By Fredrick Nzwili*
Amid growing concerns over runaway corruption and public debt in Africa, the All Africa Conference of Churches on 21 September launched a policy brief on the challenges, saying the two were now inseparable in the continent.
At the virtual launch in Nairobi, Rev. Dr Fidon Mwombeki, the conference’s general secretary said the ecumenical grouping was convinced that corruption in Africa was as much a problem as debt.
“The church cannot stay on the sidelines, while God’s people continue to suffer worsening deprivation because of the actions of those bestowed with the responsibility of leadership. The time has come, once again, for us to speak out—and act!” said Mwombeki, a pastor from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
The brief explains why the churches are concerned, explores the effects of the two evils, and make policy recommendation to governments and churches. It calls for reforms in the global financial architecture, domestic resource mobilisation and curbing of illicit financial flows, and the pastoral and accompaniment of the members of the church, among other recommendations.
According to the cleric, the cancellation over US $100 billion debt for 35 poorest countries in the Jubilee 2000 Campaign created hope that poor countries would never go back to such enslavement, but the return of debts in countries is latest worry for the church.
“From what we hear and want to follow up, it is possible that most, if not all of the countries whose debts were cancelled then, have gone back to even higher debts than then,” said Mwombeki, while highlighting that Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries and their multilateral financial institutions pointed at rampant corruption in Africa.
“We must admit, our campaign did not pay sufficient attention to the scourge of corruption, even though it was spoken about.”
But as the churches prepare to tackle the debt, it is being understood that the situation is more complex at the moment than before since there are new players like China.
“This complexity will make the conversations even more convoluted,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mwombeki said the churches were encouraged by some countries that were successfully fighting corruption, and making strides.
“This further demonstrates that Africa can and should get rid of corruption by itself,” he said.
Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, deputy general secretary, the World Council of Churches, delivered a goodwill message for the launch.
She urged systematic change in health, education and social protection in the post-COVID-19 period.
“As we deal with corruption in healthcare, we also need to ask questions about how to restructure and transform the healthcare and education systems so that they benefit the majority of the African people,” said Phiri.
According to Phiri, over-medicalization of health care disempowered communities, leaving them with little motivation to engage in community-based primary health, while over-professionalization resulted granted sophisticated treatment to a few.
Over-commercialisation has meant commercial interests drive the health agenda, said Phiri, while calling for action on corruption in employment in African countries and the interrogation of the shackles of colonial legacy in the debt crisis battle.
“Debt relief and indeed debt cancellation for African countries are imperative in a time COVID-19. Debt cancellation could save lives….It should be accompanied by accountability in the use of public funds,” said Phiri. “This is a prophetic moment. As churches we can see here a path towards the new creation. This struggle could bear the fruit of the earth’s redemption from wanton exploitation.”
Karimi Kinoti, Christian Aid’s head of the Africa Division told the launch that it's appropriate for the church and the church in Africa to tackle the very gate that kept the people in economic bondage. However, she said at the heart is a vicious cycle within a global financial system with intricacies that impede Africa’s progress.
“Africa cannot tackle the reform of this global financial architecture on its own. It’s a global problem that requires a global solution,” said Kinoti, “The call for epic 2.0 or the Jubilee 2000 Movement in 2020 debt relief for the most indebted countries of the world is inevitable.”
According to the official, for a sustainable way forward, all Africa’s creditors need to be at the table for a substantive discussion [on the issue] – not on minimum gestures from the international community.
“We thank God, Africa has been spared the doomsday prophecies of dead bodies lying on our streets from COVID-19 cases. However, we know the real challenge for the people of this continent – for government and people are the social and economic effects of COVID,” said Kinoti.
*Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.