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BBC Radio 4: Thought for the Day on Africa

Martin Palmer: November 23 2004:

"It is only a little piece of Africa. But you see, it is, a piece of Africa."

In the week when the twentieth anniversary of Band Aid is being celebrated and the new recording of "Do they know its Christmas" is out, there is some good news from Africa.

The United Nations' Security Council met last week in Nairobi, Kenya, only the fourth time in its history that the Council has met outside its New York headquarters. The reason? To broker a peace accord between the Khartoum Government of Sudan and the Southern Independence movement - and thus to try and end a terrible civil war.

The war has lasted for almost twenty years and taken perhaps as many as a million lives. Now, a real peace deal is possible with a UN brokered deadline of December 31st.

If this peace can be arranged, then there is real hope for a solution to Sudan's other warfare, in Darfur.

So, good news from Africa. It is sadly not very common. So often the image of Africa is one of hopelessness and need, but we ignore the good news at our peril. You can't summarise an entire continent through just the horror stories.

Last week I joined African Christian and Muslim leaders in London for an event organised by the World Bank and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation. It was titled: "The world's best-kept secret about Africa".

The secret was that without the work of the Churches and mosques many millions of peoples' lives would be infinitely poorer.

In some countries, the faiths supply nearly 50% of heath, education and welfare but they also create literally hundreds of thousands of communities of hope.

In the midst of highly significant speeches from representatives of the World Bank and various European governments, there was a simple presentation by an African Benedictine monk, prior of a monastery at Katibunga in a remote part of Zambia.

Father Nzota described how the monastery had funded and maintained the local road to the main road; ran the only bus service; provided the main school; the training workshops for practical skills and on their grounds the local market is held.

It was a straightforward story of a local church helping people. So why was it important? Because it showed that for this community, as for so many, having an ordinary life is possible - because of their faith and because of the quiet, unpublicised service provided by churches and mosques across the continent.

At the end, Father Nzota said something which made me think of the medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich who said that with insight you can see the whole of the universe in a nutshell. This gentle prior from Katibunga said almost apologetically:

"It is only a little piece of Africa. But you see, it is, a piece of Africa."

Africa is full of little pieces like this, places where people through their faith, get on with their lives, and that is part of the good news from Africa.

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