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This week saw the 7th conference titled “Africa Arise”, organized by Beza International Church in cooperation with members of the diplomatic community in Addis Abeba. This conference takes place just prior to the annual African Union meeting and has become an annual event since the first one took place seven years ago. 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.
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, an early morning is traditionally dedicated for a prayer breakfast in one of the halls at the new Africa Union offices, on invitation by the deputy chair and attended by many delegates and officials, and this year graced by the attendance of the President of Ethiopia, the Prime Minister, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Cardinal of the Catholic Church.
During this year’s opening session the key note speaker drew the attention to corruption, being Africa’s greatest enemy to growth and development. He defined it as a disease, which deflates the tires of progress, bringing it to a halt. He continued to say that corruption is a moral problem. It is a disease of the heart. And though governments try their best to combat corruption by tabling heavy legislation, they have a hard time doing so exactly because of the fact that it is an issue of morality and integrity.
To support the fight against corruption it was then suggested that the church is in a position to help. What Beza International Church has done for example is develop an ethical charter and encourage business professionals to commit to it. They are expected to take a stand in their places of business against all forms of corruption- zero tolerance for bribery, fair treatment of all employees, faithfulness to customers and clients and faithfulness to government regarding all tax obligations. By signing up to this ethical charter, they are now kept accountable to this because they are embedded in the foundations of the church, a great service to the development of the nation.
This initiative was now introduced by the speaker to the Christian business people, attending the conference and who come from across the continent. He said it will be hard for Africa to move forward without addressing this all- important issue of corruption. The plan is to collect a database of business people who have committed themselves to the ethical standards across the continent. Typically Ethiopia does not do business with Nigeria, Nigeria does not do business with Zambia, and Zambia does not do business with Kenya. Why? Because wherever corruption is high, trust is low. But an ethical charter rooted in the fear of God will address this trust problem and thus the corruption problem.
He continued to explain that it is the intention to create a smart phone app that will list the businesses of Africa who have committed themselves to the ethical charter, opening up Africa for clean business connections. The app will also include a rating system, so that clients can report cases where the standards of the ethical charter have not been upheld, for all the world to see. It will serve as a further accountability check. Corruption goes down, trust goes up and Africa will open up for business, is the logic.
Indeed we must arise, step up to the challenges and opportunities that this continent offers. It can be done but it must be done in a way that sustains the environment and in a way that is fair and decent and does not exploit workers, children or the poor. There are many business opportunities indeed but very often business is done, with the aim in mind to make profit in a short time, using short cuts and doing harm to people and the environment.
Instead we need to do business with integrity and in an ethical way, in a way that is good and right, as opposed to bad or wrong. Is it ethical, for example, to pay a bribe to obtain a business contract? Is it ethical to dispose of hazardous waste in an unsafe manner? Is it ethical to withhold information that would discourage a potential partner to join your business? Is it ethical to ask somebody to do a job, which you know will not be good for his or her health? Is it ethical to underpay workers? Is it ethical to expect certain favours from workers outside of their job description? Is it ethical to deliver below standard goods and services? Is it ethical to deliver below capacity?
May I suggest that business owners and professionals in Ethiopia and across the continent join this initiative and together step up to the challenge to fight corruption and by doing so truly advance the growth and development of Africa.