Churches seek different African development route

Despite constant trade, aid and investments in Africa from China, the European Union and the United States, the issues of poverty, inequality and ecological ruin have not been fully dealt with, a churches-backed meeting in Tanzania has found.

At a recent World Council of Churches meeting in Arusha, from Feb. 27 to March 1, Christian leaders discussed how to support an alternative economic agenda, to help erase poverty while enabling Africa to keep its natural resources.

About 20 economists, sociologists, ecologists and development experts from Africa, China, the EU and the U.S. took part.

The event was organized by the Geneva-based WCC's poverty, wealth and ecology program along with the All Africa Conference of Churches. It was hosted by the Tanzanian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Participants addressed the need to go further than just a critical analysis of mainstream economic agendas.

They agreed that together with social movements and civil society, churches must begin to shape and promote a "transformative development agenda".

They said, the agenda needs to be based on economic relationships between countries that adhere to the concept of "life in fullness for all" and ecological harmony as an end.

"Aid from the EU and others which accounts for a two-third of the total budget of national government, has benefited Tanzania's infrastructure development and social service delivery," said Grace Masalakulangwa from the Christian Council of Tanzania.

EU aid helped Tanzania to achieve a 96 percent enrollment rate in primary schools during 2010.

Sadly, she noted the aid did not solve the problem of poverty since a majority of Tanzanians are still living below the poverty line.

The meeting also analyzed the role of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a U.S. policy instrument for investing in Africa.

It was mentioned that while exports from AGOA beneficiaries equaled US$53.8 billion in 2011, the scheme failed to create significant employment for Africans, except in the garment industry.

"The AGOA is aimed primarily at securing oil supplies for the U.S., which has huge investments in the petroleum industry in Nigeria and Angola," said the Rev. Malcolm Damon from Southern Africa's Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils.

The revenue from petroleum exports helps finance public health and education. Yet, the oil wells will eventually run dry and cause ecological degradation to be accounted for, added Damon.

The EU and China invest heavily in Zambia's mining sector, especially the copper mining industry.

However, Rev. Suzanne Matale from Zambia's Christian Council noted that such investments failed to improve the lives of Zambian citizens. There were adverse effects on those living around mining communities, she said.

Building government revenue from the export of minerals remains minimal, said Matale.

"Stronger environmental regulations on resource extractive activities as well as a tighter tax and revenue collection regime need to be imposed," she added.

Participants met with representatives of Chinese contractors for a World Bank-financed road project in Arusha.

Along with other recommendations, they called for effective ways to ensure transfer of technologies and skills between Chinese and Africans.

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