Theology, Violence and Human Rights in Africa: A Commitment to Truth, Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. This is the idea behind the theme of the 23rd Theology Week of the Catholic Institute of West Africa. It runs from the 26th – 30th March 2012 at the Institute’s ground in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. This year’s theme is particularly timely given three backdrops of the recently celebrated second special assembly for Africa of the synod of Bishops which took place in Rome, October 2009 and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Africa, Benin in November 2011. The third is the social context of African States in their post-colonial quest at building virile economies, that enables the black Continent and her peoples to create wealth, thereby eliminating certain realities that have been associated with Africa. One of such is the thorny issue of violence and of course, another is human rights.
Against these canvass, what has theological reflections and contributions be of service? Can theological inputs assist in the realisation of an end to the sporadic violence that has a novel nomenclature in terms of terriorism, which is not limited to national but includes regional and international borders? Tacklng violence also endangers the rights to life, to protect oneself especially by the machinery of the State as a primordial prerogative the citizen enjoys from his/her government.
The first visit Benedict XVI to Africa was in September, 2006 in Younde, Cameroon. During his second visitation, he came to Benin, to present the fruits of the Synod, which he signed on the soil of Africa, the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Africae Munus (Africa’s Commitment).
Indeed the exhortation is a theological insight on the realities and challenges, as it noted them under light and shadows, that millitate against African peoples and development. Another theological input was of course the international gathering of bishops for Africa, which reflected on issues bordering on truth, reconciliation, justice and peace, both within the Church and the secular society.
Notable reception of the post-Synodal message and its challenges can be traced to the diocesan celebrations of Synods on the theme of truth, reconciliation, justice and peace. The dioceses of Kafanchan and Port Harcourt recently celebrated their Synods in October and November 2011 respectively. It was meant for the people of God to ask how they were going to live out this evangelization mandate of which truth, reconciliation, justice and peace cannot be passive elements. Indeed, Our Lord, in the gospels warned us that “[Therefore] if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Mt. 5:23-24) Such divine teaching on reconciliation is twofold in the goals to achieved. One is human, which is on the horizontal level and other is divine, that which is on the vertical height. Reconciliation is the fruit of sustained effort at an initial self-conversion, a metanioa, a radical change within oneself to find the need for personal development and progress beyond the wound of discord and strife which tear men and relationships apart, breaks down communications among nations that have hitherto enjoyed bilateral relations.
The case of the South African government deporting some Nigerians and a retaliation on the part Nigerian government deporting nationals of South Africa reveals a scenario of a possible break in communication. The issues earlier trumped up may eventually be not the case. The South African State apologized to Nigeria meant a realisation of wrongful accusation of some Nigerian nationals. As the Nigerian government accepted the apology ensures a listening heart and a willing mind to continue on a sure path to peace, cooperation and progress not only for both nations but also for Africa and the world at large.
But when you take a case like the current national elections that took place in Senegal, the joy of reconciliation and therefore, peace may be a long way off. The incumbent president is running for what many think and judge to be third term but some others, notably the judiciary of the country believe he is running for second tenure. However it may be, what is more worrisome is the number of the opposition parties’ candidates who are equally as divergent and divisive on who gets the top job in the land. They are also very much disunited among themselves about the third tenure bid of the president. This not good for a country that was ajudged to be a beacon of democracy for the African continent. It is equally a bitter pill for the entire African drive towards sustainable peace and development through the emancipation of her peoples from neo-colonial tendencies that are apron-strings of colonial mentalities.
Africa’s commitment towards growth and strengthening of her emerging democaracies must ensure a land that is truly free for the citizens to live as free born. St. Paul’s admonition is helpful here; he says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17ff.
The fight to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, job paucity, and other ills plaguing Africa and Africans is a commitment towards ensuring there is truth, reconciliation, justice and peace. This panacea can in a large measure become a catalyst for arresting the shadows of violence and human rights violation. The aformentioned ills can be characterised as violence in themselves such that threats to human rights to life, to privacy, to movement, to freedom of association, to religious worship.
Scriptures affirms that “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”Romans 13:1. On the part of governments, let their efforts be so carried out to be seen as pro-people, pro-active in the larger interests of the electorate, the masses. Power is for service, indeed, the capacity for uplift others from poverty, ingorance and diseases. This clarion call is incumbent on all public office holders of public trust. For this reason as well public accountability in terms of delivering on your mandate in a reasonable way as to acquire for you what Scriptures says of those whose dispense public trust for the greater benefit of the common good “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Mt. 25:34-46.
Such proactive measures are reflective of a conscientious attempt to end violence and
We must be committed to not only seeking foreign investment for the realisation of the millennium development goals. Such enviable, profoundd initiatives must be seen to be mere propaganda but a realistic appraoch and seen as such for the people to measure its success in their lives.
Africa is on a path towards a future greatness and glory that is inevitable, indispensable and incontestable. The time to ruminate on these issues is no better than now.