World Congress of Families IX: Traditional families are central to African identity

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Ann Mbugua of Kenya speaks to delegates at the World Congress of Families held in Salt Lake City on October 30. (Jordan Murray)

A panel of African delegates reported to the World Conference of Families on the progress of the pro-family movement on the African continent Friday in a closing session of the conference.

The Most Rev. Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, a Nigerian bishop in the Catholic Diocese of Oyo, opened the session by describing a common mentality of the African people. “When I hear ‘the family movement’ I tend to say, ‘What are you talking about?’ Because in Africa, everything is family — life is family,” Bishop Badejo said.

He continued by thanking the members of the audience for their efforts. “I think it’s also important that the people sitting here know how much the Catholic bishops, the hierarchy of the church, cherishes the work that they are doing and the effort to protect the family and life in Africa,” Bishop Badejo said.

He explained that the concept of family is part of African identity. “No one should be surprised at the tenacity with which Africans hold onto the family, because it’s either family or there is no life at all.”

He commented on the dichotomy seen between the lay people and hierarchy of the church, which is often noticed in the West, but said that is not the case in Africa. There are many cases of the church working with the lay people who are married, who are the “foot-soldiers of the family movement and the family project,” Bishop Badejo said.

Because of this alliance, national conferences of bishops have participated in organizing pro-family and pro-life congresses in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and other areas. “In Nigeria, we have had three of that sort in the last two years alone,” Bishop Badejo said. “That shows there is an attention to the dangers that are facing the family.”

Bishop Badejo praised the growing awareness of support for the family movement in Africa, but he also pointed out some serious challenges African nations now face. These challenges include old and new culture superstitions, wars and unrests (as seen in Sudan), diseases and AIDS. Western education also causes problems between family members who develop different world views after returning from their studies in Europe or America.

Rwanda and other countries are facing a different set of problems with family formation. After the genocide of 1994, the children and orphans who survived are now adults who are expected to form families, but since they didn’t have a traditional family experience, they have no role models.”This has become a serious concern for both the government and the church and society in Rwanda,” Bishop Badejo said. “This should be a concern for countries like Nigeria as well … Or Chad or Kenya where territories are beginning to produce again orphans and children who do not have parents.”

For the future, Bishop Badejo explained that the African people need to keep the government on its toes when it comes to education policies. They must prepare the children for the future by governing in a way that will favor the family and also foster positive inter-religious relations.

“We must not only defend, protect and preserve marriage and the family … it is no use sitting back until an attack comes, until a negative influence comes,” Bishop Badejo said. “It is important for us to actually present the family and the family values in Africa as the good that can be advertised, that can be adopted by others to be very defensive of the family.”

 

Ann Mbugua from Kenya is chair of the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum. Mbugua and her fellow advocates have raised advancements on areas of life, family, religious freedom, and governance.

Mbugua emphasized that, “it takes a village to raise a child,” explaining that she was the ninth child in a family of nine. When she was eight years-old her mother died, leaving her brothers and sisters to raise her. She quoted a Zulu phrase, translated as “I am because we are.” Mbugua has strongly advocated the importance of families in Kenya.

She announced that in 2010, she, along with fellow advocates, managed to have life defined as “from conception” in the Kenyan Constitution. “So when it reads, ‘every person has a right,’ that includes the child in the womb,” Mbugua said to a round of applause. The Kenya Christian Professionals Forum was also able to define a family to be between a man and a woman in the constitution. With the visit of Sharon Slater, founder of Family Watch International, they were also able to create a National Family Day in Kenya.

There are several issues the group is currently fighting. In Kenya, sodomy is a crime. However, “discrimination (against any person) on any grounds” is unconstitutional, and there is currently a court case fighting the sodomy law making its way through the Kenyan courts system.

Citing the Maputo Protocol 2003, Mbugua pointed out the vision of the Kenyan leaders and the goal of where the country should be. According to the Protocol, which is an African Union protocol, marriage is between a man and a woman.

Mbugua took her own survey among Kenyans on the “gay agenda,” and presented the results to the audience. From her polling last year, she found the majority to be opposed to abortion on the grounds of morality, with 87 percent opposed it. Of those polled, 93 percent  did not know any homosexuals, and 64 percent believe homosexuality it is an acquired behavior.

Mbugua quoted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, addressing President Obama earlier this year: “There are some things that we must admit we don’t share. It’s very difficult for us to impose on people that which they themselves do no accept. This is why I say for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue.”

The final member of the panel, Theresa Okafor, from Nigeria and a member of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage, echoed her fellow panel members’ thoughts.

“Do we really have an African perspective on family and religion?” Okafor said. “It is a universal concept, understood as anywhere in this world as mother, father and children. Religion is understood as a relationship with man and a supreme being; even Africans understood that before missionaries came.”

Okafor explained that the family is a big deal in Africa. “Rarely do you find foster homes, orphanages, rest homes; because if trauma happens, where do we put this person? In the family and extended family.”

Okafor believes that the government will not yield to anything that is a direct attack on family or anything that will result in the disintegration of family or denial of religious freedom, because Africans have these concepts so engrained in their culture that “family is all we’ve got.”

Okafor explained that the term “family breakdown” is an oxymoron to her. “How can you put together two contradictory terms? Because families do not break down.”

“Strip us of family, strip us of religion, strip us of culture, that is the end of the African continent,” Okafor said. “That is why, despite the corruption, the government is harsh when it comes to this situation.”

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