Africa’s Poverty and Problems are by Choice, Says President of Caritas Africa

AMECEA Interview by Fr Andrew Kaufa, smm

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The President of Caritas Africa, Most Rev. Gilbert Justice Yaw Anokye, Archbishop of Kumasi, recently visited AMECEA Secretariat during his official trip to Kenya’s Caritas Africa regional office. This visit followed the recent SECAM’s (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) 18th Plenary Assembly which took place in Uganda from July 21-28 where he was in attendance. Caritas Africa has two regional offices in Africa – one in Lome, Togo, and the other in Nairobi, Kenya. The Nairobi office takes care of Caritas affairs in a number of Member Episcopal Conferences in countries in Eastern Africa which are also under AMECEA. The organization has a special working agreement with Kenya government dating back to 1988.  AMECEA Online News was privileged to have an interview with him during which he shared his opinion about Integral Human Development, solidarity, and self in the Church in Africa. In his special message to the bishops on the continent, he is of the view that Africa can rise up of only the problem of leadership is addressed, hence calling upon them to help Africa rise up. This is how the interview went.

For some time, Caritas Africa has been involved in providing relief to people affected by floods and droughts in the AMECEA region. What else are you doing to mitigate the challenges affecting the region?

There are also problems such as political instability and civil wars in countries like South Sudan and Eritrea. We have religious extremism in Somalia; the Boko Haram in Nigeria; the Al Qaeda in Mauritania; instability in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast; and migration of people. There are certainly factors for all these problems which must be addressed. However, in all these circumstances people need to be fed, helped, dressed and given shelter. Their rights ought to be respected for they are human beings: refugees are human beings, whether they are living on the continent or migrating to the West.

Factors are both natural and man-made. You know how cyclones and hurricanes start and destroy property. These natural causes sometimes cannot be dictated in advance though some can. The meteorological departments can tell us that in the next two or three days a hurricane is coming but some earthquakes and tsunamis can take us by surprise. Then we have the man-made causes: we human beings are cutting trees but we are not replanting them; we are digging for gold and diamond and copper without closing the pits; we are farming without taking our responsibility for the care of the soil. All these are man-made and must be avoided. We as Caritas come in when those factors have caused some emergency. However, if we can stop that from happening, that for me is the best.  We say that health care has triple dimension: preventive, curative and rehabilitative. The same applies to Caritas.

Obviously, sometimes we cannot prevent disasters such as what happened this year in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. That is when we should be able to mobilize funds and turn all our focus into relief, mobilizing resources and providing technical assistance. In the aftermath, Caritas should also come in. For example, Caritas Uganda has been working on rehabilitating the lives of so the refugees from Sudan. In many countries, Caritas is helping refugees to start life afresh under the Caritas livelihood empowerment program. We do not ignore giving them food, medicines, and blankets, but we also work on rehabilitating them. That is part of our mission.

Given what you have just said, is there then any clear-cut margin between these departments – Justice and Peace, Catholic Development and Caritas?

Not at all, there is no line of demarcation. In many countries, the offices are written Caritas –  Social Development. In my own Archdiocese of Kumasi, it is the same office under the label Caritas -Social Development – Investment. In fact, this is why Pope Francis has merged all these departments into one. In the past, Justice, and Peace had its own office with a full Prefect Cardinal and his team; Health also had a fully fledged office; then Migration; Caritas; Advocacy or development. The Holy Father said NO: put all of them together because a human being needs integral human development. We must have a holistic approach to a human being who is a refugee or a migrant; a widow or an orphan. So we must have an office which helps human beings integrally.

It is unfortunate that this is not yet fully implemented in may countries. You still find in some Conferences where Justice and Peace are still working independently from Caritas and Catholic Development. Yet most of the issues that they are dealing with are the same. The establishment of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development is for the Church to look into these issues in a new way and stop working in isolation. Pope Francis is saying, ‘Let us bring all that we are doing together and share the platform, the coordination, as well as the resources.’ It is never too late.

Why are some dioceses and Conferences not merging the offices? Perhaps, the reason could be how to realign the personnel. When you merge, some people have to go. Even in Rome, as they created the Dicastery in 2016, they had to get rid of some people. They had to pay off some and re-orient others to new duties. There is an example I always give when I talk about the importance of specialization: when I have a headache, a toothache, a stomach ache; what do I do? Yes, I am one person but I need a specialist for each of these problems.  So there is a good reason why each department was there. In this new model, for example, I must have an office of Integral Human Development where I find all these specialists: those advocating for justice and peace; for education, development, and health; for mobilizing funds for charitable interventions.

