While Angola, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Toga and Tunisia look forward to the kick-off of the 2006 soccer World Cup in Germany this Friday, the Catholic relief organization CAFOD is urging its supporters to kick-start an initiative to keep the needs of Africa firmly in the spotlight.
The Focus Africa campaign is calling on parishes in England and Wales to raise £1 million to help tackle the urgent and ongoing causes of poverty across the continent ñ and to support the agencyís partners in development.
As an example of the challenge to be addressed, CAFOD says that Angola ñ who start in group D on Sunday with a match against former colonial masters Portugal ñ is struggling to tackle the physical, social and political legacy of almost 40 years of internal conflict.
This has taken a massive toll on a country where the average life expectancy is just 41 years of age, and which inherited a legacy of underdevelopment after independence in November 1975.
Among Africa's major producers, Angola is rich in oil and gas petroleum reserves ñ and due to rising global oil prices, the country received a total of 5,695 billion US dollars in 2004.
But inequality remains high. According to the 2005 UN Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) report on Angola, 66 per cent of the people live below the poverty and 26 per cent live in extreme poverty.
The daily reality for many Angolans is inadequate access to clean water and poor sanitation, says CAFOD.
There have also been over 1,500 the recent cholera outbreaks deaths in the space of the past three months across the country.
Among other programmes, CAFOD partners in Angola are working on social and economic justice concerns, supporting social research, and thereby resourcing the national debate on how the country's wealth is spent. They say it should benefit all, not just a wealthy few.
Judith Parke, who heads up CAFOD's community fundraising commented: ì2005 was hailed as the year for Africa, from the Commission for Africa Report to the G8 Summit in Scotland, Live8 concerts across the UK and the 20th anniversary of Live AidÖ Focus Africa [concentrates on] the root causes of poverty affecting millions of people on the continent.î
CAFOD, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, is the official aid and development agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. It cooperates with a wide range of church and civil society partners in developing countries.
The agency identifies eight systemic problems for Africa: drought, conflict, unfair trade rules, un-payable foreign debt, inequality, poor governance, insufficient aid, and HIV-AIDS.
Focus Africa has in recent years been an annual initiative. The presence of African nations in the 2006 World Cup gives it an extra boost, say organisers.
[Also on Ekklesia: Child shot as homes are torn down in Angola; Church agency opposes Angolan demolition crackdown; Calls for enquiry into tragic death of Angolan church asylum seeker; Nuns show the red card to forced World Cup prostitution; Human rights and church groups protest against World Cup sex slavery; Christians and Muslims score a goal against soccer racism; World Cup proves a football blessing to Iran; German churches to be peacemakers during World Cup; Will Baptist soccer bosses teach England's Sven about crosses?; Fairtrade football - fair trade football gift ideas from Ekklesia]