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Liberation Theology African Style

Amnesty International Report 2009

DR Congo

Head of state Joseph Kabila
Head of government Adolphe Muzito (replaced Antoine Gizenga in October)
Death penalty retentionist
Population 64.7 million
Life expectancy 45.8 years
Under-5 mortality (m /f) 205/184 per 1,000
Adult literacy 67.2 per cent

An upsurge of armed conflict deepened the human rights and humanitarian crisis in North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The violence was marked by war crimes and other serious human rights violations by armed groups and government forces. These included the killing and abduction of civilians, widespread rape and other forms of sexual violence, and the recruitment and use of children as armed group fighters. By the end of the year, one in four of the population of North Kivu was displaced by conflict.

Ethnic and inter-communal tensions rose in other areas. Army, police and intelligence services across the country were responsible for serious and often politically motivated human rights violations. Little progress was made by the government to alleviate severe poverty or to rehabilitate the country's ruined infrastructure.

*** Background

Health professionals, teachers and civil servants staged lengthy strikes in protest at low pay and non-payment of salaries.

There was violent unrest in several parts of the country, including Bas-Congo province, where around 100 people were killed in the course of police operations in February and March.

In April the government signed a US$9 billion mining and infrastructure deal with a consortium of Chinese companies. Accusations that the state was selling off the DRC’s mineral assets cheaply provoked a parliamentary walkout in May. The sharp fall of world mineral prices, however, threatened to leave tens of thousands working in the DRC’s mining zones without income.

There were some positive developments, including a large release of political detainees in July and the adoption of a national law on child protection in June.

*** Armed conflict

Despite a January peace agreement, heavy fighting resumed in August in North Kivu between the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) armed group and the national army (FARDC).

In a major offensive in October, the CNDP captured large areas of the province and advanced to within a few kilometres of the provincial capital, Goma. The bulk of FARDC forces fled and went on sprees of killing, rape and looting, notably around the town of Kanyabayonga. By the end of the year, armed resistance to the CNDP was offered mainly by generally pro-government mayi-mayi militia groups, sometimes acting in collusion with the Rwandan insurgent group, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR).

The fighting led to a fresh breakdown in relations between the governments of the DRC and Rwanda. The DRC government accused Rwanda of providing support to the CNDP; the Rwandan government accused the DRC army of collaborating with the FDLR. A December report by the UN Group of Experts largely confirmed both sets of allegations.

In Ituri district, Orientale province, a new armed group, the Popular Front for Justice in the Congo (FPJC), launched attacks in October against army positions and villages close to the district capital, Bunia. The FPJC claimed to unite within its ranks members of former Ituri armed groups whom it said were disaffected by unfulfilled government promises on demobilization and reintegration.

In Haut-Uélé district, Orientale province, attacks on civilian centres by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) intensified throughout 2008. The LRA was responsible for unlawful killings, rapes, the systematic abduction of hundreds of children, and the burning of homes in Dungu territory. A military offensive by government forces of Uganda, DRC and South Sudan against LRA positions in the DRC began in mid-December. In apparent retaliation, the LRA attacked several towns and villages in the region in late December, unlawfully killing around 500 civilians, abducting hundreds of others, and forcing the displacement of approximately 50,000 people.

Government security forces failed to protect civilians in the conflict zones and were themselves responsible for many human rights violations, including killings of civilians, rape and torture. Civilian protection in the east remained wholly dependent on the overstretched UN (MONUC) peacekeeping force, with a strength of around 17,000. Although regularly intervening to protect civilian life, MONUC was incapable of protecting civilians in all circumstances and failed to intervene to halt a massacre in Kiwanja, North Kivu, in November. On 20 November, the UN Security Council authorized the temporary reinforcement of MONUC by an additional 3,000 peacekeepers. By the year’s end, there were mounting calls for the deployment of an EU military force to North Kivu.

