To understand Africae Munus – the final document arising from the Second Synod of Bishops for Africa and signed by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Benin last November – one has to cast an observant eye on today’s Africa. It is not the same Africa of the first Synod, celebrated in Rome in 1994. The beginnings of great change had showed in 1989, with the end of the bipolar communist and capitalist influences that immobilized the rest of the world, in particular Africa. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, communism and capitalism began a journey on a downward spiral. The financial crisis triggered in 2008 in the United States, the very heart of capitalism, is but a sign. To justify the logic of empire, the United States have been busy cooking up international terrorism to replace communism as the enemy, and launch a war after another against it. Yet, it did not work!
Africa took advantage of this situation with increasing acceleration, creativity and inventiveness; even if the firstborn creatures of capitalism, the corporations, still make havoc. This is true even for those who preach a different economic theory. In the run for resources, China and India are no exception. The spring of Arab North Africa, although full of contradictions, it is still a spring. At times, snowfall and frosts do arrive; they create damages but never destroy spring. Few people appreciated the revolution happening in Sub Saharan Africa, less showy but no less revolutionary. People realized the power they had with their vote, and civic society organizations have grown in number and strength.
Thus great changes have appeared: new elections; new constitutions; women in the front row as Wangari Mathai, John Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee; renewed commitment for environment and climate; judicial systems more independent of the executive; parliaments that work much better. Freer discussions in universities led to greater academic research on the resources, the chances and the stumbling blocks of the continent. In Africa today we witness to a large growth of awareness, growing local businesses, and an informal sector that generates wealth and employs more and more people in an organized way. The African Union is also growing in capability and reach, with regional groupings becoming more important.
The Churches are also finding a new space in society, not only on the religious plane, but also working for justice and peace, integrity of creation. Church personnel are changing, with more and more laity taking up important roles. The social teaching of the Church is now at the centre of many university level courses.
Africa is becoming dynamic, more aggressive and frank. This emerged clearly in Rome in October 2009, when the bishops, and other people representing Africa at the Synod, showed a distinction, self-confidence and courage never seen before. In the Synod hall and in other places, the delegates spoke with confidence, honesty and competence. It was obvious to everyone that they were much better prepared than in other similar conventions. If we compare the two Synods, the ones in 1994 and in 2009, we realize that in the latter the bishops who represented the Church of Africa were much more assertive, confident and courageous. It is not easy to be free to speak one’s mind in the shadows of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Yet, in this second Synod, African bishops were not afraid to speak up their mind. It is a sign of a growing subjectivity. It is a sign that the African Church is overtaking the inferiority complex that often influenced their thinking and decisions.
Get up and walk, these are the words that Jesus and Peter repeated to people unable to move. This expression appears three times in the document. Nothing could be more appropriate. In the context of the interdependence in a globalized world, Africa can finally stand up and walk at a steady pace. The Synod, of which the document is only one element must be analyzed and interpreted in this context!