“We shall work consistently to transform governance for effective public delivery”
What are faith communities to do in the face of the seemingly insurmountable challenge of providing critical public services to majority of Africa’s residents? (see Public Services leave Nairobi’s Poor Poorer). The Organization of African Instituted Churches OAIC has thrown up this question as its primary engagement on the international week against poverty.
Apparently, the answer to the question depends as much on who is asking it as who is answering. For African Instituted Churches in Nairobi, many of whose members live in its informal settlements, the answer has been to simply work to fill the gap. In this way they have mobilized their congregations to found community groups, build non-formal schools and feeding kitchens, routinely raise money to meet medical expenses of their sick, raise capital for members to start small businesses, pray and stand in solidarity with their neighbours in these settlements. In the course of these efforts many have found supporters and encouragement.
The realities and challenges that confront these AIC’s can, however, be overwhelming as witnessed in a meeting of pastors and church leaders from Nairobi’s informal settlements. Asked how many of them had officiated or been involved in a funeral of a child five years or younger, half of about 62 leaders present raised up their hands. In response to the question, how many have heard of or officiated at a funeral service of a woman who died at childbirth or due to pregnancy related causes, again nearly two thirds raised their hands.
According to Rev. Nicta Lubaale, General Secretary of the OAIC, the church has to change its pastoral response to the challenge of poverty. “Often we rise up and pray and often this is a prayer for (individual) repentance. That is fine, but in the midst of these we need to look at the structural sins that cause this suffering.” “Many times”, says Rev. Lubaale, “it is the poor who repent their sins, yet it is institutions and those who govern, who make policies, who are charged with running public affairs that are wrong”
According to Rev. Lubaale, “We need to integrate the pastoral role with the prophetic voice that speaks directly to the people and institutions charged with delivery of public goods and services.” This, he says “is crucial in our efforts to enable people live a life of dignity.”
Another key aspect in the response of the church is to resituate itself relative to the exchange between those in power and office and those who vote or place them in office who are often the ones in need the public services. According to Rev. Lubaale, “Elected representatives prefer to deal with people from the position of patrons dealing with clients. They work to bring every institution of society to subordinate to this arrangement so that (the institution) enters a position of brokerage between the patron and the client.” Says, Rev. Lubaale, “As we move forward we need to ask ourselves whether we are a broker or a prophet, are we simply in place to do the work of brokerage for state officials and institutions?”
By resituating itself this way, the church “will start speaking the way God sent the prophets to speak to the King of Judah and all officials of government about the issues of oppression so that we confront this situation where many among us live with the indignity of hunger and inadequate health care, where women die while giving birth, where many of us lack housing and adequate sanitation.”
The task for the African Instituted Churches, which form the bedrock membership of the OAIC is immediate and frontal. Many AIC’s serve in informal settlements and rural areas where adequate public services are either absent or badly wanting. According to Rev. Lubaale, while in the past the OAIC has worked “to build pastoral communities to respond to these issues”, moving forward the OAIC “shall continue to build both pastoral and prophetic communities”. “That is why”, he says, “we are mobilizing around the international day against poverty.” “Our participation (in marking the international day against poverty) is not simply to stand in solidarity with the poor, but to give our witness that poverty and indignity in our midst is not acceptable”
“We shall work consistently to transform governance for effective public delivery” says Rev. Nicta Lubaale.