*** Unlawful killings

State security forces as well as Congolese and foreign armed groups committed hundreds of unlawful killings. All forces deliberately targeted civilians. A number of possible political killings were reported, often perpetrated by men in military uniform. These included Aimée Kabila, repudiated half-sister of President Joseph Kabila, shot dead at her home in Kinshasa in January, and opposition politician Daniel Botheti, murdered in Kinshasa in July.

A UN investigation concluded that around 100 people, mainly members of the Bunda dia Kongo politico-religious group, were killed during police operations in Bas-Congo province in February and March. The investigation blamed the high death toll on excessive use of force and in some cases extrajudicial executions by the police. The government, claiming that only 27 people died, failed to investigate the allegations or initiate criminal proceedings against those allegedly responsible.

Another UN investigation found that on 16/17 January, CNDP forces unlawfully killed at least 30 civilians around Kalonge in North Kivu.

    * On the night of 5/6 November CNDP forces allegedly killed scores of civilians, mainly adult males, in house-to-house searches in Kiwanja, North Kivu. Eyewitnesses said that victims, described as “young fathers and newly-weds”, were pulled from their homes and shot or stabbed to death. The killings appeared to be in reprisal for an earlier attack on the town by mayi-mayi forces.

*** Violence against women and girls

High levels of rape and other forms of sexual violence continued throughout the country, with a concentration in eastern DRC, where armed group fighters and government soldiers were the principal perpetrators. Many women and girls suffered gang rape, were raped more than once or were held in sexual slavery. Most victims did not receive medical or psycho-social care. The majority of rapists went unpunished and women and girls lived in fear of reprisals if they reported the rape or even sought medical treatment.

    * A 16-year-old girl was held captive in an army camp in North Kivu for several days in February and raped nightly by an officer. Her mother came to the camp gate to beg for her release, but was turned away by the soldiers.

*** Child soldiers

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 children were still serving with armed groups in 2008. Many children reportedly also still served with the army, although the FARDC formally ended the recruitment of children in 2004. UN and NGO child protection and community reintegration programmes for former child soldiers remained under-resourced.

There were new recruitments of children by armed groups in North Kivu and some other areas. Children were sometimes forcibly recruited in groups. Demobilized children were also targeted. The army also used children as porters during combat operations in North Kivu in September and October. The LRA reportedly abducted at least 160 children from several villages in Dungu territory.

    * According to a former child soldier, two youths who had attempted to escape from an armed group in North Kivu in early 2008 were beaten to death in front of other child recruits. They were taken out of a pit in the ground and the commander then gave the order to beat them. Two soldiers and a captain pushed them down into the mud, kicked them and beat them with wooden sticks until they died.

*** Internally displaced people and refugees

More than 1.4 million people were internally displaced by conflict in North Kivu at the year’s end, and a further 30,000 were forced to flee to Uganda. Most displaced people moved to areas close to Goma under government control. However, tens of thousands in less secure areas remained outside the reach of humanitarian assistance at the year’s end. Many of those displaced were in extremely poor health following days or weeks of flight.

Outbreaks of cholera and other infectious diseases were reported in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Standards of protection in the camps were often poor, with rape, shootings and robberies reported in a number of IDP sites. Belligerent forces failed to respect the civilian character of IDP camps.

    * On 4 June, an attack allegedly by the FDLR on an IDP camp at Kinyandoni, North Kivu, resulted in at least three civilian deaths.

    * A 16-year-old boy said he was forcibly recruited to fight for the CNDP from inside in IDP camp in Masisi territory in early 2008.

The CNDP reportedly destroyed IDP camps around the town of Rutshuru in October, and forced the camps’ residents to leave.

*** Torture, other ill-treatment and arbitrary detention

Torture and ill-treatment were routinely committed by government security services and armed groups, directed particularly against perceived political opponents. Methods included beatings, stabbings, suspension from grilles or window bars and rape in custody.

There were regular arbitrary arrests by state security forces, especially of military or police officers with suspected affiliations to the Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) political opposition and its leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, or of individuals suspected of supporting the CNDP. Many detainees were held incommunicado for weeks or months in unofficial military or intelligence service detention.

