My role as a resource person at the recent plenary session of the Reunion of the Episcopal Provinces of West Africa (RECOWA) was insightful and enriching. Apart from being an opportunity to testify to the gains in the collaborative advocacy among RECOWA, AEFJN, and other actors on the platform of OUR LAND IS OUR LIFE, the occasion provided for a shared vision and potentials for future collaboration among the Church, other Faith traditions and the regular Civil Society who share our values. The promotion of faith and non-faith actors’ collaboration in Africa has been a significant thrust of the work of AEFJN in recent years. The opportunity to speak about these potentials within the space of a Regional Episcopal Conference, where it was well-received, meant institutionalising and mainstreaming it as a credible advocacy strategy in the Church.

My experience working with the RECOWA secretariat team and the bishops in the plenary, commissions and sidelines showed RECOWA as a listening Church. Over the years, we have worked with different episcopal regions in Africa, but none has been as progressive as RECOWA. Indeed, RECOWA has begun to live the synodality before its proclamation by the Church. The essence of being a listening church expresses itself in the openness to welcome new ideas, new alliances and strategies while keeping her values constant. This element keeps a listening Church vibrant and exudes the outlook of a progressive Church.

In contrast, a Church that does not listen remains stuck in its ideas and strategies and dies a natural death. In this vein, listening in the spirit of the synodality that opens the Church to a new way of working in collaboration with actors of other faith traditions and the Civil Society may be the missing link to the rejuvenation of the Church in Africa in favour of social justice. Indeed, the most challenging thing is listening without bias and respect, without at once answering or critiquing. But it the only authentic way to hear each other differently and creates an atmosphere of trust which draws us beyond our positions and makes decisions for collaborative work possible. The Statement, Resolutions and Pastoral message from the RECOWA plenary attest to this progressive outlook. However, we await to see how this progressive outlook will be marched with action in the coming weeks and years.

A unique interest to AEFJN is the decision of the RECOWA bishops in their resolution to commit themselves to the UN COP and Business & Human Rights campaigns at their national and local levels. These boosted AEFJN campaign strategies against corporate impunity in land and resource grabbing. Africa has become a stage for intense land and resource grabbing in recent decades through an alliance between large transnational corporations (TNCs) and the continent’s political elites. With the help of global financial institutions like the World Bank, IMF and others, the TNCs have shaped markets, governments, communications and legislation to suit their interests. Therefore, rising to challenge corporate power requires a collaborative alliance.

Discussing the power and the impunity of large corporations; and organising to contain it at different levels is particularly important to AEFJN due to several factors. First, the corporate capture (or should we call it recolonisation?) of our governments by large TNCs of the global north threatens the sovereignty of African nations. Understanding how the TNCs interfere and undermine the political agenda of African countries is, therefore, critical to understanding the poverty in Africa and how to combat it. Secondly, Africa’s historical, social, cultural and economic contexts make the impacts of corporate power on the continent particularly serious. In a continent where the vast majority of the population is rural (about 70%) and where small-scale farmers produce up to 80% of all the food, the land and resource grabbing by TNCs threaten our food sovereignty, our traditional and millennial knowledge and customs. It is a severe attack on the human dignity of millions of people already in vulnerable situations. Africa’s conventional rural populations are mutually dependent and protective of nature.

Thirdly, the climate crises remind us that we need to address these crises’ structural and systemic causes to solve the most significant challenges. Pope Francis underlined these systemic problems in Laudato SI. However, these crises’ greatest injustice lies in the fact that the peoples of the global South (least contributors) are the first to suffer the impacts and the hardest hit. Fourthly, we urgently need to deconstruct the narrative that Africa is a poor continent needing help. This dangerous, long repeated, and commonly accepted premise both inside and outside the continent paves the way for “market solutions”  because corporations are significant promoters of progress and development. Africa is not poor; it is a rich continent whose wealth has been historically assaulted by self-seeking imperialist and colonialist powers, century after century.

Nevertheless, the critical question remains what can the Church in West Africa do about these existential problems? There is a Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power in which AEFJN is an active member. It envisages taking an active part in the drafting of an international treaty to regulate the activities of TNCs and hold them accountable for their human rights violations and environmental destruction. This process has been taking place at the United Nations (UN), but the participation of the African national governments is poor and unimpressive. In that vein, the RECOWA Church could use its moral voice to engage the various federal governments to participate in this process. AEFJN is counting on RECOWA to rise to the challenge. In the interim, we are expectantly awaiting the August meeting outcomes. As the legendary novelist Chinua Achebe puts it succinctly, the taste of the food is in the eating.

Chika Onyejiuwa, CSSp