Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies’ Catholic Peacebuilding Network Participates in SECAM’s Ghana Seminar, Denouncing the Exploitation of Mineral and Natural Resources

Author: Lisa Gallagher

A group of attendees in Ghana, including Douglass Cassel (front row, second from left) and Caesar Montevecchio (front row, fourth from left)

The University of Notre Dame was the only university participant in a pivotal international seminar held in Accra, Ghana, addressing the theme “Conflicts in Africa in the Context of the Exploitation of Natural and Mining Resources."

SECAM Summit 2024
Montevecchio (L) attends a service 
at SECAM's Seminar in Ghana

From March 8 to 10, the Symposium of the Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) convened a gathering of approximately 40 participants to deliberate the critical nexus between natural resource exploitation and conflicts within the African continent. Attendees included bishops, priests and lay Catholics, and representing Notre Dame were Caesar Montevecchio, assistant director of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network (CPN) at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and Douglass Cassel, Notre Dame Presidential Fellow and professor emeritus of law.

SECAM Summit 2024
Montevecchio (far right) participates 
in a roundtable discussion

Over the course of three days, attendees engaged in myriad, substantive discussions covering a wide variety of topics. These ranged from the exploitation of mining and other natural resources in Africa to theological reflections, legal frameworks and regulations, the Church's commitment in this domain, advocacy initiatives, and strategies to address the multifaceted challenges associated with these situations. These discussions were spurred by Pope Francis’s visit to Mozambique in 2019, and his audience in 2020 with Most Rev. Luiz Fernando Lisboa, then-Bishop of Pemba in Mozambique. The pope expressed solidarity for those suffering the humanitarian crisis resulting from armed conflict in Cabo Delgado, home to Africa’s third-largest gas reserve, and urged the bishops of Africa to take up the issue of natural resource conflicts.

SECAM Summit 2024
Montevecchio speaks as part of a panel
at SECAM's summit in Ghana

“It was exciting to see the bishops rallying around these issues,” Montevecchio said. “But it is also very challenging, because it is apparent just how difficult and complicated the problem is.”

His Eminence Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo, Archbishop of Kinshasa and president of SECAM, underscored the paradoxical scenario wherein significant foreign investments in oil, gas, mining, and natural resources fail to adequately benefit the local populations of the continent. Cardinal Ambongo emphasized the urgent need for the Church in Africa to adopt a pastoral approach to integral ecology and ecological conversion informed by its social doctrine, particularly in relation to extractive industries.

SECAM Summit 2024
Montevecchio presents at the Ghana summit

“My role was to emphasize why these issues are church issues,” Montevecchio shared. “Commonly there is hesitancy among church leaders to engage in certain kinds of social issues that may fall outside their area of expertise. My talk was meant to emphasize why engaging with mining is, in fact, something that fits within the mission of the church in Africa.”

Noteworthy proposals included advocacy for the establishment of a continental day of prayer and solidarity in Africa to spotlight specific issues in individual countries. Others sought to amplify the voices of the marginalized, enhance education on integral ecology, and increase involvement of legal and media professionals to monitor natural resource exploitation and advocacy efforts.

SECAM’s overarching objective is to ensure that Africa's abundant resources contribute to economic development, benefit the majority of its populace, foster peace, and alleviate poverty. Most Rev. Matthew K. Gyamfi, Bishop of Sunyani and president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference, echoed this sentiment in his welcoming address, affirming the significance of the seminar's focus in light of prevailing circumstances across the continent and within the Church.

Group shot at SECAM Summit 2024
Participants at the SECAM seminar
gather for a group photo

The seminar was organized by SECAM in collaboration with and the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Misereor, Catholic Relief Services, Mosaiko Institute for Citizenship, Centre d’Etudes pour l’Action Sociale (CEPAS), Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DPHI), and CPN at the University of Notre Dame.