Alternative Globalisation Addressing People and Earth (AGAPE) Consultation on
Linking Poverty, Wealth and Ecology: Africa Ecumenical Perspectives
07-09 November 2007, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
We, African people of faith, youth, women, men, activists, theologians and church leaders, in the spirit of community and critical discernment, have convened in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from 05-09 November 2007 to:
- Share the perspectives of women and youth on the links between poverty, wealth and ecology in the context of Africa;
- Develop African theological bases for studying these issues; and
- Formulate ecumenical strategies and actions for addressing the interlinked problems of poverty, excessive wealth, and ecological degradation in Africa as part of the AGAPE process.
Linking poverty, wealth and ecology in Africa
Africa is endowed with rich communities of people, bountiful resources and diverse ecology. Yet:
- African children die of hunger, malnutrition and preventable diseases because of neoliberal trade policies and patent systems that force Africa to produce cash crops for export and that refuse poor people access to medicines and healthcare.
- Young people are denied the right to education and forced to migrate to unfriendly lands by debt conditionalities that oblige governments to privatise educational systems.
- Women die in childbirth, are pushed into insecure work in the informal economy, and are trafficked into new forms of slavery because of desperate economic conditions produced by systemic trade deficits, external indebtedness and structural adjustment.
- African men, deprived of the dignity of decent work by neoliberal economic policies, are driven to violence and war over resources.
- African communities are forced away from their land and blocked off from the basics of life by multinational resource extractive industries and the construction of mega-dams.
- Africa's monetary wealth continues to flow out of the continent in the form of debt and interest payments, profit repatriation of multinational corporations and capital flight.
- The ecological fabric of Africa - the source and means to life, food, water, fuel and medicine - is systematically destroyed to fuel production for production's sake and to sustain the consumerist lifestyles of rich, northern countries.
We have come to the crucial recognition that impoverishment, enrichment and ecological destruction are interlinked. Transatlantic slavery and 500 years of colonialism, had instituted a system of plunder of human and natural resources that enriched colonial powers at the cost of decimating and dehumanising African people. Moreover, the current context of neoliberal economic globalisation, in complicity with patriarchal structures and militarisation, has further undermined African sovereignty, wresting away African people's communal ownership and control over productive means, natural and biotic resources. In concentrating these resources, especially capital, in the hands of powerful nations, international financial institutions and multinational corporations working in collusion with African elites - the agents of empire - the socio-economic disparities between Africa and rich nations continue to widen at alarming rates. Driven by motives of endless economic expansion and profit maximisation - rather than provisioning for life and care of community and ecology - neoliberal models of wealth creation are threatening the entire web of life.
- Denounce neoliberal economic globalisation;
- Remind the countries of the North of the wealth that was built and sustained on the continued extraction and plunder of Africa's resources as well as on the exploitation of African people;
- Reclaim African communities' sovereignty over decision-making processes, productive means and resources; and
- Affirm that African people are creditors of a tremendous economic, socio-cultural, and ecological debt.
Theological bases of linking poverty, wealth and ecology
God has created the household of life (oikos) and human beings to live in community with one another (Psalm 115:16 and Genesis 1-2). We are created in God's own image and likeness and have the responsibility to take care of God's good creation. The Christian notion of oikos resonates with the African understanding of ubuntu / botho / uzima (life in wholeness) and ujamaa (life in community). They embrace among others, the values of fullness of life, full participation in all life processes including in the economy and ecology. It further entails the just care, use, sharing and distribution of resources and elements of life. Where the above and life-affirming relationships have been violated, the institution of restorative, redistributive and rectificatory (wisdom) justice are necessary. These principles of justice, reparation, restoration and reconciliation, forgiveness, mutual love and dignity for all God's creation ought to be promoted ecumenically as bases for constructive critique of global capitalism, which increasingly violates life-in-abundance (John 10:10).
We confess that the churches, understood as the body of Christ, have not been faithful in bearing just witness to the questions of justice in the economy, ecology and relationships amongst the peoples. Churches have often neglected to challenge the death-dealing effects of the degradation of God's creation and the unjust sharing of God's resources. This failure to address the structural sins of greed, exploitation, racism, dehumanization and inequitable sharing of power which persist in economy and ecology, results in trivialization of poverty where the poor are blamed for their plight.
Churches have not always offered balanced theologies and praxes on stewardship of (or caring for) life. They have often promoted narrow perspectives which place ecological issues at the periphery of daily life and have neglected to proclaim in truth the promised wholesome abundance for all (John 8:32). God calls us to care for creation (Psalm 148), requiring a new understanding which affirms that caring for creation is mandatory, not optional.
