Last week saw the 10th “Africa Arise” conference, organized by Beza International Church in cooperation with members of the diplomatic community in Addis Abeba. This conference took place just prior to the African Union meeting and in fact has become an annual event since the first one took place. Since then it is attended by an increasing number of Christian leaders, diplomats and politicians from all over Africa and from other parts of the world.
During the conference, important issues affecting Africa are discussed and solutions are suggested from the Christian and biblical perspectives. Issues include economic development, resources management, corruption, security and conflict, major contemporary issues in other words. This year’s topics were “Redeeming our Identity”, Redeeming our Systems” and “Redeeming the Land”.
The conference takes place over three full days, with deliberations during day time and a church service every evening during which Christian leaders from several different African countries speak.
Just prior to the opening of the annual assembly of the African Union, the early morning of the last day of the conference, Sunday, is traditionally dedicated for a prayer breakfast in one of the halls at the Africa Union offices, on invitation this year by His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo and attended by the President of Ethiopia, amongst many other delegates and officials.
It struck me again this year how relevant the topics are that were being discussed also during this year’s Africa Arise conference. Identity, systems and land are all issues that are shaped by concepts, foreign to the original ways people in Africa lived and governed their people and matters. Needless to say, that today we are struggling to deal with these in a sustainable way. It is time indeed that things change in a way that is based on principles and ownership. The current political changes we are witnessing in Ethiopia are reason for hope indeed that we are moving in the right direction. And the economic development of this country for example and of the continent for that matter is cause for great excitement. But speakers and attendants also expressed their concerns about the exploitation of the natural resources in Africa, the environmental degradation and the fact that many African nations still depend on imports, as compared to own production. “When are we going to produce items ourselves that compare or are even better than the ones imported from abroad?”, was a question that was raised. A valid point, in my opinion. We have the natural and human resources, and most of what is produced locally is done by foreign investors, precisely because of these reasons and because production costs are relatively low. Meanwhile, thousands of young people are leaving the continent hoping to find a better life elsewhere, many not reaching their destination. What does this mean? Are opportunities for them there so much better than here, so as to risk their lives? What kind of employment will they find and how will they be treated there?
Now, during the annual African Union meeting there were many side events, one of them the launch of the EAT Lancet Commission Report “Food, Planet, Health”. The report was presented, discussed and welcomed by the AU Commission and provides scientific information as to why we cannot continue to do Business as Usual when it comes to the way we manage our resources and the need to feed the entire world population. It is possible, but we need to do things differently if we want to provide nutritious, safe and affordable food for all and at the same time preserve the earth. And we need to start doing things differently now. I quote from the introduction of the report:
“Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth.
However, food is currently threatening both people and planet. An immense challenge facing humanity
is to provide a growing world population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems. While global food production of calories has generally kept pace with population growth, more than 820 million
people still lack enough food, and many more consume either low-quality diets or too much food.
Unhealthy diets now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and
tobacco use combined. Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience and
constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries.
Taken together the outcome is dire. A radical transformation of the global food system is
urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, and today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded
and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease.”
Indeed, we need to change the way we live, our systems and the way we manage the land, and we need to do it now!
This year’s Africa Arise conference ended with several practical actions, one of them the setting up of a Think-Thank, which amongst other matters, will look into the above cited report and work out how to engage with and support policy makers to arrive at strategies, policies and activities, based on biblical principles and sustainable solutions.
Now is the time!