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An overview of the Common Good Advocacy and Lobbying

Though the common good may not have been expressly itemized as one of the themes of the Catholic Social Teachings (CST); it is such a transversal concept in the corpus, that the whole conversation on the CST appears to be a conversation on the ethical principle for the global governance of the common good. Indeed, as a person on the frontline of advocacy, it has been my daily pursuit to make sense of the common good and bring it down from its high theological parlance in CST to the average woman or man on the street so that s/he may be motivated and long to contribute to it. The common good is about what will make for our flourishing as God’s creation; the individuals as well as the community. The common good is a moral vision that highlights the obligations that human beings have towards one another, the society and the natural world. The common good advocacy seeks to bring into resonance the dynamic of the worlds of the society (social justice), economics (distribution of resources) and preserving the integrity of God’s creation (ecological justice). The principles of the CST are geared toward the promotion of the common good. The truth of the Gospel values is that our life here is not about preparation for extraterrestrial living but about the enjoyment of life here and now in its fullness (Jn10:10). So the common good is a moral vision that wants to ensure the fullness of life for all God’s creation on this earth. Common Good advocacy means speaking up against economic and social structures or policies that work against the realization of the Common Good but when it becomes necessary, the tool of lobbying is employed for it. Lobbying begins where advocacy ends. Lobbying is undertaken within the process of political decision making in order to influence the decision and the legislation that flows from it. It involves targeting the right persons at the right time and at the right level using appropriate communications effectively. Lobbying can be either proactive or reactive. Proactive lobbying is practiced to encourage the Government or Parliament to produce a proposal concerning a specific issue. Reactive lobbying is necessary when the Government, a party or Parliament produces a “green” paper or discussion paper or holds a public hearing. These frequently anticipate a future law. They provide an opportunity to respond with reactions, ideas and suggestions.

A Sense of Systemic Marginalization in Africa

The poverty in Africa is systemic and not because of lack of material and human resources. The global economy is skewed in favor of the global north and corruptly sustained by the global financial and political institutions. The symposium for ecclesiastical provinces of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) has underlined corruption as the cankerworm in the development of Africa[1] and it is important to realize that the corruption referred to here is the faceless corporate corruption to which no one has any responsibility.

No doubt, corruption is a very difficult concept to define with precision, or even measure because it has come to mean a wide spectrum of illegal, unethical and often criminal acquisition of wealth or benefits[2] with a myriad of forms. But essentially, it emanates from a distorted human consciousness[3], informed by an exploitative drive that places the interest of the self above the common good. It expresses itself in actions that tend to safeguard and strengthen the individual’s conceptual identity[4], the logic of power and material benefits. No matter the thickness of the smokescreen created to mask corruption, it is easy to see that there is a visible lack of congruence between the logic that powers it and the agreed set of human values and principles that propel the common good.  Corrupt practices showcase a person with an internal human locus of authority that lacks commitment to personal ethical values and principles. With that profile, the corporate world becomes a veritable tool for the perpetuation of the individual substantial dysfunctional consciousness.

In this context, corruption goes beyond the acceptance of bribes by top government officials and community leaders of Africa to enable the transnational corporations to bypass national laws to access her natural resources. It extends to and includes the more cancerous and damaging systematic use of financial power and legal instruments to skew international economic policies, frameworks and trade agreements in favor of the global north and thus constrain Africa to remain a reservoir and supplier of her raw materials. It also implicates the unbridled manipulation of existing legal instruments to support and encourage tax evasion and proliferation of offshore companies and tax heavens, transfer pricing and manipulated invoicing. The use of the vulture funds to drain the resources of developing countries, the focusing of development programs on large-scale projects like industrial agricultures, mining and infrastructures that systematically put development squarely in the hands of the Transnational Corporations to the exclusion of the small entrepreneurs are faces of the same corrupt system. In the same vein are the use of international legal instruments to safeguard the lute from Africa, the use of Direct Foreign Investments (DFI) to buy up state-owned enterprises, the increasing pressure of the International monetary fund (IMF), World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) on African government to relinquish control over their economies through privatization of public properties. They all smack of mega-scale systemic corruption. It thus becomes imperative to underline that the success of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and any genuine effort to lift the global south of poverty must seriously consider ethical values, personal, and corporate financial integrity and solidarity as indispensable prerequisites. It is the only antidote to the wars of special interests, and the unrestrained constructions of personal ego out of the pains and sufferings of other people. Such a commitment will lead to behaviors and business decisions that ask questions of just not what is profitable and legal, but also what is most helpful to humanity, the planet, and serves the common good.