Churches have not adequately exercised their prophetic call to challenge people, companies, institutions and countries which are the benefactors and beneficiaries of neoliberal economic globalization.
If we affirm ourselves to be a worldwide community that respects and honours the web of life and human dignity, the life-denying relationships and practices which create poverty in the midst of wealth and dehumanize people must be challenged.
We, therefore, call upon churches to bear prophetic witness to:
- Speak truth to power (Amos 8:4-6) and condemn systems of domination in relations, international trade and debt systems that enslave people (Nehemiah 5);
- Criticise greed as the cause and manifestation of empire (Isaiah 5:7-10). We understand the empire to mean "the convergence of economic, political, cultural, military and religious power, in a system of domination that imposes the flow of benefits from the vulnerable to the powerful. Empire crosses all boundaries, distorts identities, subverts cultures, subordinates nations-states, and either marginalize or co-opts religious communities" (World Alliance of Reformed Churches 2005/6). Greed violates wholeness that God created and expects. It also contradicts ubuntu / botho / ujamaa which affirm dignity and wholeness in community (uzima).;
- Remind the world that greed cuts off individuals, communities, and whole countries from the richness of life (Matthew 5) and ubuntu;
- Condemn the imperial ideologies and praxes that present neoliberal economic globalisation as the only way of life, denying the ecological and human diversity that exist in life; and
- Condemn patriarchal collusion with injustices in the economy and ecology.
We, therefore, declare:
- Structures of domination and exploitation based on class, gender, race / ethnicity are sinful; and
- Greed and its negative manifestations (as stated above), overproduction and over-consumption are sinful and require radical transformation (metanoia).
This is the kairos - a moment for change and repentance, reparations, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, wellbeing and peace. Radical transformation derives power and inspiration from the seeds of hope rooted in African heritage and spirituality; and requires us to re-envision and recreate life in the context of these challenges.
Seeds of hope
In building creative and practical alternatives to, and resisting the neoliberal economic paradigm, we obtain immense hope and inspiration from:
- The spiritualities and theologies of life that place community, sharing, justice and care of life and creation at the centre;
- The ecumenical movement's historical engagement for justice, peace and integrity of creation;
- African liberation and justice-seeking movements that continue to work for freedom from colonial and neo-colonial powers; and
- Social movements in Africa of peoples struggling for life and dignity - especially youth and women's movements - that are mobilizing women and men for just wages and decent work; defending food sovereignty; responding to the HIV-AIDS pandemic and other epidemics; demanding accountability from their governments and multinational corporations; resisting mining and logging activities; and advocating at the international and national levels for just trade and debt cancellation.
Towards metanoia (radical transformation)
We invite and challenge Church and society, ecumenical partners, and our brothers and sisters in the North to:
- Acknowledge the privileges deriving from complicity - through their production and consumption patterns - in systems of domination and exploitation that dehumanise and destroy life in Africa;
- Stop silencing and trivialising the voices of African people as they seek to expose the negative impacts and contradictions of neoliberal economic globalisation in Africa. African people's realities, experiences and rich intellectual resources place them in the best position to critically understand their own socio-economic conditions;
- Transform institutions and conduct that perpetuate injustices in the economy and ecology; and
- Seek and engage in a radical spirituality of solidarity manifested in sharing, reparation and justice.
We call on those who collude with systems of domination in economy andecology - including African government leaders and elites - to recognise, confess, repent and engage in restorative, distributive and transformative justice.
We commit ourselves to:
- Life-affirming theologies in the economy and ecology;
- Connect theologies with struggles for life;
- Strengthen the spaces for churches in partnership with social movements to jointly formulate strategies to overcome poverty, redefine wealth, protect the environment, and to build alternatives to neoliberal economic globalisation;
- Promote and affirm gender justice and feminist non-hierarchical models of relating (Joel 2: 28) and the care economy;
- Consolidate the movement for AGAPE economy and ecology in Africa and in the world and dialogue with other disciplines and faiths;
- Call on the northern churches to repent for the African holocaust, which killed over 10 million Africans; and to intensify their efforts toward reparations; and
- Call on northern churches to examine their financial resources and investments and how these impact on poverty.
We are committed to advancing work on the AGAPE process on linking poverty, wealth and ecology and to ensure that these are translated into concrete and life-affirming actions.