Why Governments Need to “Build Back Better” with Faith Actors in Africa

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Africa Faith Leaders Initiative (AFLI) on Agenda 2030

In the beginning: Five years have elapsed since the United Nations adopted the Post-2015 Development Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It was an ambitious agenda yet one that faith actors believed was achievable by the grace of God. The world is at a critical point in time that it must not lose faith in this possibility. I believe that Africa as a continent of Faith with its ‘notoriously religious people’ still have faith in this ideal. Yet, we must be cautious that unless Governments and all stakeholders accelerate actions in this decade, it will be ‘faith without works” – is dead! 

Global impacts of COVID – 19 on Agenda 2030: Preliminary forecasts by regional and international organizations warn that the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse most of the gains made to deliver on the sustainable development agenda in the last five years. Reports by the ILO indicates that global number of people living in poverty is rising for the first time in 30 years with livelihood of about 1.6 billion workers in the informal sector affected by the pandemic. An estimated 237 million people of the total global population of people in hunger (that is 820 million), are found in Sub Saharan Africa. That is about 20% of Africa’s population. Further, it is anticipated that the impact of the pandemic will be bigger on low-income families with children. According to Arigatou International-End Child Poverty (AI-ECP) Initiative, the impact of COVID-19 on low-income families with children is likely to be more severe in the short term and recovery for these families will take much longer. It was previously estimated that two in every five children in Africa will be living in extreme poverty by 2030, accounting for over half of all global poverty. The pandemic could make it worse. 

Importance of building back with African Faith Actors: The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimated that more than 80% of world population is religiously affiliated. Afrobarometer indicates that more than 95% of Africans identify with a religion, and more than 75% of Africans report that they trust religious leaders most. The UNDP stated that faith-based organizations (FBOs) and religious leaders (RLs) are influential in both the political and social spheres, and have a broad following in society. Their presence in local communities, coupled with their capacity to deliver critical services, allow them to mobilize grassroots support, earn the trust of vulnerable groups, and influence cultural norms – all of which make them vital stakeholders in development.

Specific areas to build back better with Faith Actors:

- Accelerate investment in Nutrition, Sustainable Livelihood and Food security: Faith communities reach the remotest parts of the continent with the poorest of the poor whose primary source of livelihood is Agriculture. Agricultural sector in Africa has been greatly hit by various factors such as climate change, and natural disasters like the recent locust invasion in Eastern Africa. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to disrupt global food supply chain and plunge more people into hunger and malnourishment. It is therefore imperative for Governments and various stakeholders to increase emphasis and investment in sustainable agriculture, especially for women and youths in rural African communities. Governments should work with local faith actors to address the shortage of fertilizers, healthy seeds and veterinary medicines on the one hand, and the decline in local demand for farm produce on the other to significantly improve agricultural production.

Strengthen Capacity of FBOs to provide Health Care in Africa: It is estimated that more than 40-50% of health services in Sub Saharan Africa is provided by Faith Based Organizations, and this is critical to achieving SDG 3; the worst hit by COVID-19. To build back better with FBOs will entail that Governments increase support to FBO health care institutions in areas of SDGs Target 3.b “support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines”, and Target 3.c “to significantly increase health financing.”

Increase funding to sustain Global Partnerships for the Goal: As long-term financing for multi-stakeholders’ engagement is requisite to achieve the Agenda 2030, Governments should work with Faith Actors, especially local faith communities and actors to make achieving the SDGs an integral part of all measures taken at home, and mobilize additional local and international funding towards support for multilateral actions.

Conclusion: To build back better requires multi-stakeholder approach. Strategically, Faith Leaders in Africa have mobilized themselves to engage with the Agenda 2030 through the Africa Faith Leaders Initiative (AFLI) on Agenda 2030. This is a key multi-stakeholder platform for Governments to engage to build back better towards achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda.

ALFI was formed as a response to strengthen faith communities and faith leader’s engagement in shaping the global development agenda. Arigatou International - End Child Poverty is part of AFLI, working to advance cooperation in ending child poverty in the region.