Building bridges between Africa and the EU
“With one hand we give Africa a few crumbs and with the other we remove the loaf” says Angel Olaran, missionary in Ethiopia.
Like Angel Olaran, many missionaries have discovered that the impoverishment of the population of Africa, a continent rich in natural resources, is mainly due to development policies designed, financed and directed from outside Africa. They naturally want to raise public awareness in their countries of origin in order to fight the causes of poverty and injustice.
The Birth of AEFJN
This year, the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network celebrates its 25 years of commitment to greater economic justice for Africa. In 1986, missionary congregations concerned by the situation in Africa set up a commission to establish a Network that would promote EU policies that fostered integral development in Africa. In the 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II called missionaries to be present in “new forums of mission” where decisions were made. In June 1988, 19 missionary institutes founded the Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN) with a Secretariat in Brussels. A similar network (AFJN) existed in Washington since 1983. Working for fairer international policies towards Africa was a new way of living the mission. EU agreements and policies were evaluated by their impact on the African population. Advocacy was geared to changing EU-Africa relations so that EU policies would foster justice and solidarity, allowing Africa to decide on its own development and to occupy the position it deserves in the international arena. Information was shared and actions were proposed in Africa and Europe to stimulate public opinion and to influence policy decisions. Soon, national groups or "Antennae" emerged to lobby EU member states and African countries.
What drives us and how we work
The name AEFJN is full of meaning. Africa-Europe means that AEFJN is a bridge linking the two continents. Its members live their Faith commitment as followers of Jesus of Nazareth who wants “life in abundance for all” (Jn10, 10). Economic Justice for all Africans is the aim of the Organisation. The Network brings to the European political sphere the concerns of the 15,000 members of AEFJN in Africa, involved in development from grass-roots to leadership, and of thousands of European missionaries with an experience of the African reality. Listening to the voice of Africa and supporting African groups are basic to the organisation’s work. The European members share the responsibility for the policies of the EU.
Looking at Africa today the progress made in these 25 years is visible, but also the persistence of injustices. The challenge to work for fairer policies is more meaningful than ever as the exploitation has become more sophisticated. The initial focus on economic justice has evolved to stay attuned to African reality and EU policy developments. AEFJN has dealt with issues of development and smallholders, food sovereignty, child soldiers, small arms transfers, international trade, debt cancellation, access to land, water and seeds for family farmers, access to medicines of quality, land grabbing, agrofuels/biofuels, exploitation of raw materials and corporate responsibility.
To quantify the achievements regarding policies is more difficult. AEFJN has certainly played its part in the following political changes. Africa has a greater say in its development policies and is more visible on the international agenda. In 1999, at the Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference African countries united against further liberalization (Doha Round), as they do in the EPAs negotiations. The mandatory birth registration reduces chances of children becoming soldiers. Countries are allowed to protect public health against patents for medicines (Doha Declaration). The DG-Trade has promised not to interfere with the access to medicines in the EPAs. As of today, 29 African countries have received debt relief from the IMF. African farmers are organizing themselves to address policies affecting them.
Currently food security and family farming are on the agenda of international institutions. The EU Common Position requires member states to respect certain criteria to grant an arms export license. The EC has agreed to decrease the proportion of biofuels from food crops in transport from 10% to 5% by 2020. AEFJN opposed the Anticounterfeit Agreement (ACTA) as it impacted on access to generic medicines, seeds, plants and new technologies. Fortunately, it was rejected by the European Parliament.
AEFJN is calling for a moratorium on land grabbing to enable countries to establish mechanisms that allow land users (farmers, pastoralists, foresters, miners) simplified access to titles to prevent their land being ceded to foreign investors.
A Nigerian proverb states that ‘in the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams’. Neo-liberalism has chosen to “build dams” in isolation, searching profit, not taking responsibility for the life of all in the planet. The results are inequality, widespread poverty, and destruction of the Earth. AEFJN with many other movements and communities have chosen to “build bridges”.
AEFJN Executive Secretary