Statement by Church World Service ecumenical delegation to West Africa, 2-18 Jul 2002

Report
from Church World Service
Published on 17 Jul 2002
In response to an invitation of the Christian Councils of The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Church World Service (CWS) embarked on a visit to the Mano River Union countries and the Gambia in expression of its longstanding partnership and the solidarity of a greater ecumenical fellowship around the world.
The crisis situations prevailing in this sub-region and the plight of the people who feel that their basic human rights are severely compromised are a matter of deep concern to us. We believe it to be our responsibility to help draw international attention to the crisis in the sub-region that threatens to pit nation against nation. Over the past sixteen days we have held substantive exchanges with church and government leaders, representatives of civil society and a diverse range of concerned individuals. What we have heard is a story of deep anguish and pain as a result of civil war, poverty and their attendant consequences. At the same time, we have also heard a desperate plea for urgent humanitarian intervention to the refugees and displaced persons, and multi-sectoral assistance to the sub-region.

We are alarmed by the continuing destabilization in this sub-region. The reality of rebel incursions past and present continues to wreak havoc to the lives of the people. It is still causing progressively a great number of displaced and dispersed persons and families. These incursions are forcing individuals and families to flee from what is already a fragile daily life of subsistence and exacerbate the conditions of an already demoralized people.

It saddens us to hear that people who advocate for change seek change through the barrel of the gun instead of the ballot box. History tells us that violence begets violence. The force of arms can never and will never solve problems. All it does is to breed further violence. Negotiation through dialogue is the only way. We are delighted to support our partners who have been advocating negotiations and dialogue among all parties to the conflict. In fact, the Christian Councils of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Gambia have played an instrumental role in working with the inter-religious councils, women peace groups, and other members of civil society in calling for the Presidents of the Mano River Union to meet for peace talks.

The Rabat summit meeting of the Mano River Union Presidents in February of this year was a critical step forward. We are heartened to note that a second Rabat meeting will be held soon. Our interest is in seeing political leaders rise to the occasion by exercising statesmanship to overcome their differences in order to bring about an end to civil strife. We look forward to further initiatives and significant steps that will create a political atmosphere conducive for building the foundations of a comprehensive and lasting peace in this sub-region.

Our visit has sharpened our awareness of the urgent need for an end to the civil war in Liberia. We are convinced that the sub-region will not enjoy peace or prosperity if the conflict in Liberia is not resolved. The time has come for negotiations leading to a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement between the government of the Republic of Liberia and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). We believe that the international community must engage itself in offering their good offices for facilitating the peace negotiations.

We believe that the time to beat the swords into ploughshares has come. Our role as church representatives is not the same as that of the politicians. It is not for the church to determine political solutions. But as Christians we are called by the gospel to speak the truth in love. When we see people are hungry, it is for us to say to political leaders and governments, "the people are hungry." When we see people dying of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, it is for us to tell them, "the people are not well." When people no longer feel the freedom to say what is in their hearts, and where joy is a pained expression, it is for us to remind them, "The people do not feel loved."

We have been appalled to witness the unacceptable living conditions in the refugee camps and the centers for internally displaced persons. The lack of funding for these facilities on the part of governments and the United Nations runs counter to the generosity of spirit of the local communities, which have shared their meager resources and crowded living quarters with many refugees and displaced persons.

We are saddened to hear reports of educational systems that leave too many citizens under-educated, illiterate and devoid of their true potential. We are disturbed to learn about dismal conditions in prisons, sexual abuse against women and girls in refugee camps, lack of medicine and medical facilities, and large-scale under- and unemployment.

It is the duty of governments to work with the religious communities, other sectors of civil society, and all other interested parties to create the kind and quality of collaboration capable of resulting in the further protection and respect of all rights, and viable economic future for all the citizens of this sub-region. We note the lack of economic stimulus and investment packages. The debt burden has also made it virtually impossible for these countries to afford adequate standards of living consistent with the larger international community.

We had hoped that the heads of the Christian councils from Guinea, the Gambia and Sierra Leone would be at this press conference. However, due to the cancellation of their flight, we deeply regret that they could not be here with us. The Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of CWS, who was here with us earlier, had to leave yesterday due to a previous engagement.

Our visit has been made with the full knowledge and blessing of the United States Secretary of State Retired General Colin Powell, and the Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan. We look forward to sharing our report with their respective offices.

The members of the delegation wish to acknowledge their deep appreciation for the warm hospitality of our hosts. We have been very well received by the people of Guinea, the Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia. We feel extremely privileged to be partners of the Christian councils in this sub-region. We have gained new insights into the complex and enormous issues facing the West Africa sub-region, whose people yearn for everlasting peace, reconciliation, and security. We can assure our hosts and the people of this sub-region of the commitment of CWS to be an effective partner in tackling the problems and challenges facing this sub-region.

Church World Service is an ecumenical ministry of the thirty-six denominations of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA with fifty-five million members. CWS is one of the largest humanitarian agencies involved in emergency relief, development assistance, refugee service, partnership relations, and advocacy and education for justice and human rights.

Delegation members: The Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director, Church World Service, New York City; the Rev. Benjamin Musoke-Lubega of The Episcopal Church, New York City; the Rev. Philip Reed of Missionaries of Africa (Roman Catholic), Washington, D.C.; Ms. Susan Sanders of the United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio; Dr. Victor Hsu, Senior Advisor to the CWS Executive Director; Kirsten Laursen, CWS Deputy Director of Programs; Moses Ole Sakuda, Associate Director, CWS Mission Relationships and Witness Program, and Carol Fouke-Mpoyo, Media Liaison.