Conditions in most detention centres and prisons were poor and constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Deaths of prisoners from malnutrition or treatable illnesses were regularly reported.

*** Prisoner releases

In July the government ordered the release of 258 military and civilian detainees from Kinshasa’s central prison. The detainees had been held unlawfully without trial for long periods, some since 2004, on suspicion of crimes against state security. While welcome, the releases appeared to follow no organized or transparent judicial process. A large number of political prisoners remained in detention.

*** Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders were physically attacked, abducted, and subjected to death threats and other forms of intimidation by government security forces and armed groups. Many defenders were forced into hiding or to flee by the conflict in North Kivu. Others were targeted because of their involvement in high-profile human rights cases.

*** Impunity

Impunity for human rights crimes persisted in the vast majority of cases, with only small numbers of low-ranking military personnel brought to justice. Prosecutions were undermined by frequent escapes from prisons and detention centres (at least 250 in 2008).

*** International justice

Four Congolese former armed group commanders or leaders were in International Criminal Court (ICC) custody, awaiting trial. A fifth was the subject of an ICC arrest warrant.

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was arrested by the DRC authorities and surrendered to the ICC in February. He was accused with Germain Katanga, detained in 2007, of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during and after an armed group attack in February 2003 on the village of Bogoro in Ituri.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, DRC Senator, President of the MLC and former Vice-President of the DRC, was arrested in Belgium in May under an ICC arrest warrant and transferred to the ICC. He was charged with crimes committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003, when MLC armed group forces allegedly carried out systematic rape and other abuses against civilians.

A temporary stay of proceedings against a fourth detainee, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first person to be detained by the ICC in March 2006, was lifted in November. The stay was imposed in June after the trial chamber of the ICC held that the withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence by the prosecution violated the right of the accused to a fair trial.

In April, the Court unsealed an arrest warrant issued in August 2006 against Bosco Ntaganda for the war crimes of recruitment and use in hostilities of children under the age of 15 between July 2002 and December 2003, while he was a senior commander of an Ituri armed group. Bosco Ntaganda remained at large and Chief of Staff of the CNDP in North Kivu.

*** Death penalty

Military courts sentenced at least 50 people to death during the year, including civilians. No executions were reported.

