A shared social ethic, underwritten by Africa’s faiths, can help resolve many of the problems afflicting Africa today…. I am unaware of a single situation where the faiths of Africa have sat down and asked themselves what policies and strategies are in place to offer long-term availability of health and education.

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In an address yesterday to a special session on “Africa’s Rebirth” at the XIIIth International Meeting of Peoples and Religions, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, underlined the need for a stronger basis for civil society to be able to address problems of conflict, corruption and the AIDS epidemic. Accepting human differences, building upon pluralism, insisting on honesty in public service and creating national and international responses to the AIDS crisis were, the Aga Khan said, the components of “a new social ethic that should be taught and led by the faiths.”

A shared social ethic, underwritten by Africa’s faiths, can help resolve many of the problems afflicting Africa today.

Social ethic today in Africa needs to be founded not on the notion of taking, but on the notion of giving.

One of the principal forces for the creation of peace is hope, and faith communities working together on immediate and realistic priorities, can revive that hope.

He went on to suggest practical ways to “overcome the fragility of human resources” and to harness Africa’s multiplicity of minorities, tribal, linguistic, ethnic and religious (including those with origins in immigrant communities in East and West Africa, as well as pre-colonial tribal organisations) to the development process. One way was to enhance voluntarism, a tradition in nearly all faiths: teaching voluntarism, professionalising volunteers and “voluntarising” professionals. Another way was for faith communities to use their experience and significant number of existing institutions of higher education to supplement or strengthen the Continent’s insufficient and decaying educational infrastructure.

Yet another way was to involve the faiths in a dialogue on policy issues. Describing the World Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework as an effort to have “governments listen to all the forces of civil society,” the Aga Khan pointed out that this was “essential for development in Africa to take place in a structured, consensual manner.” Having been involved for 40 years in African development, the Aga Khan went on to remark:

I am unaware of a single situation where the faiths of Africa have sat down and asked themselves what policies and strategies are in place to offer long-term availability of health and education.

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