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African Faith Leaders Discuss Next Steps for the Millennium Development Goals

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Jane Sebbi, left, is a farmer with 12 acres of land in Kamuli, Uganda and a mother of seven children. In this photo she works in her field with her sister-in-law. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Kimberly Burge

In Africa, faith leaders are claiming a greater role in advocacy for people who are poor, based in the belief that “if one [part] body of the whole suffers, the whole body is unwell.” Partnerships are vital as we build on progress already made against global poverty and hunger. It’s also crucial that we hear from and include the voices of people in developing countries. 

Bread for the World President David Beckmann traveled to Uganda at the beginning of July to attend the African Faith Leaders’ Summit in Kampala. This unprecedented interfaith gathering brought together Christian, Muslim, Baha’i, and Hindu leaders from across the continent. Beckmann was one of only three faith representatives from outside Africa invited to attend the summit. He was invited to demonstrate to the African faith community that they have allies in the United States who stand in solidarity with them on development issues.

The group came together to discuss a development agenda that will follow up the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Endorsed by 189 countries in 2000 the MDGs are an unprecedented global effort to achieve development goals that are identified collectively, achievable, and measurable. Globally, substantial progress has been made toward many MDG targets—including cutting in half the proportion of people living in poverty. Every major region of the world made progress. The MDGs carry through December 2015. Bread for the World is an active participant in efforts to craft a post-2015 successor to the MDGs. The chair of the summit planning committee and secretary-general of the Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC), Rev. Nicta Lubaale, spoke at Bread’s National Gathering in June.

The African faith leaders developed and adopted a statement on the post-2015 goals. As they noted in a position paper that came out of the summit: “We recognize that the current global development framework, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), greatly improved coordination of global development priorities and have helped to shape thinking and action on the priorities for the well-being for a majority of developing countries. We also recognize that the MDGs were created through a top-down, closed door process with the consequence that they failed to engage and respond to the structural realities of people living in poverty. We are gratified that the process to define the post-2015 framework has been more participatory, inclusive, and attentive to the voices of those who live in poverty and are marginalized. This process is very important to us as it calls to conscience solidarity amongst our one human family, and challenges a growing peril in the globalization of indifference.”

Their concerns focused specifically on poverty and hunger; agriculture and nutrition; increased attention to women, youth, and people with disabilities; and governance issues and the need to fight corruption. The conference also stressed interfaith harmony at a time when violence in the name of Islam and Christian-Muslim conflict present major problems in several African countries.

Two heads of state addressed the summit: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. The faith leaders were encouraged to become advocates on poverty and human need issues with their own governments. Conference organizers hope that this new network will encourage stronger faith-based advocacy on social justice issues over the years to come.

“It’s very gratifying to see the commitment and progress that OAIC and other faith partners are making,” Beckmann said. “For a long time in Africa, the church and faith community have focused mainly on charity. This unprecedented conference is a step toward increased efforts to shape policies that are important to poor and marginalized people.”

Kimberly Burge is the interim associate online editor for Bread for the World.

 

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