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Press Release ABLI 2011

New Bible initiative takes root among Africa’s leaders

An initiative aimed at raising the Bible’s profile among Africa’s top decision makers has gained the support of senior African Union (AU) officials, including its Deputy Chairman, Mr Ernastus Mwencha.

During the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this month, Mr Mwencha encouraged the recently-formed African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) to continue its activities to promote the Bible.The ABLI was set up by the Bible Society of Ethiopia, Beza International Ministries - an Ethiopian Christian organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society and the United Bible Societies.

“The ABLI came about because our partners in Ethiopia recognised the unique opportunity that existed in Addis Ababa for taking the Bible to the heart of African political, social and economic life,” explains David Smith, BFBS’s International Political Advocacy Officer.

“Addis Ababa is the diplomatic and political hub of Africa – the AU is based there, as is the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and it has the highest number of foreign embassy staff in Africa. So if you want to raise the profile of the Bible in the public square in Africa, there is no better place to start.”

In the run-up to this year’s summit the ABLI organised a forum, attended by around 250 high profile leaders, including a former Nigerian president and a high court judge from Malawi, focusing on how biblical principles should be used to address the challenges facing their continent.

It culminated in the AU Prayer Breakfast, funded by the American Bible Society, where forum delegates and senior African government officials came together to pray, read the Bible and seek God’s blessing on their countries. The forum and prayer breakfast will now take place annually to coincide with the AU summit in Addis Ababa.

Speakers at the forum gave hard-hitting presentations on three main issues: poverty and social exclusion, good governance and leadership and reconciliation. Professor Wilfred Mlay, for instance, who is World Vision’s Regional Vice-President for Africa, declared that “poverty is an affront to God”.“The very centre of the Gospel is God, through Jesus Christ, giving us everything,” he stated. “Neither race, nationality, social or economic class nor gender should separate us from our Father’s store of wealth and well-being for all his people.”

Malawian high court judge Justice Esme Chombo challenged leaders of churches and Christian organisations to become models of good governance as well as preaching about it.

Presentations were also made during the prayer breakfast by a number of speakers including Edith Sempala, the World Bank’s Director of International Affairs, Paul Boateng, the former British High Commissioner to South Africa, and General Dr Yakubu Gowon, who was president of Nigeria during the Biafran wars. Dr Gowon reflected on how his Christian faith had helped him to seek peace for Nigeria rather than victory over the rebels at any cost.

“The presentations were very inspiring and there was power in simply saying the words,” comments Mr Smith. “But it was not just empty talk. The people in the forum are those who are tasked with actively dealing with the challenges facing Africa, so the discussions will feed into their thinking and the decisions they make.”

In fact, it is intended that the forum discussions will feed into the very highest level of African politics through the ABLI forum declaration, which will soon be formally presented to the chairman and deputy chairman of the AU. They will be encouraged to pass the declaration onto African heads of state.

In the meantime, the ABLI is preparing for next year’s AU summit and facilitating ongoing discussions.

“The ABLI is not just about something that happens once a year,” explains Mr Smith. “There are three facets to the initiative – the forum, the prayer breakfast, and the year-round community of dialogue, largely based on our website, www.abliforum.org.”