Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
Speaking about Africa is not always easy, because there are too many temptations,
For the Afro-optimists: they are afraid not be listened to
For the Africa-pessimists, the risk is to continue presenting Africa according the mass media models, which means Africa as if it were a 20-30 years backwards continent: a deficit of democracy, the Africa of the military putsches, diseases and civil wars, a wide spread corruption, inexistent infrastructures, still lack of access to drinkable water and medical care, the Africa of AIDS, a poor educational system, etc.
Somebody could make an objection: are these just negative clichés about Africa, or is this the reality of Africa? I would answer to you that there are more positive things then one would imagine. Amongst the needs of Africa in the XXI century, an important one is the need for information and communication. Or she suffers under a complete silence, or people talk abusively about her in the mass media. When Africans talk about Africa, very often they do so as “Afro-centrists”: those who pretend that all troubles of Africa come from outside.
As a factor of changes, during my address I would like to offer you some tracks for a new lecture, and some signs which are the basis of the hope of Sant’Egidio in Africa.
My realistic and careful optimism about Africa has matured in the Community of Sant’Egidio. The great faith of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Africa is a great hope for Africa. Communities of prayer and of communication of the Gospel, of friendship with the poor which means a strong and free service to the poor, a community of peace education, of interreligious dialogue, of ecumenism, community of defense of life, community of a great evangelical fraternity, Sant’Egidio exists now in more than 26 African countries with thousands of members. Sant’Egidio is also African and the best proof has been the signing of the agreement between the African Union and the Community, which recognizes her African profile, and also all the humanitarian and peace projects on the continent proof this.
We note – first sign – that in Africa the dialogue between religions is possible. Religious extremism is countered by an attitude open for dialogue which has its roots in the living together. You need to work on it. In May 2010, the founder of Sant’Egidio, Professor Andrea Riccardi, was present at a meeting with more than 100 imams of Ivory Coast, to talk about peace and to begin an important battle against all forms of violence. We have worked in that country to avoid a drift of interreligious violence in the context of the politic crisis.
Second Sign: the Africans like democracy. Little by little, the democratic institutes are settling on the continent and that is proved not only by the elections – which are now being held everywhere – but also by the ferment of the civil society, the media, the freedom of expression etc.
Third sign: a changing society. Progressively Africa is urbanizing and a new class of young people is appearing. They are globalized and professional, sensitive to human rights and to pluralism, against ethnic splitting, optimistic about the future. A sign of these changes is that Africa is on its way to become the second continent without death penalty, after Europe. Sant’Egidio is fighting a lot for this.
Africa is not only a deposit of resources in the open air, but also a deposit of human resources. Especially the youth is full of life, with a great desire to take initiatives and be more responsible for their own future. There is a need to switch, in our view, from Africa as a resource to the Africans as resources. It is not enough to look to the economical success of new investments (for example the penetration of Asia) to understand the continent. There is a need to look at it in a more profound way.
It is certainly important – and that is the scope of our work – to pay attention to the humanization of life in the urban context of this changing Africa, without forgetting the Africa of the villages. We are working against the phenomenon of a wide spread violence, such as the lynching or the abandoning of the elderly, a new fact for our continent where we were not used to high numbers of elderly. This means also that life is lengthening.
One of our main concerns is the one for the new generations. Often, when a community starts in a city, the fist service is “the school of peace”. This is the way for Sant’Egidio to put the child in the center of the interests of the adults, such as the parents, the neighbors, the entire neighborhood, the authorities. In Guinea for example, we are now privileged partners of the National Administration for Childhood. I cannot count how many children have been saved, scholarized, in Mozambique, in Malawi, in Ruanda, etc. BRAVO, which is an acronym, is a program of Sant’Egidio for the civil registration of children against oblivion and trafficking. The first country to shelter the program was Burkina Faso in 2009. We have reached the number of 3 million children – and also adults – who have currently been civilly registered. This is the way to respond to the challenge of the lack of civil registration of one child out of two, which is the situation in many poor countries. Another important aspect of the program is the formation of the civil officers, the reconstruction and improvement of the archives, the change of the mind of the citizens on national level with regard to the rights of the child. This work has been achieved with the direct and permanent collaboration of the State of Burkina Faso.
The other great program which we are engaged in is the program to fight AIDS. DREAM is a program for prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, against malnutrition and sexually transmitted diseases. Sant’Egidio obtained a collaboration of the Africans themselves: members of the community, citizens, patients and governors. Started in 2002 in Mozambique, currently the program exists in 10 African countries. Amongst the results are: 31 centers of complete and free treatment, of HIV/AIDS patients; 18 labs, 90.000 patients in treatment, one million persons are assisted if you count also de families of the sick; 19.000 minors in treatment under the age of 15; 10.000 children have been born healthy from sick mothers; 16 pan African courses of formations.
Another important yard is the one of peace in Africa. Since the signing of the peace agreement in Mozambique on 4 October 1992 in Rome, in the head quarters of the community, after 15 years of war and 1 million of victims, we could say that Sant’Egidio started creating a culture, which we could call pacifying or ‘ peace making’ . It’s enough to see how much peace mediation or participation to peace mediation around the world in Africa, in Europe, in Central America etc.
What kind of conclusion could I draw our experience? It’s the existence of a common destiny between Europe and Africa. Such a destiny had already been seen by the founders of Europe after the World War. It is with a completely changed Africa that Europe can offer to realize a real collaboration, in a frame work of mutual interests. This is not only an appeal for Europe, it is also an appeal for Africa. There is no inescapable enmity between Europe and Africa, the cultural difference is not an abyss, history divides us but also unites us. To the Europeans I say that going to Africa on this moment is a geopolitical opportunity for the future. This new cooperation can also be a response to the problem of the immigration which agitates so much the European society.
Let’s believe together in this common future, in this living together from which these days in Barcelona are a strong sign.