conference of Churches July 19-21, brought together 53 African religious leaders from 23 countries with U.S. faith leaders and policymakers in Washington, D.C., at a time of great global unrest and worsening uncertainty.

While media cameras focused on the Middle East, Africans steadfastly recited a list of long-term concerns on their continent: Sudan, Congo, Somalia, hunger, extreme poverty, violence, malaria, small arms trafficking , millions of orphaned children. The group of 150 participants addressed nine critical issues and will report on specific recommendations toward alleviating hunger and poverty; malaria; HIV/AIDS; the status of women; the children of Africa; small arms trafficking; peace and reconciliation efforts; water; displaced people; and sustainable economic development.

Delegates Address Human Rights Caucus Church World Service Executive Director and CEO Rev. John L. McCullough and six delegates from Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Liberia and South Africa addressed the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (Tuesday July 18) on issues ranging from religious persecution to the advancement of women and the need to keep Africa as a priority of U.S. aid budgets.

"Much has been promised to the continent, but not everything is finally delivered," noted Church World Service’s McCullough. He urged the Human Rights Caucus to consider that the wellbeing of 800 million African people is indeed in the national interest of the United States. "Part of what should be funded by U.S. policy," he said, "is the protection of what we would all agree is a fundamental human right — food security." McCullough urged the Caucus to "hear our delegates — the intelligence is in Africa."

Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh, Chairperson, National Muslim Council of Liberia, President of the Inter-religious Council of Liberia and Commissioner of that country’s new Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told Caucus chairperson Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA), Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) and other legislators, "Liberia needs support of the U.S. It needs U.S. help — moral, financial, technological. All Africa needs the support of the U.S. Understand that Africa is overwhelmed. Where there is no war, there is the smoke of war." The delegates reinforced that the best-organized communities in Africa — those communities ready to respond — were the faith-based communities.

McCullough told the assembly that the success of the interfaith summit would be measured in coming years by policymakers making reference to what they learned from the African delegates. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), who attended a congressional reception for the African delegates following the Human Rights Caucus briefing, adjusted her schedule to address the Summit at a banquet Wednesday, urging those gathered to "be a wave of change.
"Your work is not done by completing the conference," she said. "Religion is the engine of Africa. Find solutions, and don’t take no for an answer."

UN Acknowledges Pivotal Role of Faith-Based Groups, Including CWS In the African summit’s opening plenary session (Wednesday July 20), United Nations Under Secretary General, Special Advisor on Africa Legwaila Joseph Legwaila said that the faith-based groups assembled could be called on to help with consensus, advocacy and awareness. The alliance between African and U.S. faith leaders, he said, now needed to be consolidated into a mechanism of cooperation.

At the close of the summit, All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) President Right Rev. Dr. Nyansako-Ni-Nku echoed Legwaila’s statement, recommending that the AACC appoint a task force to work with its delegates to promote realization of specific recommendations developed during the Africa summit’s working dialogue sessions, vowing to carry on with what Church World Service had initiated in calling them to the gathering.

Armed conflicts: "Enough guns in the world to kill every person two times." During the interfaith summit’s special small arms trafficking briefing, U.S. State Department’s Steven Costner, Deputy Director, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, addressed export controls and illicit brokering; destruction of arms; managing stockpiles; and the marking and tracing of small arms.

Ghanaian Baffour Amoa is Secretary General, Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa and chair of the West African Action Network on Small Arms. As an African perspective to Costner’s report, Amoa told the Africa-focused conference that increased border management was vital. "Africans are tired of incessant harassment," he said. "There are enough guns in the world to kill every person two times."

Amoa expressed his disappointment in the recent United Nations agreement on small arms. "Our concern is the lack of an international framework" to deal with small arms issues. "The UN has agreed to work with civil society; we need resources," Amoa said.
"Africa is bleeding because of small arms," he said. "The local manufacture of small arms is booming in Africa." He said African governments and world bodies "must challenge the manufacture of small arms."

Malaria — 900 died overnight of malaria Two summit programs focused on the malaria pandemic, which affects some 300-500 million yearly, according to the World Health Organization. John Thomas, BASF Global Marketing Manager for Public Health Products, told the conference that malaria is both preventable and treatable, though "900 people died last night as we were sleeping."

Multinational BASF is heavily invested in malaria education and in supplying a new generation of insecticide-treated mosquito nets throughout affected communities in Africa and other malaria-plagued nations. On collaborating with Africa’s faith leaders, Thomas said BASF "wants to have a dialogue with the churches" so they will understand and can help educate people in their communities about care of treated nets, to ensure longer effectiveness.

Faith-based Communities in Africa The distinguishing aspect of the conference was its focus on the perspectiv e of Africa’s religious leaders — Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Baha’i. Faith leaders and interfaith leaders reiterated that faith is an integral part of Africa. Faith leaders are advocates to their own governments and to world bodies on humanitarian and civil society, as well as playing a direct role in helping to fund and implement health, education, and development programs.

Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane of South Africa noted that "faith is not a hobby — nine-tenths of our influence is through the laypeople at the grassroots level."

Delegates observed that the U.S.’s verbal attacks on certain religious elements have disastrous ramifications: "When you whisper; we hear you," said Rev. Dr. Johnson Apendad Mbillah, of the Programme for Christian-Musli m Relations in Africa. "If religious moderates keep quiet, then the extremists will have their day."

And delegates persevered: "The religious community can preach, but if there is no economic support, people will die," noted David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World. "The U.S. has invested in emergencies, but not in development."

Need to continue — the Summit is a beginning Delegates were pointed in what they wanted to see happen. Said Rev. Paulina Muchina , Senior Women and AIDS Advocacy Officer for UNAIDS, "You as religious leaders can challenge governments to protect our girls."

Sheikh Al-Hajj Yussuf Murigu of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya told a story of Muslim clerics protecting an Anglican cleric from stoning: "Unity can come from the unexpected." Bread for the World’s Beckmann called the gathering an "extraordinary meeting, looking at what ought to happen."

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, noted that it is "something significant that you are doing here. You are making the first steps that could affect public policy."

Dr. Nandini Patel, Chairperson of the Hindu Council of Malawi, described her experience of a "space that has been extended to all religions, a beginning of an important process of religious leaders creating dialogue."

And Rev. Dr. Simon Kossi Dossou, President of the Methodist Church of Benin, observed, "You cannot imagine what good you have created. We commit ourselves to do whatever we can when we go back."

In closing remarks, AACC President Right Rev. Dr. Nyansako-Ni-Nku rejoiced in having achieved a gathering of diversity, urging those assembled to continue their efforts for access to water, better rewards for women, and "working for peace instead of sterile antagonism." McCullough: "Creating a Series of Policies for Africa"

CWS’s John McCullough observed, "All of us had an opportunity to be impressed. We saw a serious coming together, in what some have called the shadow of WW III. We have the power, potential, intelligence, and compassion to respond. We have gathered for Africa, but we know this has implications beyond the continent.

"Development has shifted to a new paradigm wherein we in the developed world do not need to only capacitate partners; we now create spaces where our colleagues can express themselves. This is a major goal — moving beyond speaking on behalf of people.

"Our second goal is to influence policymaking. This is not about a single statement, but creating a series of policies for the quality of life on the continent of Africa."

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