*** Amnesty International visits

Amnesty International delegates visited the country in February and November

~~~ <>
~  Coordinator: Rik De Gendt, 9031 Drongen-Gent, Belgium - Phone: +32-475 260239

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Envoyé le : Dimanche, 10 Mai 2009, 19h12mn 42s
Objet : Guardian: Congo's electronic blood diamonds

The Guardian, UK

Congo's electronic blood diamonds

Our demand for phones, laptops and digital cameras has fuelled an illicit minerals trade and violence in eastern Congo

Millions of people have died in eastern Congo, in what is the world's deadliest conflict since the second world war. Ending the Democratic Republic of the Congo's multiple conflicts is the single most important task in improving the lives of Congolese, making more lasting development possible and giving people a say in their own affairs. Trying to talk about economic development in eastern Congo without acknowledging this elephant in the room just doesn't make sense.

It is indisputable that the illicit minerals trade in eastern Congo (minerals that ultimately end up in many of our personal electronics devices such as mobile phones, laptops and digital cameras) remains one of the important factors fuelling the violence. Not only do an array of armed groups continue to clash to control respective mines, their stranglehold over minerals and the imposition of "taxes" on local populations and traders allows these militias to finance more weapons purchases, more violence and more corruption.

Severing the link between the minerals trade and the armed groups committing atrocities in eastern Congo is one of the most critical steps toward changing the logic of war in Congo.

Recent public and private reporting out of one of the hotbeds of conflict mineral production, North and South Kivu, suggests that the nexus between mineral resources and violence, especially rampant sexual violence, continues unabated. Recently enterprising reporters from the BBC followed the minerals trail to Mwenga in South Kivu province, where they found villagers illegally taxed and terrorised by FDLR rebels – a militia deeply implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The international community has spent billions on elections and peacekeeping in Congo, but despite the extensive documentation of Congo's war economy by UN investigations, existing peacemaking efforts have failed to address the economic drivers of the conflict. The international community has failed to take the advice that served Woodward and Bernstein so well: "Follow the money." As a result, ordinary Congolese remain trapped, their livelihoods dependent on an exploitative minerals trade that leaves the state sapped of resources and keeps violent armed groups well-financed.

Meanwhile the rest of the world continues to benefit from the end products associated with this business. International demand for low-cost electronics products has encouraged increased demand for minerals from eastern Congo, which are inexpensive precisely because they are coercively extracted by armed groups under exploitative systems, with little financial benefit flowing to local people who continue to work under medieval conditions that shock the conscience.

Most major electronics companies in the United States do not know for sure where exactly the minerals in their products come from, and offer only bland reassurances that they too want their products to be conflict free. But as of yet, no major electronics company has fully traced their supply chain back to their mines of origin – the only way to ensure that when you and I buy a new mobile phone we are not fuelling flagrant human rights abuses.

Sustained support for the reform of key Congolese institutions, especially the security sector, is the only long-term cure for Congo's dysfunction. But such efforts will falter if nothing is done to reduce the millions of dollars that are made available to spoilers through the minerals trade.

Transparency is the non-negotiable first-step to a legitimate mineral trade in eastern Congo. It is not surprising that the same Congolese and international businesses that have profited handsomely from Congo's current misery are quick to portray much needed reforms as a threat to the livelihood of miners.

The Enough Project and our allies both in the United States and Congo are not calling for a boycott of Congolese minerals. Rather we are asking electronics companies to take responsibility for their supply chains by tracing their minerals back to their mines of origin and subjecting their supply chains to independently verifiable audits so that consumers can be assured they are not helping finance some of the worst violence in the world in violation of UN security council resolutions.

We recognise that some miners in militia-held areas would be affected by more transparent trade, and we have called for a substantial international investment in alternative livelihoods and transitional support for miners to mitigate these effects. But make no mistake: Congo's poor will be best served by a concerted international push for peace, an end to the trade in illicit conflict minerals and a life where they do not live every day at the point of a gun.

~~~ <>
~  Coordinator: Rik De Gendt, 9031 Drongen-Gent, Belgium - Phone: +32-475 260239

Issue No. 029 Friday, March 27, 2009

OPINION: Pope Benedict Championed Social Justice in Africa

By Peter Henriot SJ

Amidst all the media coverage about tribunals in Zambia, coups in Madagascar
and disputes in FIFA, there have been in the past week some very important news
coming out of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Africa. And the most important
elements in that news, in my opinion, have been about social justice.

What do I mean? Well, I believe that a fair analysis of the Pope’s messages
over the past few days shows some really strong calls for greater commitment to
democracy, development, concern for the poor and respect for African values.

Benedict made some powerful speeches in the two countries he visited, Cameroon
and Angola. They were speeches before crowds of thousands in churches and public
arenas, speeches to leaders of the Catholic Church and other churches, and
speeches to government heads and politicians. In addition, he released a major
document for discussion at an up-coming meeting in Rome later this year, the
so-called “Second African Synod.”

The topic of the synod is “The Church in Africa in Service of Reconciliation,
Justice and Peace.” You can readily see from the topic how timely and relevant
it is to Zambia and to all of Africa. That’s why I think that we are in for
some very lively debates over the next several months about the relationship of
Church and State and about the proper political role that the Church should play
in our country.

Prophetic role

It is clear from Benedict’s speeches and from the Synod document that the
Catholic Church simply rejects out of hand any theology or political philosophy
that would demand that the Church be quiet about the misery of the people (e.g.,
poverty conditions) and the mismanagement of government (e.g., corruption).
According to the Synod document, “the church ought not to retire into
herself.” I take that to mean that it is never the role of the church to
“stay in the sacristy,” as some Zambian politicians like to demand whenever
a Pastoral Letter comes out to challenge the situation in the country!

