STEWARTSVILLE, New Jersey — In a post-COVID-19 pandemic world there are still millions suffering from its effects. In late August 2022, there were a reported 1 million deaths that had occurred from COVID-19 so far in 2022. Many of these deaths come from developing countries that lack the infrastructure and health care to provide adequate protection for their citizens. The overwhelming cause of this lack of infrastructure is due to poverty. The main goal in addressing these issues thus becomes addressing the root causes of poverty with appropriate solutions.
The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Roger B. Alfani, Professor at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University and author of “Religious Peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Dr. Alfani has conducted research in Goma and the capital of The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Kinshasa to see the role that local-based grassroots initiatives can have in addressing the conflicts in the DRC. The local religious grassroots projects that he focused on were initiatives led by Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational churches in these cities to gauge how effective they were at addressing conflicts by instilling peace.
Causes of Poverty
Poverty, as it is often described, is the lack of food, water, shelter, education, health care and other various resources. However, poverty can take other forms as well. “I think it is important to define what we understand by poverty, which could either be visible or invisible and hiding some underlying issues like unemployment, corruption, colonial legacy, political power, ethnic discrimination, etc.,” Dr. Alfani said. He goes on to describe how instances of orphaned children, sexual assault on women and the inability of parents to provide for their children are all examples of less explicit poverty but are poverty all the same.
Many of these issues arise from military or violent conflicts that ravage countries and leave nothing but destruction and poverty in their wake. Dr. Alfani describes his experiences with poverty in the DRC, “I can say that I saw (and even heard) poverty, [an]extreme form of poverty. The ongoing conflict in Congo has decimated more than 6 million Congolese, displaced several other million individuals and left many others in a critically vulnerable state.” No matter the cause of poverty, whether it is a natural disaster or violent military conflict, one approach to solving the issue is one that is a local-based grassroots project.
Local Religious Grassroot Projects
Dr. Alfani’s research in the DRC led him to better understand how the Catholic and Protestant churches operate within the Congo and how these organizations facilitate peace within the region. With the facilitation of peace comes less violent conflicts which in turn can help set the Congolese on the path toward reducing poverty. The churches themselves have made great efforts in alleviating poverty in the region. “Religious non-state actors, especially mainstream churches like Catholic and Protestant churches, have structures, organizations and more importantly transnational networks that have passed the test of time in terms of filling the gap of the state in relation to providing goods and services.” Dr. Alfani told The Borgen Project. The Church works as a mediary between conflicting groups at the local level so as to aid peacebuilding initiatives that also reduce poverty.
Beyond the various churches in the DRC taking it upon themselves to help reduce high-tension conflicts in the region, they are also there to provide for those in poverty trying to survive. They provide humanitarian aid even after conflicts have ended. This is the importance of local religious projects as they provide for people living in poverty both during a conflict and after a conflict.
International Religious Actors in Africa
The importance of these religious projects being grassroots and local-based initiatives cannot be understated. However, it is equally important to mention the international role that these religious projects have encompassed for several decades. As early as the George W. Bush administration, religious organizations like HOPE International have been working diligently to provide better lives for those living in poverty in Africa. Through the construction of hospitals and schools and other initiatives working with local-based African organizations, religious International NGOs have provided for millions in Africa.
The Success of Religious Actors in Africa
Some Christian religious organizations have had a profound impact on alleviating poverty in Africa. Recently the Christian organization 4Africa drilled and completed a well in northern Uganda that is responsible for providing clean drinking water to thousands of refugees from South Sudan.
The refugee camp Bidi Bidi in northern Uganda has accepted nearly 300,000 refugees fleeing civil war in South Sudan. However, there was not enough water to support this mass exodus and the large new population. The drilling project spearheaded by 4Africa created a clean water well that provided sanitation and drinking water to these refugees.
The Future of Religious NGOs in Africa
Both religious non-state actors at the local level and at the international level are necessary for addressing issues of poverty in Africa. The fight against poverty in this region will be long and hard but success has already been made with the construction of schools and hospitals by international religious NGOs and the provision of goods and services and the reduction of conflict by local grassroots religious projects.
– Declan Harkness