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November 23, 2015

Responding To: Head of U.N. Refugee Agency Calls for Greater Multilateral Cooperation on Migration

The Challenge of Structures of Inequality in Africa

Emmanuel Foro

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees touched on the sensitive issue of the thousands of migrants—including many Africans— who have recently perished in the Mediterranean Sea. Guterres referenced the neglect of the international community towards these migrants, an affirmation which is commendable.

In light of Guterres’ remarks and Catholic Social Teaching, we should revisit the principle of human dignity that entails equality for all.

On issues of development and inter-governmental cooperation, many governments put national interests before all else. For example, French President Charles De Gaulle famously said:  “France has no friends, only interests.” Nations understandably align themselves with the pursuit of their national interests. Given this context, how can we shift national interests to promote the global common good?

In one of our previous discussions we mentioned the subtle manipulation of local ideals by donors and NGOs in Africa. In that scenario the donors’ interests determined which programs were implemented and what reports were produced. While local communities should have a voice, they also need to strengthen their will to progress and engage in development processes.

I fully agree with the Conference of U.S. Catholic Bishops who issued several letters and documents on social justice that said: "The ultimate injustice is for a person or group to be treated actively or abandoned passively as if they were non-members of the human race.” However, African countries share the responsibility to grow and to take care of their population to the maximum limit of their capacity.

A colleague, Prof. Orobator, recently quoted an African proverb that relates to the current migration crises. He said: the rat would not run into fire if something hotter were not behind it. What is that hotter reality? It is the deficient political will in some African governments to improve life for their citizens. To overcome this challenge necessitates, among other actions, a shift in mental models in the continent.

High Commissioner Guterres is right to point to the deeper and longer-term interest of all in the wellbeing of all others. It is time that we understand this and are compelled to action.

Emmanuel Foro, S.J., is the dean at Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya, where he also teaches fundamental theology, ecclesiology, and Ignatian spirituality.

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