During the SECAM 18th Plenary, I understand the Prefect for the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development His Eminence Peter Cardinal Turkson challenged the bishops of the Church in Africa “to read the writings on the wall” and commit themselves to financial self-sustainability of the Church ministries on the continent. How do you look at the future of the mission of Caritas Africa?

We are our brother’s keeper right from the word ‘go’. We must take care of our needy brothers, whether or not we are brothers or sisters at consanguinity level. I can give an example from the Gospel when the disciples asked Jesus, ‘How can we feed all these people when we have only 200 dinarii? God needs our hearts and hands to feed his children. We still need our partners. I am sure our partners from the other continents are surely going to continue helping us – Caritas Italiana, Caritas Australia – but they must come to add on what we in Africa have. ‘What do we have?’, one may ask. Let the strong help those who are weak, wrote Saint Paul to the Romans meaning that the stronger Caritases should help the fragile Caritas.

People always think about money, but that is not all: there is our time; our talents; the human resource. When a disaster strikes, what people need most is our presence – being there for them. Money is a technical issue if not the secondary issue but to be present to those in difficult situations is the most important. Caritas cannot continue to pay for all the technical and material, physical moral support. We cannot continue. So we are obliged to look for means of self-reliance and sustainability.

Examples can help. Yesterday I saw here in Nairobi the Caritas Bank; the Cardinal Otunga Plazza where they have offices which are being rented; the commercial car park they are building near Holy Family Basilica targeting 500 hundred cars. All these are going to bring in money. Think of these Chinese, these South Africans. Why are you not being businesslike? Cardinal Turkson, when he was President of the Episcopal Conference in Ghana brought the idea of introducing an insurance company – QIC, Quality Insurance Company. As we speak now, it is one of the best in Ghana which pays claims most in Ghana compared to most other insurances in the country.

Read Joshua chapter 2: as soon as the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, Manna stopped falling from Heaven. After 50 years of SECAM, we must feed ourselves. We have not yet used 50 percent of our potentiality. Yes, we have to appeal for help from our partners but we must also tell them that on our part we have raised so much and we need the help of so much. Otherwise, we can calculate that 20 years from now the cake will be finished.

The SECAM 18th Plenary Assembly which recently took place in Kampala, Uganda, echoed the call for solidarity, urging bishops to share even clergy and Religious with other countries that have shortage in the spirit of mission ad gentes. Do you think this is also possible when it comes to charity work?  

We need solidarity. Isn’t it Mother Teresa who said that the world doesn’t have enough for everybody’s greed; but it has enough for everyone’s needs. There is plenty of food which is being thrown away – you have no idea how much is being wasted every day. And yet someone is starving in Africa. Solidarity is not an option; it is a categorical imperative.

The same applies to sharing priests for mission yes. In Caritas, we say that the strong ‘Caritases’ should go and form the capacity base of the weaker ‘Caritases’ in terms of management standards and professional skills. This is giving money in kind not money in cash.

AMECEA must surely help other countries; some dioceses can help in those in Islamic areas. I must say bravo to those who are already doing it but I am encouraging those who are not yet doing it. Big archdioceses and dioceses like Nairobi, Johannesburg Pretoria, and Kumasi can absorb one or two dioceses here in Africa, pay the workers or school fees for seminaries. I have 23 priests doing partnership in a diocese in the United States Italy, in England and Germany where they do not have priests. And we should not only talk about solidarity at AMECEA or SECAM levels; rather, we should do it.

Do you have any special message that you would like to share with the AMECEA region through this platform?

I have only one message perhaps to all my brother bishops in Africa. It has been established by research that Africa’s poverty is by choice; Africa’s problems are by choice. This is by choosing leaders who are not good. We have voted corrupt leaders into power by tribal lines; by fear or favor. We have chosen leaders who have not helped Africa up to date since independence. We have had good leaders who have been booted out of power by coup d’etat, supported by some people or countries that have their own interests. So Africa’s problems are caused by bad leadership.

Countries like Malaysia and Singapore have gone out of poverty because they chose good leaders. Africa can also rise. We have been sleeping for a long time. We ought to rise up straight away. This will be done by ensuring that we choose good leaders for our democratization, leaders with good policies not for their pockets or stomachs or their families or ethnic groups – that era has passed and it should not be allowed in Africa. Good leaders in the State as well as in the Church institutions.

Long live the Catholic Church in Africa, long live humanity.

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