Lisbon, Portugal, 26 September 2000 — "A shared social ethic, underwritten by Africa’s faiths, can help resolve many of the problems afflicting Africa today."
In an address yesterday to a special session on "Africa’s Rebirth" at the XIIIth International Meeting of Peoples and Religions, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, underlined the need for a stronger basis for civil society to be able to address problems of conflict, corruption and the AIDS epidemic.
Accepting human differences, building upon pluralism, insisting on honesty in public service and creating national and international responses to the AIDS crisis were, the Aga Khan said, the components of "a new social ethic that should be taught and led by the faiths." "Social ethic today in Africa," he stressed, "needs to be founded not on the notion of taking, but on the notion of giving.
"One of the principal forces for the creation of peace," said the Aga Khan "is hope, and faith communities working together on immediate and realistic priorities, can revive that hope." He went on to suggest practical ways to "overcome the fragility of human resources" and to harness Africa’s multiplicity of minorities, tribal, linguistic, ethnic and religious (including those with origins in immigrant communities in East and West Africa, as well as pre-colonial tribal organisations) to the development process. One way was to enhance voluntarism, a tradition in nearly all faiths: teaching voluntarism, professionalising volunteers and "voluntarising" professionals. Another way was for faith communities to use their experience and significant number of existing institutions of higher education to supplement or strengthen the Continent’s insufficient and decaying educational infrastructure.
Yet another way was to involve the faiths in a dialogue on policy issues. Describing the World Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework as an effort to have "governments listen to all the forces of civil society," the Aga Khan pointed out that this was "essential for development in Africa to take place in a structured, consensual manner." Having been involved for 40 years in African development, the Aga Khan went on to remark, "I am unaware of a single situation where the faiths of Africa have sat down and asked themselves what policies and strategies are in place to offer long-term availability of health and education."
The conference, organised by the Community of St. Egidio and the Patriarchate of Lisbon with the support of the Mario Soares Foundation, has brought together some 350 lay and religious leaders from around the world to promote dialogue between and among, religions and laity as a means of achieving peace.
Others who spoke at the session discussing the future of Africa included the President of Cap Verde, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Jose Matos da Gama, Ishmael Noko, Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation.
Institutions that today form part of the Aga Khan Development Network have been working in Africa for nearly a century and are today present in some 20 countries across the Continent. The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions with specific mandates that range from health and education to rural development, culture, architecture and the promotion of private sector enterprise. These agencies and institutions, working together, seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia.
The Aga Khan, who was accompanied by his wife, the Begum Aga Khan, had earlier met with President Jorge Sampaio, Prime Minister Antonio Guterres and senior government ministers in Lisbon.
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