The March 1 Pastoral Letter of the Zambian Catholic Bishops is well backed up
by the Synod document’s call for a “more prophetic role” of the Church in
the social and political life of the African Continent. And in the Cameroon last
week, Benedict stated quite bluntly, “In the face of suffering or violence,
poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain
silent.” And he said, “The bishop’s mission leads him to be the defender
of the rights of the poor….”

Benedict has a strong view about the responsibility of Christian lay people to
be actively engaged in political affairs in order to promote social justice.
“So it is the duty of Christians,” he declared in Yaoundé, “particularly
lay people with social, economic and political responsibilities, to be guided by
the Church’s social teaching, in order to contribute to the building up of a
more just world where everyone can live with dignity.” Certainly Catholics
active in political life in Zambia should pay heed to these words.

While in Angola, he urged the government to do more to fight poverty,
corruption and uphold human rights. In a nationally televised speech, he made a
strong plea to Africans to make the changes needed to improve people’s lives.
He called for a transformation of the Continent, “freeing people from the whip
of greed, violence, disorder and guiding it through the path of those principles
that are indispensable to any modern democracy.”

Those principles, he said, included respect, transparent governance, freedom of
the press, health care and adequate schooling as well as the promotion of human
rights. Africans needed “a firm determination to change hearts and finally put
a stop, once and for all, to corruption.”

Cultural values

Respect for traditional African values is particularly noteworthy in
Benedict's speeches and in the Synod document. This document sums up these
values as expressing “a respect for elders; a respect for women as mothers; a
culture of solidarity, mutual aid, hospitality and unity; a respect for life,
honesty, truth, keeping one’s word....” These values are seen to be
threatened by an aggressive globalization that pushes cultural values and
practices foreign to Africa.

In Angola, Benedict called attention to the abuse of women. "Particularly
disturbing is the crushing yoke of discrimination that women and girls so often
endure, not to mention the unspeakable practice of sexual violence and
exploitation which causes such humiliation and trauma.”

He also addressed the challenge of witchcraft, encouraging Christians to offer
hope “to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they
feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street
children and even the most elderly because - they say - they are

Relevant challenges

But it is in the Synod document launched by Benedict that I find some of the
most challenging statements about linking authentic faith and social justice.
Some of the critics of the Church’s activism here in Zambia will not be
pleased by the document’s analysis of several burning issues such as failures
by political leaders, exploitation by mining companies and misuse of the media.

In reading the document, I was struck by its immediate relevance in addressing
two current issues in Zambia. First, it speaks favourably of the African Peer
Review Mechanism (APRM) that “seeks to identify the forms and causes of the
corruption which rages on the Continent and goes unpunished.” Would that we
now take up the APRM as an effective anti-corruption tool in this country!

Second, it sounds a clear and cogent warning about the risk of giving into the
campaign for GMOs, which purports to assure food security. This campaign,
according to the document, “should not overlook the true problems of
agriculture in Africa: the lack of cultivatable land, water, energy, access to
credit, agricultural training, local markets, road infrastructures, etc.”
Again, words very relevant to Zambia!

I want to say that I was very pleased by Benedict’s strong social justice
emphasis during his first visit to Africa. His speeches also touched on very
serious spiritual and pastoral issues. But the social justice emphasis was clear
enough to challenge those who want to opt for a church that distances itself
from the real life, day to day struggles of its members. And the Synod document
opens up very promising lines of action to promote a Church “in service to
reconciliation, justice and peace.” We can be strengthened by this leadership
role encouraged by Pope Benedict.

[Peter Henriot is director of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in
Lusaka, Zambia.]


