The Secretariat participated in the JPIC workshop in Calavi, Benin, that took place 17 – 29 July. The seminar was attended by 20-25 JPIC coordinators mainly from Benin, but there were also participants from Togo, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Liberia and Ivory Coast. The workshop was a follow-up to the Secretariats’ visit to Benin in November 2015 when the work of AEFJN was presented to the conference of Major Superiors.
Over 12 days, the participants discussed various documents of the Social Teaching of the Church such as: Africae Munus, Caritas in Veritate, Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si. The workshop also explored in depth JPIC issues that come up in the Social Teachings of the Church such as: poverty, inequalities, children, land grabbing, consequences of extractive industries, medicines, agroecology, human rights, climate change, pollution, desertification, environmental degradation, peace, transformation of conflicts, reconciliation, non-violence, child trafficking and migration.
The secretariat animated two sessions during the workshop. On the first day, it presented the work of AEFJN and organised a practical seminar on the method of the pastoral cycle, based on the manuals on economic justice produced by AEFJN, where participants were asked to identify and act against a case of injustice in their area. The participants identified and discussed several JPIC issues such as gold mining, access to medicines of quality, land grabbing, peace building, forced marriages, enhancing the position of women in society and child trafficking. They were also invited to develop an action plan to deal with the injustice, so that they could take up the issue in their parishes.
On the second day, the secretariat organised with Beninese civil society a workshop on the land issue in Benin. The secretariat presented the international forces driving land grabs, in particular the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the World Bank Rankings, the European Biofuel policy and the thirst for resources and agricultural commodities of international companies.
Then Synergie Paysanne gave a presentation about the consequences of land grabs in rural Benin. The organization explained how it provides juridical assistance to victims of land grabs in Benin. Then there was an analysis of the land law in Benin and which articles are important for the protection of family farmers and citizens. The organisation also shed light on their initiative of observatories, where they train people to ensure that the land law is respected and that cases of land grabs are detected.
Following this, Novox together with victims from evictions presented the phenomenon of urban land grabs in Benin. A citizen from Calavi explained how a local mafia was trying to expropriate him from his land by manipulating land titles and capturing decision-making in the tribunals. In order to keep their plot in the city, the victim was required to pay an excessive fee which too high for the average Beninese citizen; this puts them at the risk of homelessness and vulnerability to social problems (e.g. not having enough money to send children to school) and health risks. Novox is assisting these victims through advocacy and legal aid. The organisations also explained the loopholes in the land law and the problems assoc
iated to juridical decisions. Several members as well as victims have risked jail for resisting expropriation.
Finally, Jinukun presented alternative ways forward to transform society with a session on agroecology. First, an exhaustive presentation was given on the issue of agroecology and then a documentary on local initiatives in Benin applying agro-ecological methods was presented. In the second week, the participants visited the Songhai farm, an agro-ecological farm and formation centre near Porto Novo, Benin, which is run by a priest.
The objectives of the seminar were to promote JPIC issues through a number of sessions, to strengthen the links between Religious in Benin and from the wider region on the one hand and between Religious and civil society on the other and to increase awareness on issues of economic justice.