1405 - After years of service I still have a dream!

Begoña Iñarra

Farewells awake mixed feelings: the joy of achievements; the sorrow of leaving behind friends, companions, collaborators and places; the excitement of going towards something new and the certainty that wherever we go God leads us to something wonderful. This is what I am living at this moment, as at the end of June 2014 I am leaving AEFJN’ Secretariat where I have served since 2006. I am sure that in my new ministry I will meet new people and challenges and though my strength will diminish I hope that other aspects of my being will grow…  This moment is an occasion to look back at these years – nearly a decade - and review the changes in the world, Africa, the European Union (EU) and AEFJN. 


Globally, 2008 marked the beginning of the world crises that swirled over rich countries, taking in their surge many developing countries - some of which have overcome the crises much better than Europe. The solutions taken by those in power were the same as those imposed on Africa by the IMF in the 80’s and 90’s: the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP). The SAP policies had a very negative, lasting effect on African countries from which they have not yet recovered. There were drastic cuts in national budgets; privatisation and liberalisation worsened public services, made life more expensive and caused businesses to close down, increasing unemployment and poverty. Yet the ‘Troika’ (IMF, EU, and European Central Bank) did not learn from it and has imposed similar “solutions” on European countries affected by the crisis, increasing the number of poor.


The crisis led people to expect that the end of the neoliberal system was imminent. Yet just the opposite has been happening with disastrous consequences for ‘the victims of the system’, people not only from the developing world but also from ‘rich’ countries. Harsher neoliberal policies continue to be imposed through international agreements, leading to the height of injustice: those who caused the crisis (banks and finances) are increasing their profits while others are paying for it, as their economies and social conditions deteriorate. And many of those victims are in Africa, though not only there!   


Over the past decade, Africa has passed from ‘forgotten continent’ to ‘coveted continent’ thanks on the one hand to new sources of oil and minerals; and on the other hand to the importance of its resources for developing new technologies. Besides, six of the world's ten fastest-growing countries are on the continent that has experienced an average growth of 4.8%. Yet this growth has not seeped down to the majority of the population that face unemployment, poverty, disease and high infant mortality. Nevertheless, the middle class is growing. All this has changed people’s perception of Africa that has become a land of opportunities for investors. The rush for land and minerals, oil and gas benefits investors but has terrible consequences for most of the population where the resources are found. The growth of terrorism around the Sahel has become a serious threat to Africa and to the world, favouring foreign military interventions whose hidden final aim is to ensure their access to the raw materials.


AEFJN has tried to respond to the new situations. In recent years, the network has become more African in its members, executive and antennae. Following this move the next Executive Secretary will be a Nigerian. The European antennae are now open to the African diaspora. In Africa, Christian groups are ready to collaborate with AEFJN. The visits to Africa have strengthened the partnership with Christian and other African groups working on similar objectives. The felt need for strengthening the capacity of our members and partner groups on economic justice has lead to the AEFJN Manual on Economic Issues that is available on our website.


The effort made, with many others, to raise awareness of the impact of economic issues on the living conditions of the African population has borne fruit. More members, congregations and national antennae are responding to our actions. With joy we welcome the change of mentality in African Churches which is clear from their commitments, declarations, pastoral letters and specially the daring proposals of the 2009 African Synod of Bishops encouraging Churches to commit to justice and peace, to lobby governments and to condemn land grabbing, the unfair exploitation of raw materials and the proliferation of arms, as well as calling on African and international governments and institutions to act with justice. We see with a mixture of sorrow and pride Christian leaders being killed in Africa for their courageous stand on justice issues.


At policy level some victories have been won but the war for just and fair relations between Africa and Europe is not over yet! We see with joy that food security and family farming are on the international agenda. AEFJN is calling for a moratorium on land grabbing to give time to countries to establish legislation to protect the population and land users from investors, and to secure the access to land for local populations. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and African regions, supposed to be signed in 2007, are not yet finalized and awareness of the potential damage of EPAs is growing in African Governments and the public. In access to medicines of quality, the EU Commissioner of Trade promised that EPAs will not interfere with access to medicines. The EU Parliament rejected the Anti-counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) that would have affected access to generics; and the EU has launched a project to fight falsified medicines in developing countries. In the fight against small arms the 2008 EU Common Position requires member states to respect Human Rights and development criteria in their arms exports. The 2013 UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will control the transfer of arms at world level. On raw materials, the EU Transparency Directive obliges European companies working on the oil, gas and forestry sector to publish payments made to foreign governments to obtain contracts. The EU is discussing a Regulation to reduce the risk of conflict minerals financing human rights abuses in conflict areas.


In the turmoil of the multiple crises, AEFJN has continued working for more just economic relationships between Africa and Europe. We address concrete issues within the vision of a change in society. Our long term aims are that African resources benefit the population of the continent and are preserved for future generations and that relationships between Africa and Europe are fair and allow the full development of Africa and its people. But now our vision and conviction lead us, like a star, towards an alternative economic system based on solidarity and sustainability and respecting the Planet so that all may have life to the full.


After these years dealing with policies and people I have become more aware of my dream. Yes like Martin Luther King did, I have a dream! My dream is that one day all men and women on Earth, including decision makers and politicians, national governments and international institutions will have at heart the well-being of all the people of the Earth, convinced that ‘we are all in the same boat’ and that if it sinks everyone sinks. The solidarity between rich and poor, the concern for the well-being and safety of all will lead to policies that, at all levels, will benefit the majority of the population.


That is the theory but my dream is ‘visible’. I dream that one day the President of the EU, the Director of the World Bank, the IMF, of the World Trade Organisation are part of this movement of solidarity where each person and community is respected, together with the Earth. And when they visit an African country or meet its president or minister to ‘discuss business’ they will ask him or her: Mr/Madam President, what do you need to develop your country? and together they will find the best mechanisms and policies that will foster the development and the life of the global community, having a special care for the poorest and more vulnerable.


Begoña Iñarra

AEFJN Executive Secretary




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