Since its publication in June 2015, the Laudato Si of Pope Francis has made incredible headlines and has provided a wonderful resource for international gatherings. Though the encyclical addresses a wide range of very crucial interconnected social-ecological issues, its gravitation toward the centrality of Human beings and the preservation of the integrity of creation is most evident. Inspired by the encyclical, the AEFJN co-organized a Pan-African conference in Nairobi, Kenya, on land grabbing and good governance in Africa. A representative of the Kenyan government from the Department of lands who attended the opening ceremonies startled the participants when he called on the participants to LOOK AT BOTH SIDES OF THE ROAD. He was referring to the Kangemi community in Nairobi where a section of the community lives in abject poverty, in shacks without water, electricity, and other basic social facilities while the other section of the community, separated by a road, lives in affluence with relatively well established social facilities.
What stared me on the face on visiting the community at ‘the other side of the road’ before leaving Nairobi was a heavy presence of law enforcement agents, presumably to prevent the breakdown of law and order. As I looked, I cherished the inestimable wisdom in the words of Pope Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice.” How could there be peace in the presence of such extreme inequality, and how would such a community function at all If not under the abiding presence of fierce-looking security agents? What a way to live! No one who looks at both sides remains indifferent to the situations in our world. As if propelled by the logic of his encyclical which shows that the Pope is truly looking at the two sides of the road, the Kangemi (the squalor) played host to Pope Francis during the course of his recent visit to East Africa.
The only obstacle to looking on both sides of the road is the human ego (both personal and corporate) exhibited as a selective myopia. It provides a recipe for domination and violence; and makes exploitation enjoyable. Why, else, would the EU prefer to give palliatives to Africa rather address the structural imbalance of EPAs? Why would President Assad prefer to remain in power rather than stop the rivers of blood of innocent children in Syria? Why would ISIS be happy to make young women widows and children orphans in the name of Allah? You can multiply the examples for yourself. The situations would be different if key actors look hard at both sides of the road.
Looking at both sides of the road and noticing the extreme inequality between Europe and Africa will continue to add steam to the advocacy of AEFJN advocacy in the coming months. It has become more compelling after listening to the experiences of the one hundred and thirteen Faith based organizations and NGOs that participated in the Pan African Conference and the personal experiences of the AEFJN staff who visited Senegal, Benin and Tanzania during the course of 2015. The reports were of abject poverty and utter powerlessness of the communities visited. Compared to the global north, the inequality was extreme!
While presenting an overview of the work of AEFJN and the complex world of economic system in the Diocese of SAME in Tanzania, a participant who felt overwhelmed by the situation asked what difference our advocacy would make because it looked like a fight between David and Goliath. The good news is that Goliath was eventually defeated. However, Antony de Mello tells the story of a woman who was walking along the beach with his son who noticed that thousands of fish have been washed to the sea shore by the tide. He picked up one of the fish and threw back into the sea. His startled mother asked him what difference that would make. He picked another and threw back into the sea and said I have made a difference. At AEFJN, we are committed to making small but consistent differences because we realize that monumental change does not happen overnight but it does surely come. Abolishing slave trade did not happen overnight; the Roman Empire did not fall overnight; securing women’s right to vote did not happen overnight; the liberation of African-Americans did not happen overnight. These and many others historic changes were products of consistent advocacy over long periods. We are firmly convinced that our small differences and those of others put together, consistently, will one day bring about the desired system change. We will ensure this by our advocacy, by reminding decision makers to always look at the two sides of the road as we journey on as one human family.
Chika Onyejiuwa, CSSp