Emmaus International

Our friend, Albert Tévoédjrè, passed away on Wednesday 6 November 2019. A man with an exceptional career, both nationally and internationally, but also someone we owe a lot to at Emmaus International and particularly at Emmaus Africa.

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30 years ago, from 8 to 16 November 1989, Albert Tévoédjrè and his wife Isabelle hosted the 1st inter-African meeting of Emmaus at the Refuge du Pèlerin in Porto-Novo, an event organised at the behest of Emmaus International and its Chair at the time, Franco Bettoli. Emmaus International was represented by its Chair, by Jean-Marie Viennet, members of the international secretariat (Laurent Desmard and Brigitte Mary); Graziano Zoni on behalf of Emmaus Italy, and associations from French-speaking Africa associated with Emmaus groups in Europe.

This first inter-African meeting marked the start of the renewal and expansion of Emmaus in Africa where, up until then, Emmaus International had only one member in Rwanda. Albert Tévoédjrè played a major role in this renewal, after meeting Abbé Pierre, and following his speech at the 5th Emmaus International General Assembly near Namur in October 1984 on the theme Emmaus up-to-date in the North-South context.

He received this invitation to the 1984 General Assembly due to his book La Pauvreté, richesse des peuples, published in 19781 .

At the opening of his speech at the 1984 General Assembly2 , Albert declared:

"One of your characteristics, what justifies your action in the eyes of a Third World man like me, is that you are not taking care of the Third World. It is very important. You are taking care of man, wherever he is, you are taking care of poverty in any country in the world, and first of all you prove it in your immediate surroundings. This is an extraordinary and unique thing in your favour and I sincerely say that in the world of today it is often easier to be a missionary in Nepal, than to be interested in the immigrant workers in your own region."

Africa was then the continent with the largest number of poor countries. Emmaus International could not be absent from it without undermining its values. At the end of the 1980s, the Executive Committee made its desire clear to create Emmaus groups that were both authentically African and treated on an equal footing with the other members of the movement worldwide. It also wanted to break away from the traditional practices of foreign NGOs that call on the services of expatriate volunteers. This desire was in line with Albert's deep convictions.

In Switzerland in 1988, Albert met Véronique Gnanih, a Beninese woman who had completed a university degree on environmental issues. She was preparing her return to Benin and wanted to carry out development and environmental protection work in her city of Porto Novo, such as household waste treatment to clean up the city, compost production and organic farming. Albert put her in contact with Emmaus International. Along with several representatives of associations from French-speaking Africa working in the field of solidarity and development, she was invited as an observer to the Emmaus International General Assembly held in Verona, Italy in September 1988. It is thanks to Albert and Véronique that Emmaus Tohouè was created in mid-1989. Furthermore, thanks once again to Albert, who put Emmaus International in contact with Bishop Isidore de Souza, the coadjutor bishop of Cotonou at the time, the Emmaus Hêvié community was established in 1991, which is now Emmaus Pahou.


The history of Emmaus International's relations with Benin is also marked by an exceptional event, both in terms of its nature and its impact felt throughout the African continent3 . It was December 1989, and after 17 years of a Marxist-Leninist revolution the economic system had been dismantled, people had been silenced and the education system was destroyed4. Faced with a growing struggle for human rights, the Beninese regime announced the organisation of a national conference of the nation's living forces. Nearly 500 delegates, representing all socio-professional categories, met in February 1990. Among them were Albert Tévoédjrè and Isidore de Souza, who replaced the delegate of the Catholic Church at the last minute and was elected chairman of the conference.

The assembly, with great political courage, proclaimed its sovereignty over the government. Albert Tévoédjrè and Isidore de Souza played a major role in this. They denounced state abuses and repression. The assembly made concrete proposals for the return to the rule of law and a multi-party system, and called for the release of prisoners of conscience. It set up a High Council of the Republic (HCR) responsible for preparing a constitutional referendum and presidential and legislative elections, exercising legislative duties and monitoring the government. Isidore de Souza was elected chairman of the HCR with the same rank as head of state.

Remarkably and unexpectedly, the national conference was conducted without bloodshed. The following year, the Beninese experience of returning to democracy was then replicated and imitated, with varying results, in a large number of countries on the African continent.

Albert and the companions and friends of Emmaus Benin, who are themselves very committed to this "non-violent revolution", insisted that Emmaus International should support democratic renewal and make this widely known among governments and public opinion in Europe. Since June 1990, Emmaus International has been committed to development and democracy in Benin. It has financed development initiatives to give the population tangible signs of improvement in their living conditions, within the framework of the Forum du Renouveau, a consultation between Beninese nationals and NGOs from the global north. And above all, and this is unprecedented, Emmaus International launched (together with European NGOs) an information and advocacy campaign on the theme "Overcoming fatalism in Africa"5. Abbé Pierre and a delegation from Emmaus International went to Benin that October.


Over the last 30 years, the link between Albert Tévoédjrè and Emmaus International has been strong. He contributed to our reflections and our actions through his moral support and networking.

For everything you have done, THANK YOU Albert. Thank you so very much.

1 Éditions ouvrières, Paris, 1978, preface by Dom Hélder Câmara. Published in French, translated into German, English, Spanish and Italian.
2 Speech reproduced in full in Emmaus International Newsletter, No. 47, December 1984, pages 20 to 33 and 37-38.
3 Source: Emmaus International newsletter no. 69, June 1990.
4 These three expressions are borrowed from Aurélien Agbenonci: "Benin : the advance towards democracy of one of the most backward countries" (Emmaus International Newsletter, no. 69, June 1990, p. 9-13).
5 Press release, conference at L'Arche de la Fraternité, Paris La Défense, 26 September 1990.