In 2015, AEFJN co-founded Our Land is Our Life platform following the African Continental Land and Just Governance conference in Limuru, Kenya. She co-organised it with SECAM, AFJN CIDSE and several other Church actors with several Civil Society actors’ participation. The platform’s purpose was to operationalise the outcome of the conference, and AEFJN has continued to co-facilitate its activities. The platform has been an outstanding school of experience for the actors and enriched the Church side enormously with the expertise of the Civil Society.
Meanwhile, the conference itself was an effort to create a space for synergy between the Church and Civil Society for a more collaborative, multi-level and more organic campaign against land and natural resource grabbing in Africa. The platform has since expanded to include actors of other faiths and Christian traditions. It seems that the Church in Africa is beginning to wake up to the scriptural insight that, “The children of this world are wiser than the children light” Luke 16:8-9. There is no doubt that bringing our energies together is the veritable way to confront the power of the TNCs in Africa.
The new platform has continued to draw inspiration from the Africa wise saying, “when spiders unite their webs, they tie a lion”. Indeed, the proverb holds instructive lessons for the platform’s work. The spider is a very diverse organism with about 46 000 different species and produces tender silk thread. Truly, the spiders must pull their webs together to tie the lion known for its strength and agility. However, managing the diverse spiders, some of whom have shadow values and interest that are very precious to them, is no mean feat. But be that as it may, only two aspects of the challenge will highlighted here; the others will be matters for other episodes due to space limitation.
The first challenge of the pltaform is to continually ensure a dynamic relationship between the autonomy of the actors and their collaboration. While the actors enjoy the platform’s collaborative work, anything that appears to relegate any actor’s identity and their organisation to the background of irrelevance meets with tacit but stiff resistance. The second and more crucial element is the challenge of language. Language can unite as well as divide people in a shared struggle. Even when people use the same language to say the same thing on an issue, it does not automatically suggest that they are on the same page about a particular subject. That twist has surfaced severally in the platform’s collaborative work and sometimes constituted a limiting factor in the platform’s collaborative work.
One experience that illustrates the language challenge pops up from our ‘transitions to agroecology campaign reports. The Church actors found the word ‘agroecology’ technical. Their difficulty with the term has rendered them vulnerable to the agro-industrial lobbyists’ permutations. Consequently, they cannot fully explore the opportunities available to them within their institutional structures to facilitate agroecology transitions to Africa’s sustainable food system. However, in some advocacy spaces where the campaigners presented agroecology as Pro-Life agriculture or even Life-giving agriculture, it has found great resonance among Church actors. It connects them immediately with Laudato Si and similar Church documents. Understood this way, the Church actors bring their faith to promote the transitions to agroecology and collaboration with other platform actors without difficulty.
Another illustration comes from our Caravan tales. The caravan aims to build synergies among communities on a shared vision against resource grabbing in West Africa. However, the word caravan did not resonate much with local faith communities. On the contrary, presenting the caravan as a justice pilgrimage (a Solidarity Pilgrimage with the exploited local communities) whose livelihoods have suffered because of land grab by the TNCs made much sense to Church communities. It evoked the shared struggle for freedom of the African people, and the spirit of Ubuntu came alive in them. In that way, the local Christian communities awaken to their faith responsibility to entrench justice in the world.
Constant and regular linking of faith to justice issues may be the missing link in the Church’s mobilisation in Africa for social justice actions. The Church in Africa has variously come under criticism for its enmeshment in ritual ceremonies without corresponding care for social justice. Bu how can the ordinary and local Christian communities undertake social action without understanding how the activity links to their faith seamlessly and naturally? The Local Christian communities cannot engage in the technical debate about the UN binding treaties on TNCs. However, they will immediately stand on their feet for justice and solidarity pilgrimage with communities whose livelihood and rights, the TNCs land-grabbing spree has adversely impacted. The task of synergy building through effective language is by no means an easy task, but it stands out as an essential component of JPIC ministry and animation.