Globalization has led to global economy without global governance[5]. Behind the so-called global economy is a corrupt global shadow economy[6] driven by the special interests of Transnational Corporations (TNCs) for profits, the unbridled appetite of the global north for economic domination of the south, the ego of northern supremacy and the penchant thirst the global north for power and control. It is an established fact that TNCs are only keen about advancing the shareholder’s special interest and will engage in other interests only if it becomes a means of advancing her own special interest in the countries where they operate. Thus, globalization has created an economy of exclusion and financial systems where particular economic and financial interests prevent the necessary political decisions for the common good [LS[7] 54]. Political and economic choices are often not guided by ethical principles that put the well-being of people and the earth at the center but are governed by the logic of power and profit [LS 119, 136, 162]. Policymakers and business corporations are guided by a distorted view that sees nature as an infinite deposit of raw materials to be used, and the development of technology by an undifferentiated and one-dimensional principle motivated by excessive anthropocentricism [LS 106, 115, 116].

My Personal Inner Struggles

Again as a person on the frontline of advocacy, my strategies are predicated on the promotion of the common good but it took me a long period of discernment to anchor my advocacy on the promotion of the common good as opposed to the dignity of the human person for practical reasons. On one hand, the compendium of CST underlines the dignity of the human person as central and the other principles are inadvertently developed in such a way as to give support to this centrality. On the other hand, my passion for ecological justice and the connectedness of all things tend to challenge this notion. Furthermore, anchoring the themes of CST on the dignity of the human person appears to give credence to the western philosophies of detached individuals from the community[8] in contrast to the African philosophy of Ubuntu[9] which resonates very strongly in my African blood.

Besides, the human person is fundamentally social and lives in a world of increasing interdependence and a consideration of the human dignity makes sense to me only in the context of the community[10].

The dignity of the human person is based on the fact that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27), consequently, human beings are intrinsically and fundamentally good. In other words goodness is the natural state of human beings. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of truth of the human person that is very difficult to accept in the presence of unprecedented evils in the world. However, the truth remains that though, the human social conditioning may eclipse this goodness from being realized, this essential goodness is never destroyed. Even when the sky is heavily overcast, the sun has not disappeared; it is still on the other side of the cloud, says Eckhart Tolle[11]. Nevertheless, the human goodness can never be expressed or realized except in the context of relationship.

Taking it further, the Christian tradition underlines that human goodness comes from being made in the “image and likeness of God”. This God in whose image we are made is intrinsically relational. This gives social relationship even a deeper theological underpinning[12]. The implication is that since the common good is essentially social; God and the human person are essentially social, relationality becomes a defining element among the three[13]. In this vein, the common good serves as a better anchor for the CST than the principle of pure individual dignity[14]. The relationship between the common good and the dignity of the human person is like asking the question: the egg and the hen which one comes first? It is not so much a theological argument for the priority of the common good over human dignity as a practical theological anchor for my ministry of advocacy.

My Sense of the Common Good

The common good demands that people participate in society in such a way that the community and its members flourish[15].  The community includes both the human and non-human members of the ecosystem. Gaudium et Spes defines common good as the sum of social condition that allows all people in a community to realize their human potential and fulfill their dignity[16]. It is important to recognize the insistence on the context of the community for the realization of human dignity. The common good is not the ‘most good’ for the most people which would suggest that some might be left out or might have to live under unjust conditions for the good of the majority. It is that which serves the interest of all even when only a few persons have access to its management and distribution. Thus, working effectively for the common good implies paying special attention to groups and individuals that are excluded from the benefits experienced by the rest of the society[17].

But why is it a called a Common Good? The common good is so referred because the needs they address in humanity are universal or are shared by everyone such as the need for physical well-being, peace, connection, honesty, meaning, play etc. A closer look at the common good shows it to be simultaneously a good for the community in common (communal) as well as the space for the specific good of each member of the community. It is always both and, and never either or at any moment.

The communal dimension of the common good can be compared to the notion of public goods in economic theory. A public good in economic theory has two important qualities:

(i)                 It is non-rivalrous in consumption which means that one person’s use does not reduce another’s use e.g. education

(ii)               It is non-excludable which means that persons cannot reasonably be prevented from using it e.g. access to culture.

Thus the common good includes the individual as well as communal goods.

However, for the Christians, there is an important aspect of the common good which may not be explicit but a very important principle in Christian advocacy. It is the dimension of exploring the mystery of God. The mystery of who God is has always been poorly explained to Christians so much so that in practice; that God is totally removed from human activity. Michael J Himes[18] looks to 1 Jn 4:8 for a better and practical appreciation of who is God. There we read that God is love.  According to John, God is not the lover, or the one loved, but the LOVE itself.  God is not what we feel when we love, not something associated with love, not a thing given in love, not a reward for loving.  God is love! God is equal to the experience of love and what is love if not what we experience when our needs are met and when we contribute to meeting the needs of the others out of compassion. The common good is therefore the social condition in which everyonecontinually experiences God and to evangelize is to make this condition present in our world. This social condition is the practical meaning of the Kingdom of God or heaven and not some imaginary extra-terrestrial entity (CCC 2793). As Christians therefore, our concern must be the building of common through influence on societal and national life, bearing in mind that as children of God, the world is created for the enjoyment of everyone (1 Tim 6:17).

