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African U.N. official examines church’s role in globalization

 


African U.N. official examines church’s role in globalization

Oct. 12, 2004

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)-The church must take the lead in both promoting the positive effects of globalization and responding to the negative ones, an African U.N. official told United Methodist leaders.

Ibrahim A. Gambari, under-secretary-general and special adviser on Africa for the United Nations, addressed globalization and the role of a global church in remarks to the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry on Oct. 9. A Nigerian, he played an important role in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy and assisted in peacekeeping efforts in Burundi, Rwanda, Angola and Mozambique.

Global leadership was a focal point for the board’s governing members at their Oct. 7-10 meeting.

Gambari provided four causes of the rapid globalization of the world: the hardwiring of the planet, which has decreased distances; international financial transactions of $1.5 trillion that flow daily through the world’s electronic systems, making a new world economic system; the ushering in of a free-market path to development since the end of the Cold War; and the rapid movement of people, goods and services.

Globalization can lift countries out of poverty through faster economic growth and enhancing well-being, he said. However, it also makes no distinctions in its impact on countries and societies at different levels of socioeconomic and technological development.

Globalization has had positive impacts on some developing nations, but "from available evidence, the African continent, as a whole, has not fared well in the globalizing world," he said. It is "the least industrialized continent in the world."

Despite the marginalization of Africa, globalization is an unstoppable force, which "needs to be channeled to serve the benefits of all or the majority of peoples of the world," Gambari said.

"Africa is the richest continent in the world in terms of mineral and natural resources, but its people are the poorest in the world," Gambari said.

Africa is marginalized by international trade and private capital outflow, debt, slowing agricultural growth, commodity price decline and public expenditure decline, he said.

Africa wants to trade but the subsidies that rich countries are putting on farm products are outrageous, he said. "There has to be fairer trade to allow African products to come to the market of the developed countries in a free and competitive manner.

"The challenge is not just on the part of Africans but also on their partners in the work of trade and eternal debt policies," Gambari said.

"Globalization is a mixed blessing," he said. The "challenge is to make it work for the benefit of all people."

The United Methodist Church as a global church must do more than take the side of the poor and the weak in the globalization debate, he said. "The church must remind everyone about the social and ethical dimensions of globalization and recognize that the free market should not be elevated to the level of religion."

One should not worship the free market, he said. It is a tool for growth and development and the promotion of people’s welfare, he said. "The church must be a friend of the poor and underprivileged within countries and between countries."

The challenge facing the United Methodist Church and other entities is how to harness the benefits of globalization while reducing its negative impacts, he said.

"Does globalization undermine the vitality of the church to carry out its mission in our new global future?" he asked. "It is essential, in a world changing as rapidly as ours, that we make sense of how needed adjustments would affect both the context in which we live and operate our churches."

As religions encourage members to receive their sense of identity and self-worth from higher spiritual sources, the marketplace encourages citizens to derive their identity and self-worth from what they buy and consume, he noted.

"The ultimate human goals can never be defined principally in economic terms," Gambari said, "but in spiritual and relational terms as well. We need globalization with a human face and the pursuit of free market economics with compassion through sustained assistance to the less privileged within and between countries."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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