Important Information from Sharon Silber of NYC Coalition for Darfur:
Yesterday additional atrocities reported in Graidah, in S. Darfur:

a- In Graidah, attacks and abuses by GoS troops and Janjaweed on civilians ( raids at homes, looting, beatings, degrading racial insults).
b-Killing of at least 2 civilians in their homes last night.
c-Gang rape of 17 women, 2 of them girls aged 9 years and 14 years

Reuters: Rebels Accuse Sudan Of Bombing Near Darfur Capital. Darfur rebels said Sudanese government forces had bombed their positions near the regional capital El Fasher Monday, marking a further escalation of fighting. Tension has been building in the region ahead of an expected decision by the International Criminal Court on whether to issue an arrest warrant against Sudan 's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges on orchestrating war crimes in Darfur . The rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said planes struck positions near El Fasher, also the headquarters of the joint United Nations/African Union peacekeeping mission.

Reuters: Sudanese forces bomb town in Darfur-U.N., rebels. Sudanese government planes bombed a key town in south Darfur on Saturday, a week after its seizure by Darfuri JEM rebels, peacekeepers and insurgents said. Bombs landed close to a base run by the joint U.N./African Union peacekeeping force, UNAMID, in the town of Muhajiriya and destroyed houses, a U.N. official said. A senior commander for the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) told Reuters 16 civilians were killed in the raid, including a young child. It was impossible to verify the figures independently.

Washington Post: Sudan Fired on Civilians Unlawfully, Report Says. Sudanese intelligence and security forces unlawfully fired into a crowd of thousands of displaced Darfurians in August, killing 33 civilians and injuring 108 others, according to a U.N. inquiry released yesterday by the Geneva-based High Commissioner for Human Rights. The United Nations previously condemned Sudan 's action in the August incident, but this was the first release of findings from the official inquiry and offered further evidence of the worsening plight of the civilian population in the Darfur region, where more than 3 million people have been driven from their homes since violence erupted there five years ago. More than 1,000 Sudanese forces tried to enter the Kalma camp on Aug. 25 to search for weapons, drugs or any other evidence of organized crime, the report said. They were met by thousands of civilians, some holding spears, knives and sticks.

2 Today or tomorrow, continue to call the White House at either 202-456-1111 or 1-800-GENOCIDE, with this message and/or call Secretary of State Clinton at State Department's public comment line at 202-647-6575 :

I'm calling to ask your administration to quickly and decisively address the escalating violence in Darfur. Omar al-Bashir has threatened and is now escalating attacks against civilians. The potential for massive loss of life is enormous.  Please issue immediate warnings to Bashir and other members of the Governemnt of Sudan specifying consequences of more attacks and prepare an emergency response plan to address further violence.
Thank you.
Dear Friends,

Alas, we have reached another sad milestone in the effort to save the people of Darfur--namely, the third Anniversary of our witness in front of the US Mission to the United Nations and the continued need for our presence there.

As most of you know, Sudanese President al-Bashir  promised to step up violence in Darfur if the International  Criminal  Court (ICC) continues to pursue an indictment of  him for the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  He has broken every promise with respect to peace, but this is one promise he has kept.  Reports continue to come out of Darfur of increased violence and murder of helpless civilians, even in the camps.  The US must continue its strong support for an indictment by the ICC, and at the same time use all of its non-military artillery to secure the safety of defenseless civilians. It is necessary for all of us to exert pressure on our Administration to make Darfur a major priority.

Join us as we urge a more muscular policy towards Sudan as the new UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, assumes her office.  (We have attempted to have a meeting with a member of the US-UN Mission staff, but have not succeeded thus far.  Rest assured that we will continue those efforts.) At the same time, we will be reaching out to the public to sign on to the fight to end the suffering in Darfur.

PLACE:  US Mission to the UN, 140 East 45th Street, (bet. Lexington and Third Aves.)  Look for police booth.

DATE:    Tuesday, February 3.

TIME:     Noon to 2 PM.  Come for whatever time you can.

WEATHER:  Looks like the upsurge in temperature will continue through next Tuesday.  But if you get a bit chilly, there is a very friendly and reasonably priced coffee shop in the   

Thanks for your continued commitment to save Darfur.
The Darfur Vigil Group.