The Common Good as a moral Vision

The common good is a moral vision[19] which sees the whole ecosystem as a living organism. It is the organic context which makes the realization of the fullest human potential possible. The operative metaphor of the common good is not a machine with interchangeable parts but an organic body in which every part has an important role to play and intrinsically connected to the whole[20]. Theologically, the common good signifies that God seeks the well-being of the whole creation in addition to the well-being of each person and NOT a healthy community through which a person realizes his own good. The common good affirms the presence of a good that simultaneously transcends and includes the well-being of the individual parts[21].

Each person has a responsibility to contribute to the common good. The common good is weakened and the good of the person is impaired when someone takes a good that belongs to the whole and appropriates it to himself. The Catholic vision of the common good objects to any effort to harm a group for the benefit of the rest. On the contrary, the common good is concerned about the well-being of both the individual and the whole.  The preservation of this common good is a prerequisite for maintaining peace and the social equilibrium[22].

The common good therefore offers two important principles for advocacy:

(i)                 A vision of wholeness and the interconnectedness and interdependence of life. We are all connected because we all participate in God’s love and derive our being from God because “It is in God that we live and move and have our being”. Acts 19:27). One’s personal happiness is inextricably linked to the flourishing of the group.

(ii)               The common good is an ethical principle that guides individual behavior on behalf of the community. It therefore motivates action to safeguard this good but also it mirrors God’s love for all people and God’s desire for us to dwell in unity[23].

CST as a Tool for Good Governance and strengthening of the Common Good in Africa

Catholic social teaching provides the right tools that can help African States build much healthier societies and achieve better governance just as it provided similar tools and social principles to western society at the cradle of its civilization.

It needs to be understood that the Catholic Social Teachings (CST) do not provide ideologies or methods, that is, a “How to do it” kit for good governance but rather it promotes values and principles that will enhance the wellbeing of both the individual and society.

To be more specific, we can take a look at a few of these social teachings of the church in order to see how these teachings can enhance the better organization of society, i.e. good governance and the common good in Africa.

It is very instructive that at the heart of the Church’s social teaching is the good of the human person. Without a proper understanding of the human person, i.e. his/her origin, dignity and destiny, no society can attain good governance. Pope St. John XXIII In his encyclical, Pacem in Terris, clearly lays down this norm. According to him “Any human society, if it is to be well ordered and productive, must lay down as a foundation this principle, namely, that all human beings are persons, that is, their nature is endowed with intelligence and free will. Indeed, precisely because they are persons they have rights and obligations flowing directly and simultaneously from their very nature. And as these rights and obligations are universal and inviolable so they cannot in any way be surrendered.” (Pacem in Terris no. 9).

Although this principle laid down by Pope St. John XXIII may appear so obvious to many in the western societies, there are indices that suggest that most African States are still struggling to establish this principle as a social norm. It may not be too farfetched to state that parts of the crises we find in many African countries are largely indicative of the non-normalization of this basic principle. Good governance can hardly take place when fundamental human rights are not established or respected. In many African societies, there are many internal and external factors that pose serious threats to the rights and dignity of the human person. Recurrent decimals include, violence and wars (ethno-religious), undemocratic and despotic governments, etc. 

Alongside this important principle, in her social teachings, the Church has severally highlighted the value of the family. Particularly today that the family unit is threatened, the Church more than ever before insists that the integrity and sustainability of the any human society and of the common good is largely dependent on the integrity and viability of the family. Although many African societies have always promoted the good and value of the family, it is now being threatened not only by socio-economic pressures but also pressures from western financial donors which tie their financial aids and assistance to the adoption by African countries of policies which are oftentimes inimical to the integrity of family values. Thus, the church’s social teachings become very crucial in assisting African nations in preserving important traditional values that are essential in promoting better societies and the common good in general.

Another specific example of how the Church’s social teachings can provide African nations the tools to attain better governance and the promotion of common good is her social teachings on development. The African continent is largely known for its underdevelopment in relation to the western world. A significant percentage of the African population falls below the poverty line. The grave inequalities in virtually all African societies often constitute time-bombs that often ignite ethno-religious conflicts such as recently witnessed in the North-eastern part of Nigeria with the emergence of the Boko Haram terrorists. The various militia groups in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria also points to the deadly consequence of a society that is largely polarized between the few super-rich and the overwhelming number of poor people. Also at heart of the Church’s social teachings is the church’s preferential option for the poor and the principles of solidarity which seeks that the richer and stronger nations/individuals must be in solidarity with the weaker and poorer neighbors. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio succinctly articulates the church’s teaching on development. Indeed, this encyclical should be read by all African leaders and policy makers.

