On Tuesday 2 May, the 4th Plenary Assembly of the West African Bishops’ Conference, RECOWA, was launched in Abuja, Nigeria. The event will last until Monday 9 May, addressing the theme “Fratelli tutti: path of fraternity and lasting peace in West Africa”. The Assembly takes place against the backdrop of corporate land grabbing affecting several vulnerable communities in the region and the worsening climate crisis badly affecting the sub-region. One of the speakers was CIDSE’s Secretary General Josianne Gauthier.
RECOWA, or Reunion of Episcopal Conferences in West Africa, has members from 16 French, English and Portuguese-speaking West African countries. Its mission is to inspire and support the work of the Church in the sub-region by promoting unity, solidarity, justice and peace, based on the teachings of the Church. Its president is the Archbishop of Abuja Ignatius Kaigama.
As reported by Vatican News, the key issues tackled by the Assembly are pastoral governance, good governance, security and land grabbing. Through conferences and reflection workshops, RECOWA members seek to identify recommendations that can guide the pastoral work of RECOWA for the next three years. The Bishops will review the initiatives carried out by RECOWA’s Permanent Council and they will be briefed on the activities of the Episcopal Commissions of the General Secretariat, the institutions within RECOWA and the financial report of the finance committee. Finally, the Assembly will elect the Commission members’ Presidents. The closing event will be a mass at the Papal Square in Abuja on Sunday 8 May.
To mark the event, RECOWA produced the short film “Together, let us work for the Rights of the Communities and the Environment”, which was presented at the Plenary Assembly on Wednesday 4 May. The film was produced with the support of CIDSE.
In the film, Rev. Fr. Joseph Aka, General Secretary of RECOWA, recounts the problems that economic development is bringing to West Africa, where the activities of corporations engaged in resource extraction cause great harm to vulnerable and rural communities. Land grabbing and extractivism are depriving communities of their livelihood and making the fight for social justice increasingly urgent.
CIDSE is active in attempting to make cases of land grabbing in West Africa known at the international level. In Prikro, Ivory Coast, community representatives have long opposed large-scale rubber and oil palm plantations by the Compagnie Héveicole de Prikro (CHP), which is the Ivorian subsidiary of the Belgian company SIAT. SIAT also operates in Ghana and Nigeria. On 20 October 2021, CIDSE co-organised the online event “Land grabbing and the need for a legally binding Treaty on transnational corporations and other business enterprises”. The event drew on the SIAT case to stress the importance of a legally binding instrument for transnational corporations. It highlighted the need for measures ensuring the protection of land defenders and granting access to remedy for victims of corporate abuse.
The RECOWA film details further mobilisations to protect human rights and the environment, such as the 8th RECOWA Standing Committee Meeting that took place in February 2020 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on the theme “Together, let us work for the rights of communities and the environment”. After that event, the Bishops members of RECOWA issued a statement calling for a binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and enforce laws that protect communities’ and women’s land rights.
The film also mentions the online Pilgrimage for Justice launched by RECOWA on 27 October 2021, in collaboration with CIDSE and the Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN). This activity ended on 30 April and provided inputs into the 4th Plenary Assembly of RECOWA. The online pilgrimage, creatively organized amid COVID, was designed to connect the Churches of West Africa with non-Church actors and devise a shared vision of human solidarity in support of the right of the most vulnerable communities impacted by corporate impunity and climate change. A key highlight of this online pilgrimage was the support that the national and local churches within RECOWA provided to the CGLTE-OA (West African Global Convergence of Land Water and Seeds Struggle) Caravan that took place from 20 November to 10 December 2021.
Building on the numerous campaigns taking place in the region, the RECOWA Assembly and the film are powerful ways for community and faith leaders to speak up for social justice and give vulnerable people a voice.
Photo credit: RECOWA