This week saw the 8th “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 annual 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.
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 new Africa Union offices, on invitation by the deputy chair and attended this year by the chairman of the African Union, amongst many other delegates and officials.
I looked into my notes of several years ago and was reminded how relevant the topics are that were being discussed during the Africa Arise conferences. The economic development of this country for example and of the continent for that matter is cause for great excitement and hope. 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 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?
With the African populations growing at a very fast pace, we will need jobs for millions though. Successful companies will be able to create employment for the future generation. We must realize that indeed the private sector is the backbone of any economy, initiating development and employment. For them to be able to play their role effectively though, it is essential that they can operate in a conducive environment to be created and facilitated by their governments. An environment that is fair in terms of competition, taxation, conditions of service, an environment that protects human rights and Africa’s natural resources, an environment that is free from corruption and which protects and provide services that can be relied upon.
Which brings me to one of the topics of last year’s conference: the Ethical Charter.
Corruption, it was said, is Africa’s greatest enemy to growth and development, a disease, which deflates the tires of progress, bringing it to a halt. Corruption is moral problem, 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 then introduced to the Christian business people, attending the conference and who came from across the continent. It will be hard for Africa to move forward without addressing this all- important issue of corruption, it was concluded. Indeed 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. It was agreed 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.
This year’s motto of the conference was ENGAGE.
Engaging in intra Africa Trade and Investment exploring ethical business practices; engaging to define the moral destiny of the continent; engaging in social change; engaging to find a creative and biblical approach to charities and social enterprise; engaging to make a difference indeed. There are many opportunities and there is much hope for economic and social development but we must engage to make it happen.
Africa Arise – Engage!