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October 2000
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ROME: The Vatican

At the 12th plenary session of the symposium of African bishops’ conferences, held in Rome to coincide with the Oct. 6-9, 2000 Jubilee of Bishops, African bishops called for an end to the exploitation of Africa by the West.

Below: Excerpt from article in the National Catholic Reporter (Rome)

"Rejecting appeals from Vatican officials for less fiery language, Africa’s Roman Catholic bishops have issued to developed nations a sharply worded call for help. In a statement issued Oct. 9, the African bishops urged economic and political changes aimed at reducing poverty and civil unrest on their continent.

According to United Nations statistics, some 300 million Africans live on less than $1 a day. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation with 118 million inhabitants, only 33 percent of newborns are expected to survive to age 40, and 59 percent of Nigerians live without access to safe water. Twenty-one of 44 African nations are currently involved in some kind of war or internal conflict.

Noting these realities, the bishops offered a dire assessment: “The fact of the matter is that post-independence Africa is more miserable than colonial Africa.”

While acknowledging that local political corruption and mismanagement have compounded Africa’s problems, the bishops insisted in their statement: “Much of the blame must be laid at the door of the former colonial masters, the rich industrial nations.”

The statement came at the conclusion of the 12th plenary session of the symposium of African bishops’ conferences. The meeting was held in Rome to coincide with the Oct. 6-9 Jubilee of Bishops.

Specifically, the African bishops called for:

[1] Immediate cancellation of the “huge crippling debts” currently facing their nations, and demanded that creditor nations pay reparations for the harm the debts have caused;

[2] Cessation of arms trade between rich nations and African countries;

[3] Non-interference by developed nations in African conflicts, interference that has led nations to support particular armed factions in order to gain access to material resources;

[4] Overhaul of the system of exchange between the First World and Africa, which tends to keep prices artificially low for African raw materials while prices for First World exports continually increase;

[5] Return by First World nations of funds gained through looting by corrupt African leaders;

[6] A halt to desecration of the African environment by corporations based in rich nations;

[7] Creation of a program under the auspices of the United Nations for eradication of poverty in Africa, to be funded by developed nations.

The statement also asked countries that were involved in the slave trade to request forgiveness from Africa and to pay reparations. “The slave trade, that unrecognized holocaust, which has forever left an indelible scar on the African psyche, unfortunately continues today in various subtle forms,” the bishops said.

According to one recent study, some 40 percent of government revenues in Africa are being allocated to service a debt totaling $350 billion, to the detriment of health, education and other social services. Preparatory documents for the meeting asserted that First World nations allot just $47.6 billion each year in foreign aid to Africa, while extracting $178 billion in debt payments.

The bishops called this situation “uncharitable, unrealistic, unjust and atrociously immoral.”

This kind of language drew concern from some curial officials who joined the bishops at their Sept. 30-Oct. 9 meeting. Sources told NCR that Cardinal Francis Arinze, himself Nigerian and currently head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, urged the bishops to be more careful, worrying that statements that seemed overly broad or incendiary might hurt the document’s credibility.

The bishops made some changes suggested by Arinze, the sources said, but did not alter the overall tone. “How can we, when our people are dying?” Archbishop John Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, told NCR. “It’s time to tell things the way they are.”

Onaiyekan said he hopes First World Catholics will respond to the plight described in the document, beginning with the bishops.

“If I were the Archbishop of New York, I would want to identify the Catholics who are working in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” Onaiyekan said, “and I would tell them what’s happening in Africa. These may be very fine people, very generous as individuals, but they are operating a system that is iniquitous.”

The bishops also acknowledged that church structures need reform. “Traces of ethnocentricity sometimes are found at all levels of the church’s administration, including episcopal conferences,” they said."