Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Zimbabwe needs the church

A church network can deliver the aid that Zimbabwe desperately needs better than any foreign NGO

Richard Dowden
26.02.2009, Guardian UK

When states and institutions collapse in Africa through war or bad government, or when a government stops outsiders travelling, the churches become the only source of support and hope. Like the monasteries in bad times in medieval Europe, they become bastions of safety as well as providers of food and medical care. Unlike the foreign NGOs whose workers have to pull out when the going gets tough, church workers are usually local people, so the churches and their humanitarian operations never close.

In Congo in the war in the early 1990s I found one parish that was operating as a clinic, school, food store and feeding centre, hotel, shop, post office, airline, workshop, garage – and church. Even soldiers completely out of control are sometimes too frightened of the churches' spiritual power to attack or loot them. In Zimbabwe, foreign NGOs have found their work obstructed by the government and food aid has been persistently diverted to areas that support Mugabe and away from those in greatest need. NGO workers have been prevented from travel because they report back on repression by the security forces.

The aid donors are not providing help on the scale it is needed. They have decided to hang back until they can judge whether the new unity government is going to work before stepping in with a major rescue plan for Zimbabwe. That is probably the right decision. If they injected cash into the government at this stage it would probably be seized by Zanu PF.
The appeal by Britain's two leading Anglican churchmen for aid to Zimbabwe means that money raised will reach the people quickly with very low overhead costs. My question is why, when the Anglican communion has Christian Aid, already a well-established aid agency with a track record of delivery in such circumstances, did they issue an appeal for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel? And why did they not launch an appeal with church leaders from other denominations?

Zimbabwe certainly needs our help, with millions surviving on one meagre meal a day – if that. More than half the population is reckoned to be needing food aid. Cholera has affected 80,000 people and some 4,000 have died. Hospital workers on strike, unable to survive themselves on their ridiculously low wages made meaningless by hyperinflation, are now being paid to work by some of the churches and NGOs.

Too much newsprint has been devoted in the British press to the fate of the white farmers of Zimbabwe, reinforcing Africans' view that white life in Africa is more important to Britain than the lives of Africans. It also helps Mugabe in his propaganda war against Britain and his fantastical claims that Britain is only interested in its own people and wants to recolonise the country. The loss of the whites is great and catastrophic for the Zimbabwe economy but their physical circumstances are not as dire as those of many Africans. This appeal is for people who really need our help.

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