Development, human rights issues in Africa focus of church-wide assembly

Delegates condemn Western domination of poor countries, pledge to pray for end to Zimbabwe's 'illegitimate rule'
December 12, 2008

More than 50 Anglicans and Episcopalians were among 1,400 participants attending the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) general assembly in Mozambique, adding their voices to those of ecumenical partners addressing issues of justice, liberation and human rights throughout the African continent.


Meeting under the theme "Africa, Step Forth in Faith," the assembly ended its December 7-12 meeting with a condemnation of the Western domination of poor countries, which it blamed largely for poverty dogging the continent, according to Ecumenical News International.

"With the prevailing forces of globalization, Africa experiences a new form of oppression with crippling economic burden through unjust international relations, trade and hopeless foreign debts," AACC delegates said in a message issued at the end of the gathering in the Mozambican capital, Maputo.

The Episcopal Church was represented by the Rev. Emmanuel Sserwadda, program officer for Africa in the Partnerships Center; Canon Margaret S. Larom, program officer for international justice and peacemaking in the Advocacy Center; Janette O'Neill, director of Africa programs for Episcopal Relief and Development; and the Rev. Canon Benjamin Musoke-Lubega, program associate for the Trinity Wall Street Grants Program.

The assembly was organized into nine sub-themes that focused on key development issues in Africa. In addition to daily Bible study and workshops, the assembly included keynote addresses from Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, who urged the churches to help African nations attain economic freedom; Laurence Konmla Bropleh, Liberia's minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, who called on the church in Africa to make their leaders accountable; and former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who gave the closing address December 12.

The AACC, Africa's largest Christian grouping, pledged on December 11 to "pray for an end to illegitimate rule in Zimbabwe," adding that President Robert Mugabe "is using power-sharing negotiations as a strategy for wasting time and exercising continued control" over the southern African nation.

Earlier in the week, after delegates had said the church had failed on Zimbabwe, the Rev. Mvume Dandala, outgoing AACC general secretary, said the organization could only do what its member churches tell it in regard to Zimbabwe.

"When we first tried to intervene on the Zimbabwe situation, the church there did not want to cooperate with us because they said the way we looked at the problems in that country was different from the way the church there looked at them," said Dandala.

The Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya who is general secretary of the World Council of Churches, offered support to former South African president Mbeki, with whom he shared a platform during the closing session December 12, "in his very difficult task" of negotiating an end to the crisis in Zimbabwe.

However, ENI reported Mbeki as rejecting calls for Mugabe to step down. "None of the Zimbabwean parties has made such a demand and we follow what Zimbabwean parties are thinking. And what we have decided is that it is important for them to work together and get together to form the inclusive government," Mbeki told reporters.

In his speech to the AACC assembly, however, Mbeki exhorted African churches to "mobilize the people to act as their own liberators" and to continue to support "African solutions to African problems," ENI reported. He reminded the assembly, "as an old liberation fighter" that "revolutions require revolutionaries."

WCC general secretary Kobia, departing from the text of his speech after Mbeki spoke, noted that some members of the week-long assembly had called for the removal of Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe. "This is not because we love Mugabe less," Kobia told Mbeki, "but because we love the suffering people of Zimbabwe more."

Peace monument unveiled
The once-every-five-year assembly was held in Maputo, where on December 11 a peace monument was unveiled marking 16 years of the end of civil war in Mozambique. The monument is being constructed under a Mozambique Council of Churches' program of turning swords into ploughshares.

"This monument is also an invitation to the African continent and the world to give peace a chance to stay and grow with us," Bishop Dinis Sengulane of the Diocese of Lebombo, who was involved in negotiations that brought an end to Mozambique's civil war in 1992, told Ecumenical News International. "We in Mozambique are turning instruments of death into instruments of peace and hope."

The peace monument is made from pieces of various types of guns, made from manufacturers all around the world, said Sserwadda. "The sad thing to note is that these guns were imported. They have done their damage, but the manufacturers who sold them live on other continents in peace and tranquility."

Sengulane, who as president of the Mozambique Council of Churches is helping to host the AACC assembly, welcomed more than 30 Anglicans and Episcopalians for a fellowship lunch on December 10.

Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, who led a delegation from the Anglican Province of Burundi, said, "We are gathered for the AACC assembly, but we are also gathered as friends. We are people on the same journey, and on that journey we are facing challenges."

