Africans need to be respected as the authors of their own future, according to the attendants at a recent conference of Scribani, a network of European Jesuit centres, working on questions of social justice in a European context. Cathy Molloy and Gerry O’Hanlon SJ attended on 6 to 9 September 2006.
The second Scribani bi-annual conference – organised by the Scribani Jesuit European Network of Social Centres and Saint Ignatius University College, Antwerp – ‘Africa and Europe. Cooperation in a Globalised World’ was held in the Institut fur Gesellschaftspolitik in Munich from 6-8 September. Gerry O’Hanlon SJ and Cathy Molloy from The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (a founding member of the Scribani Network) were among almost 150 people attending. Participants included students from the Institute, African and European experts in the areas of migration, economics, politics, theology, philosophy, as well as many Jesuits from Europe and Africa, including Pat Riordan, Brendan Carmody and Murt Curry from the Irish Province.
Scribani is a network of 18 European Jesuit centres from 12 countries, working on questions of social justice in a European context. The mission of the Scribani-network is to contribute to a peaceful and just European society inspired by Christian values and Ignatian spirituality. Its main objective is to give voice to its ideas on European social issues of strategic importance.
Conversion of mentalities
The 2006 conference papers addressed issues such as the relationship between Europe and Africa from an African point of view, Globalisation and the fight against poverty in Africa, Migration, the role of women in cultural, religious and political development, Cooperation between Europe and Africa. Friday afternoon was devoted to workshops treating topics such as HIV/AIDS, Violent Conflicts and Peace Building, Inter-religious cooperation etc. Speakers and presenters included Valerian Shirima SJ Provincial of the East African Province, Clare Short MP, Florence Butegwa Regional Programme Director UNIFEM West Africa, Pete Henriot SJ of the Centre for Theological Reflection, Lusaka, Prof. Dr Helmut Asche of Leipzig.
Through many of the papers and workshops, as well as comments from the floor, the desire, indeed the demand, of Africans to be respected as authors of their own future in cooperation with others was to the fore. A new relationship between Africa and Europe is needed, ‘a conversion of mentalities’.
Justice and respect not charity and pity
The call for justice in relation to the poverty that is at the heart of the AIDS crisis, and to the exploitation of African resources, energy and raw materials processed elsewhere, and to the lack of fair trading conditions, was accompanied by focus on the many reasons for hope coming out of Africa. Education generally and specifically the education of girls and women was a recurring theme. The important role of the churches and other Faith Based Organisations in promoting structural justice campaigns, and in ensuring that the voices of those in need is heard, was underlined. Improvement in the Development paradigm from one that undermined capacity, banking reforms and control on money laundering, improved systems and public services, are all signs of hope.
Among the specific things that Europe could do to help Africa, action in relation to EU/US farming subsidies which have a crippling effect on African agriculture, and action to stem the brain drain, (some 100,000 African professionals live and work in Europe) such as subsidising the earnings of doctors and nurses in Africa, emerged as the most important.
The Conference was both interesting and stimulating, due not only to the high standard of formal presentations but also to the opportunity afforded for informal contact and discussion.