Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Interfaith Summit on Africa: "Listen to us; we live in the problem".

July 18, 2006

Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC)

Task Force for International Religious Freedom (TIRF) Briefing: "Africa -- Social and Economic Development from a Faith Perspective."

Interfaith Summit on Africa

Six guest speakers from various parts of Africa were present at this gathering to join a discussion on the challenges Africa faces and their relation to the function of religion in society. The panelists addressed Representative Congresswoman Diane Watson and Representative Congressman Donald Payne.

The first speaker was Dr. Nandini Patel, the chairwoman of the Hindu council of Malawi. She first went into detail about the challenges Malawi faces despite the fact that it is a peaceful nation currently experiencing no war. The main challenges include poverty, HIV and AIDS, and democratic governments. She explained that in times of doubt, it is the faith communities that are called upon to guide and to mediate. Therefore, at this time of incredible need, Patel assumed her role as a religious chairperson to lead the process of facing Malawi’s challenges and in doing so she asked for the support of the United States. If only more of Malawi’s people were educated, Patel noted, challenges would be fewer. She then asked for help regarding more universities and financial support for the great number of students who cannot afford to be educated past high school.

The second speaker was Reverend John McCullough, the Executive Director of Church World Services. McCullough put emphasis on recognizing religious leaders as political leaders. Again, poverty was one of the foremost concerns as a statistic was alluded to: “More than 300,000,000 African children are living below the poverty line”. McCullough put stress on recognizing the fundamental rights of humans, like that of food security and access to water: “Their needs are so basic” he reiterated. In reference to Warren E. Buffett’s recent financial donation to the Gates Foundation, McCullough said that it is not how much one gives, but that we work together to use any donation effectively and to resolve the most critical issues that Africa faces.

Rt. Rev. Dr. Nyansako-ni-NKU, president of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), was the next to present his view. He represented those in Africa who have no voice and emphasized how critical the role of the church is in working toward justice. A spokesperson from Zimbabwe took the microphone as well to discuss the harsh reality of Zimbabwe, including the violence, uprooted people, lack of food, and constant struggle for justice. “With justice”, he said, “will come peace and reconciliation. [We] just need to put our faith in the right things”.

Mrs. Tahirih Matthee, a member of the Council of the Baháí's of the Western Africa, spoke of the challenges of the Baháí in Africa, one of which is religious intolerance. In asking the United States for help, she requested that we help to educate ourselves and others, correctly, in order to become more tolerant of and helpful toward one another. Matthee expressed sorrow and anger regarding how some countries place others at a subordinate level in order to take the position of power. She articulated her feelings as best as she could: “We were all created from the same substance and to the same substance we will return, so why would one want to dominate the other?”

Next, Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh, the chairperson for the National Muslim Council of Liberia, expressed his mission. He suggested to the United States representatives that he would like to see the formation of an international peace keeping force. Konneh made two main requests: one, that he would like support from the United States because the U.S. has a moral obligation to make sure democracy is not only going to sustain in Liberia but is going to spread all over Africa; and two, that Liberia needs more means to facilitate democracy and peace in order to address human rights. He made a wise statement to sum up his thoughts: “when all people come together void of opinions and emotions, they can reach a destiny”.

The last speaker on the panel was a delegate from the AACC and a representative for Kenya named Agnes Abuom. She spoke of the Great Lakes region including Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda and the challenges each nation is currently faced with. Abuom spoke of the help that faith-based communities thankfully provide such as providing shelters for many displaced people nationwide. She emphasized solidarity among not only the African people but worldwide as well. Abuom asked that the U.S. offer assistance with the following: that the U.S. provides support in a peace process in Uganda, that the U.S. government helps with peace building in Sudan, that we advocate for the strengthening of the Somalian government, that we ensure a peaceful transition in the Great Lakes region including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that we provide support for Burundi disarmament.

His Holiness, the Patriarch of Ethiopa, Abune Paulos, was also graciously welcomed and recognized. He was asked to say a few words and he agreed to conclude the briefing. The problem today, he asserted, is a divided spirit. Africa is a place of all problems, he explained, Africa is poverty, Africa is a lack of access to modern technology and communication, Africa is an absence of democracy, Africa is HIV, AIDS, and Malaria, and surely Africa is war and political instability. “You are to listen to us” he declared, “because we live in the problem”. So when the two U.S. representatives, six African panelists, and entire audience gave His Holiness their attention, he concluded, “We should walk together as members of a single planet. We should use the mandate God has given us”.

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