National Catholic Reporter Conversation Cafe (

New Year's resolution: Make 2009 the 'Year of Africa'

By John L Allen Jr Weekly
Created Dec 31 2008 - 09:51
All Things Catholic by John L. Allen, Jr.
Friday, January 2, 2008 - Vol. 8, No. 15 

Editor's Note: We're posting Allen's Friday column early this week
because of the New Year holiday.

'Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions, and in that spirit, I’d
like to propose a resolution for Catholics everywhere: To make 2009 truly the
“Year of Africa” that Pope Benedict XVI intends.

Three major events point to 2009 as a “Year of Africa” at the level of the
Vatican and papal activity: Benedict’s scheduled visit in March to Cameroon
and Angola; a plenary assembly of SECAM, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences
of Africa and Madagascar, to be staged in Rome in September, in order to
galvanize Western interest; and a Synod for Africa, a gathering of bishops from
around the world, to be held in the Vatican during October.

Each October we begin our annual Friends of NCR appeal. NCR plays a critical
role in today's church and in Catholic journalism. Your support helps us
continue our work as an independent Catholic news source. Please consider making
a donation.

In a recent interview on Vatican Radio, the papal spokesperson, Jesuit Fr.
Federico Lombardi, laid out the logic for this “preferential option for
Africa” in the coming year.

“The suffering of the African people is enormous,” Lombardi said. “There
are terrifying massacres of the poor, and there are situations of famine, as
we’ve seen in Zimbabwe in recent days.”

The question Benedict XVI intends to pose, Lombardi said, is this: “What must
we do, not only to overcome these dramatic situations, but so that a continent
of such great potential, of such enormous resources – both material and, above
all, human resources – can make its contribution to humanity, and to the
church of today and tomorrow?”

“The commitment of the pope offers us an example,” Lombardi said, “but
all of us must look to this continent in the year that’s coming.”

Without any doubt, Africa is where humanity today is most dramatically walking
the Via Crucis:

    * The number of Africans living in extreme poverty, meaning less than $1 a
day, is projected by the United Nations to rise to 404 million in 2015. Some 800
million Africans suffer from chronic hunger, including 300 million children.
    * Roughly 25 million Africans are living with HIV/AIDS, representing six
percent of the adult population, with an estimated two million deaths each year.
Between 12 and 14 million African children have been orphaned by AIDS.
    * An estimated 11 million African children die each year due to preventable
diseases such as malaria, measles, diarrhea and pneumonia.
    * Forty-two million school-aged children in Africa are not enrolled in
school. In 2000 alone, 860,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa lost teachers due
to AIDS, and it’s estimated that some 15-20 percent of teachers on the
continent have died from the disease.
    * Between 1990 and 2005, twenty-three African nations have been involved in
armed conflicts, claiming tens of millions of lives and, according to an Oxfam
report, squandering almost $300 billion – an annual loss of 15 percent of
Gross Domestic Product. Upheaval in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone,
according to one estimate, has left four million people dead – conflict fueled
in part by a global scramble for Congo’s mineral resources, including cobalt,
which is used in cell phone batteries. On a recent trip to the United States,
Bishop Fulgence Muteba Mugalu of Kilwa said that “Catholics and governments
should understand that each cell phone contains a drop of innocent Congolese

Of course, the church’s interest in Africa is not exclusively humanitarian.
Africa also represents the greatest “growth market,” so to speak, for
Catholicism anywhere in the world. The Catholic population of sub-Saharan Africa
exploded from 1.9 million in 1900 to 139 million in 2000, a staggering growth
rate of 6,708 percent. The pope and other senior church leaders perceive a
direct institutional interest in promoting peace and development in Africa, in
order to consolidate these missionary gains.

Hence the obvious resolution for 2009: To do whatever we can, at whatever level
and in whatever context we find ourselves, to promote thought, prayer and action
on behalf of Africa.

