Wind of change blows at Africa’s leading ecumenical body
* By Fredrick Nzwili
A wave of change is blowing at the All Africa Conference of Churches, as the African ecumenical body implements a new five-year strategic plan.
In an ambitious six pillar road map, the grouping of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, and indigenous churches has unveiled completely new areas of work, as it moves to inject new energy into older programmes. At the core of the strategy is effectiveness, efficiency and reliability for the ecumenical body, which is keen to deliver on its prophetic mission.
“It is basically a reformulation of most of the same things, which have been there, but there’s some new impulses which we took from our assembly. For example, we want AACC to be closer to its members,” says Rev. Dr Fidon Mwombeki, the organization’s general secretary.
In January this year, Mwombeki, an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania took office as general secretary. Before being elected, the leader served as the Lutheran World Federation’s director of the Department of Mission and Development in Geneva.
For the next five years, the 59-year-old cleric will lead the fellowship of 193 members, including churches, national church councils, theological and lay training, and other Christian organizations in 42 African countries as the general secretary. The Nairobi-based body accounts for approximately 140 million Christians in Africa.
According to Mwombeki, the 2019 – 2023 strategy is already in use with several activities, particularly related to training.
“It was the first time AACC activities were conducted in these areas. The people ….actually got to see what it does,” says Mwombeki.
The strategy is pegged on six pillars - four on programmes, while two are on organizational work. Theology, Interfaith Relations and Ecclesial Leadership Development, Gender, Women and Youth, Peace, Diakonia and Development, and advocacy at the African Union forms the programme work. The organizational focus includes governance, membership, development and networking, and effective management and sustainability.
On the raft of new issues, Mwombeki says they were either done before, but had slipped out of focus in the last five years. He singled out work on economic justice and migration.
“[Migration] was there somehow, but not put at the centre…. In the current situation, migration has become an everyday issue in Africa,” says Mwombeki.
The work on women, youth and gender issues which were initially carried out under the family and gender desk has re-organised into more specific areas.
“A lot of capacity building is being done targeting women, but we have not put much emphasis on building the capacity of men to free them from male superiority complex, chauvinism and negative masculinity,” says Mwombeki, while adding that it must not be forgotten that, apart from gender, there are issues which are specific for women.
Recently, the All Africa Conference of Churches launched a campaign on widow’s rights, as part of the specific issues for women.
“We want to remind our churches; look: don’t forget the widows, particularly in Africa, where their rights are very much endangered. The churches must play a major role, a more proactive role. This is new in the All Africa Conference of Churches, and also part of the strategy,” he says.
Meanwhile, as the impact of climate change continues to be felt more in Africa, the All Africa Conference of Churches is moving on the strategy to commit youth for climate justice, according to Mwombeki.
“The youth are very active globally, because they are saying you old guys are destroying it for us. They have a specific focus. We want to put more emphasis,” he says.
Still on the youth, the organization plans to roll out a campaign dubbed “Africa, my home, my future” as part of Youth African Patriotism programme. In the campaign, the grouping hopes to instill in young people, a spirit similar to that of African freedom fighters, according to Mwombeki, who started a struggle for freedom when they were very young. A finale for the youth activities will be an African youth congress with nearly 10,000 participants from across Africa.
“They will converge somewhere in Africa and think about the continent. They will hear speeches, inspire each other, and see what young people from other parts are doing. They will hold exhibitions, debates, essays, art competitions, sports… everything,” he says.
But in radical shift, Diakonia and Development will also focus on sustainable population in the continent.
“I am convinced we cannot and should not continue having too many children as if we don’t know how children are…,” says Mwombeki in a passionate appeal. “You have one acre of land and you get 20 children, where do you expect these children to build. How do you expect them to go to school, how do you expect them to get food.”
“Then you cry to other people, you send them (children) away from your home or run away yourself. This is irresponsible and we as a churches must able to speak about this responsibly,” Mwombeki stresses.
The cleric wants the churches to discuss the issue at the ordinary family level, since according to him, that’s where sustainability begins.
Asked how he plans to fund the strategy, the Lutheran leader says there is more money in the world every year, but the challenge is to find a balance between people resources and viability of programmes. “As a church body……we believe the issues we are working on are important enough to be able to stimulate partnerships,” he says.
“We have our own resources, but we definitely expect to expand our engagement through partnerships. We are issue based, and we see already interest in partnerships; several, we have churches, we have members, foundations, public institutions, multilateral institutions, which…are looking for credible partners. We want to create ourselves as credible partners.”
Despite some challenges such as limited human and financial resources, a changing ecumenical landscape and the vastness of Africa, Mwombeki remains optimistic, drawing inspiration from what he see as great ideas in the strategy.
“I have already sensed a lot of buy-in by our partners. I am confident that a great percent of it will be implemented,” said Mwombeki.
*Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.