Ntahoturi asked each Anglican to pray in particular for the situations in Zimbabwe and the Great Lakes region. "Anglicans in Harare are suffering. Some can't access church properties and others cannot worship at the cathedral," he said. "There is also the conflict in the Great Lakes region, in eastern Congo and the neighboring countries … They are welcoming our prayers."

The December 10 gathering was organized with the help of the Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA). Ntahoturi asked partner churches and mission organizations to support and pray for CAPA.

"At our last meeting, we resolved to strengthen CAPA not only on a continental level but also in our dioceses and provinces," Ntahoturi said. "There are all sorts of initiatives coming up. To succeed, CAPA has to be strengthened, cherished and empowered."

During the assembly, Larom followed the theme titled "Women as Agents of Peace, Reconciliation and Development." She said that one "particularly harrowing morning" was devoted to gender-based violence. "The graphic descriptions of women brutalized by battle-crazed men, of being raped in front of their husbands and children, of being shot in the vagina or carved by machete afterward, of having their arms cut off or faces slashed as a final act of degradation and destruction, were horrifying," she said, adding that the reports about female genital mutilation (FGM) still practiced widely in most of Africa "were even more appalling."

"A film clip of a young girl being subjected to this traditional cultural practice had participants weeping, exclaiming in horror, and beside themselves with outrage," she said.

Each morning, "theologians illuminated aspects of biblical interpretation and teaching of 'the church fathers,' [revealing] how two millennia of patriarchal culture have pushed women into second-class status and even produced deep feelings of inferiority in women," Larom said. "Participants were urged to work for empowerment within their churches and societies, so that they could be more effective in the essential peace and reconciliation efforts in their nations."

Today, Anglican women are providing leadership in many areas, Larom said, citing the Tamar campaign in Burundi, an effort by the churches to break the silence regarding gender-based violence, as one such example.

Sserwadda said the assembly had provided "a wonderful opportunity" to interact with so many Anglicans and ecumenical partners from all over Africa. "The interesting thing was that the whole conference focused on issues affecting Africa -- conflicts in Zimbabwe and the Congo, for example; poverty and social issues of the family and community, and development. The assembly hasn't been swayed to outside agendas."

For Larom, the assembly provided a chance for renewing friendships that began back in the early 1980s when she and her husband Peter were appointed to serve as Episcopal Church missionaries in the Church of Uganda. "I was inspired to see how the face-to-face encounters -- no matter how brief, with old acquaintances or new -- were filled with spontaneous joy and love at meeting another member of the family."

Anglicans elected to general committee
New members of the AACC general committee that were sworn in during the closing worship on December 12 included several Anglicans.

The Most Rev. Valentine Mokiwa, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Tanzania and Bishop of Dar es Salaam, was elected to a five-year term as president of the AACC.

Joy Kwaje, member of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and chair of the Government of Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission, was re-elected as vice president for the North Africa region. (There are five vice presidents, one each for the Central, East, North and Southern Africa regions, plus one for the Orthodox Communion.)

Other Anglicans newly elected to the general committee included Edmond Bayisabe, Diocese of Bujumbura, youth delegate to the Assembly from Burundi; the Rt. Rev. Yona Katoneene, Diocese of West Ankole, delegate from Uganda; Florence Evaua Isale, Church of Uganda, women’s delegate (alternate); Joyce Kariuki, Anglican Church of Kenya, women/youth delegate (alternate); the Rev. Joseph Taban Labusa, Episcopal Church of Sudan (alternate); Agnes Mkoko of Malawi, women’s delegate (alternate); Robert Mumbi, Diocese of Lua Puli, Zambia (alternate); the Rt. Rev. Trevor Mwamba, Diocese of Botswana; Priscilla Johnson, wife of Bishop Tilewa Johnson, Gambia women’s delegate; Joy Cole, Diocese of Gambia, youth delegate (alternate). The Rt. Rev. Onesphore Rwaje, Diocese of Byumba, Rwanda, was re-elected to the general committee as an alternate.

Hellen Grace Akwii Wangusa, Anglican Observer at the U.N., concluded her term as vice president representing eastern Africa. Bishop Pie Ntukamazina of the Diocese of Bujumbura, Burundi, who also concluded his term on the general committee, served as chair of the steering committee for the 9th General Assembly.


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