To offer some concrete possibilities:

    * Leaders at the parish level could invite a local expert on Africa to
address adult faith formation programs, to speak in the parish school, or to
offer some brief reflections at the end of Sunday Mass. March offers a natural
moment for such events, since Benedict will physically be in Africa at that
time, as well as September and October, during the SECAM assembly and the Synod
for Africa.
    * Few dioceses in the West these days don’t have at least one African
priest. Make that guy a local celebrity in 2009, inviting him to say Mass in
parishes around the diocese, to speak at deanery meetings, to visit Catholic
schools, and so on.
    * Catholic charities already do Herculean work on behalf of Africa, and
2009 represents a natural moment to aggressively promote those activities.
Special collections could be organized, new advocacy campaigns could be
launched, and Africa experts can hit the road to tell their stories.
    * Catholic colleges and universities could launch new programs of academic
study focusing on Africa, as well as high-profile lecture series and other
public events. Inevitably, there’s ferocious disagreement among development
experts about exactly how to promote change: some advocate massive assistance
from developed nations, others focus on economic development and global trade,
still others on fighting corruption. Catholic universities can offer a
laboratory for testing ideas and fostering debate.
    * The Catholic press, both print and broadcast, could prepare a series of
features on Africa, focusing both on the church on the continent as well as
current political and social issues. Catholic media could make a commitment to
integrating news from Africa more systematically into its routine coverage.
    * Catholic institutions of all sorts could be attentive to opportunities
throughout 2009 to shine a spotlight on Africa. For example, whenever a visiting
African bishop, religious sister, or lay activist happens to be in town, make a
big deal out of it. Sponsor a public lecture, arrange for that person to meet
with the local media, and so on. Benedict XVI’s focus on Africa will help
create an atmosphere in which people are paying attention, at least
intermittently; the challenge is to exploit that atmosphere to raise
consciousness at the local level.

While these ideas apply everywhere, they arguably have a special logic in
America. Barack Obama is not only the President-elect of the United States, but
also, effectively, the uncrowned king of Africa. He’s by far the most popular
political figure in the world among Africans right now, a leader invested with
almost messianic expectations. That gives him political capital on the continent
that no other global figure can rival, creating a window of opportunity to make
things happen. American Catholics can help push the Obama White House in this
direction, and mobilize support if it responds.

There are, of course, serious obstacles to be overcome. The economic crisis in
the United States creates a powerful temptation for Americans to turn inward,
focusing on domestic problems. Whatever attention we have left over for foreign
policy may be occupied by the crisis du jour in the Holy Land and by ongoing
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Catholics, there are also internal reasons why Benedict’s push on Africa
may be a tough sell. “Peace and justice” Catholics tend to occupy the
church’s left wing, which is sometimes crankily resistant to papal
initiatives, even when they cut in a direction liberals otherwise support. For
example, an utterly predictable chorus is likely to arise on the Catholic left
in ’09 to the effect of, “If the pope wants to do something for Africa, why
doesn’t he come out in favor of condoms to fight AIDS?” Such stale polemics
often get in the way of doing something constructive. Conservative Catholics,
meanwhile, talk a good game about “thinking with the church,” but can be
selective in their follow-through. If the pope criticizes abortion, they’re
ready to mount the barricades; if he tackles poverty and war, many will quietly
suggest he’s out of his depth, or that he’s wading into matters of
prudential judgment that don’t oblige conscience.

All of that, however, makes turning 2009 into a “Year of Africa”
complicated, not impossible. For reasons both pastoral and prophetic, Africa is
a critical proving ground for the Catholic future. This is one case, moreover,
in which no one can complain about papal “silence”.

The drama of ’09 is not whether the pope will lead; it’s whether the rest
of us will follow. Doing so is a resolution well worth making.

~~~ <>
~  Coordinator: Rik De Gendt, 9031 Drongen-Gent, Belgium - Phone: +32-475


 "War destroys. And we must cry out for peace.
Peace sometimes gives the idea of stillness, but it is never stillness.
It is always an active peace.
I think that everyone must be committed in the matter of peace,
to do everything that they can,
what I can do from here.
Peace is the language we must speak."
Pope Francis



                                            ~Pope FRANCIS