West Africa’s Bishops Challenge Justice and Peace Commissions

“8th RECOWA CERAO meeting of West Africa

By Paul Samasumo

The standing committee of RECOWA-CERAO -the regional collegial body of Bishops of West Arica, has concluded with a call to African governments to put the good of citizens at the heart of their governance structures.

The Bishop-Presidents of national and inter-territorial Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, under the auspices of RECOWA-CERAO, have concluded their Standing Committee meeting this week with a passionate call outlining some of the region’s urgent socio-political pastoral concerns. The week-long meeting was held at the Centre for Pastoral and Mission (CCPM) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

The Bishops have appealed to governments of the region who are due for elections, this year, to organise credible elections. They have also tasked the Church’s Justice and Peace Commissions, of West Africa, to accompany the electoral processes.

“This year 2020 will be marked by the organisation of elections in six countries in West Africa, namely: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, and Togo. Educated by the experience of the past, we appeal to the wisdom and the spirit of responsibility of the political actors and of all those who will be involved in these electoral processes. We ask them to organise peaceful, credible and transparent elections. The time has finally come to give the world another face of our experience of democracy: that of maturity through bloodless elections, before, during and after; and the verdict accepted by all. We must understand that politics is a space of service and self-giving for the happiness of fellow citizens,” reads a communique made available to Vatican News.

Among other pastoral concerns denounced by the Bishops are land grabbing by multinational corporations and forced expropriation of land through diverse forms. The consequences say the Bishops, are incalculable. These include, “loss of cultural and ancestral heritage, displacement, unemployment, famine, (and) migration. To the States, companies, multinationals, and to all those involved in this disastrous operation of land grabbing and forced expropriation of land in Africa, we address a call to listen to the word of God: ‘Don’t take advantage of the poor just because you can; don’t take advantage of those who stand helpless… (Prov. 22:22)’” appeal the Bishops.

The Bishops believe that African governments need to promote and pursue global, legally binding instruments that will regulate the activities of transnational corporations in Africa.

“On our part, we instruct the Justices and Peace Commissions of all our dioceses to redouble efforts and innovations in care, protection, and support of the victims of the harmful effects of land grabbing and forced expropriation of land. In addition, we also undertake to do intense advocacy work with all national and international bodies so that strong frameworks and mechanisms can be put in place to correct any injustice and anomaly,” the Bishops affirm.

The Bishops’ concerns are informed by current events in Africa.

Some observers have called what is happening in Africa as a new scramble for Africa. This is in reference to the historical “scramble for Africa” of 1881 to 1914 when Africa’s invasion, occupation, division, and colonisation, by various European powers took place. This time around, various countries, not only European, but with an eye on the continent’s natural resources, are looking to increase economic and political ties with African countries.

African governments have sometimes offered large tracts of land for foreign investment with little or no consultation of rural communities. Some communities have been forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. In some cases, precious trees or even pristine land reserves are destroyed with the knowledge of some government officials. In many cases, for the locals, the touted benefits of technology transfer and increased employment do not materialise at all.

Sometimes entire communities are further impoverished.

In short, the Bishops find disturbing the fact that, with the connivance of some African governments, some of Africa’s arable lands have been given to multinationals for commerical agriculture, logging, and mining operations. Small scale farmers who produce the bulk of Africa’s food are left neglected. Most of the agreements or deals accompanying these land transfers lack transparency.

Another side-effect of some of the economic deals are are growing fears of hidden debt or the unknown extent of African governments’ indebtedness.