African Contexts for Developing and Passing on the Catholic Social Teachings

Much of the African society is still largely rural and traditional, although the process of urbanization and the impacts of globalization are evident. A lot of African societies still preserve their rich cultural heritage. All these constitute important contexts for developing social teachings that are peculiar or unique to the African States.

In a number of African States, the Catholic Church operates and manages a number of institutions such as schools (Primary, Secondary and University) and hospitals as her own establishments. In some other cases, pastoral care is available through chaplaincy works in schools, hospitals, the armed forces and public institutions like the Federal and State Government secretariats etc. Over the years, these have remained veritable points for both the development and passing on of values enshrined in the CST. A lot more can still be done at the concrete points of contact with the people in the listed establishment like the periodic Eucharistic celebrations, Catecheses and seminars. Truly, these could serve as important contexts for passing on Catholic social teachings.

Impact of African Contexts and notions on Form and Content of CST.

It’s without doubt that serious attempts have been made towards developing Catholic social teachings in a number of African societies.  This attempts or efforts vary from one African country to another depending on the capacity and resources of the Catholic Church in that place. We must bear in mind that in some African countries the Catholic Church constitutes only a very insignificant percentage of the overall population. In these cases, the impact of the Catholic Social Teaching is often not noticeable. In a country like Nigeria, however, the Catholic Church is very vibrant and has vast resources. The challenge is still there! It must be admitted that there is still more room to develop a more comprehensive Catholic Social Teaching apparatus that will take into consideration the local contexts.

The challenges vary from country to country. Some countries are more affected by certain social ills than others. For instance, Rwanda is trying to build the links destroyed by its experience of genocide; Nigeria is battling with the problems of ethnicity, religious segregation and resource control; while South Sudan is faced with an abysmally low level of literacy among its population. The emphasis on the CST in each country must seek to address the deep seated malaise of the society  


The Short Comings and how they can be improved upon.

A major shortcoming is the limited knowledge of CST both amongst Catholics and non-Catholics in general. The consequence of this is that what could have served as major contributions in national policies and nation building often remain consigned to the archives. It does, therefore, appear that the Catholic Social Teachings are only known among the few clergymen who may have studied it during their seminary days. There is a need to create more structure for the diffusion of CST. In this regards, volunteers can be co-pted and trained from the different ranks of the lay faithful. This will help to swell the number of people who are versed in the CST, and subsequently the number of people reached. 

To make the CST more relevant and impactful, the church in Africa must develop a form of social catechesis that would complement the doctrinal catechesis that dominates the pastoral formation of the church. This can be tailored to the particular needs of the countries by the National Episcopal Conferences

In addition, research centers which have the primary goal of helping to articulate public policies in the light of these social teachings could be established. These can be integrated into the Catholic Theological Institutes in the Anglophone, the Francophone, and the Lusophone regions.

[1] SECAM, “Pastoral on governance, common good and democratic transitions in Africa”. No 29, 5-7.


[2] Ojukwu, C. C., & Shopeju, J. O. (2010). "Elite corruption and the culture of primitive accumulation in 21st century Nigeria". International Journal of Peace and Development Studies 1, 2 (2010), 16.

[3] Eckhart, Tolle, A new Earth: Awakening to your Life’s purpose (New York: Dutton, 2005), 8-16.

[4] Ibid, Eckhart Tolle

[5] Joseph E Stiglitz and Mark Pieth, “Overcoming the Shadow Economy” International Policy analysis (2016):1-6.

[6] Ibid, Joseph E Stiglitz.

[7] LS= Laudato SI, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and human ecology (June 2015).

[8] Daniel P. Scheid, “The Cosmic Common Good: Religious Grounds for Ecological Ethics” Oxford Press 2016, P. 17.

[9] Wikipedia: A Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity”. It is often translated as “humanity towards others” but is often used in in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond that connects all humanity.

[10] Ibid, Daniel P. Scheid.

[11] Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now; A guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Yogi Impressions Books, India, 2001.

[12] Ibid, Daniel P. Scheid.

[13] Ibid, Daniel P. Scheid.

[14] Ibid, Daniel P. Scheid

[15] Ibid, Daniel P. Scheid

[16] Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes (1965) http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html.

[17] Ibid, Daniel P. Scheid

[18] Michael J Himes, “Doing the Truth in Love: Conversation about God, Relationships and Service” Paulist Press, NJ 1995.

[19] The Common Good ad the Catholic Church: A statement by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, 1996.

[20] Ibid Daniel Scheid.

[21] Ibid Daniel Schied

[22] Ibid Daniel Scheid

[23] Ibid Daniel Scheid

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