HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF ACWECA

Early in the 1960’s the Sacred Congregation for the Religious in Rome expressed the desire that, each country should have a Conference of Women Religious Superiors.

And when the bishops of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) region had their plenary assembly in 1973, they invited some representatives of Consecrated women in the region to attend. The sisters attended the plenary but they couldn’t make any contribution because they went in as observers.

This experience further ignited their desire to have their own meetings where they could discuss issues that are relevant to their consecrated life and their role in evangelisation. It was at this AMECEA Plenary that the sisters agreed to have a separate meeting.

The representatives were from four (4) Conferences of Women Religious Superiors from Eastern and Central African countries that already had established National Conferences. These included the Association of Sisterhood in Kenya (AOSK), the Tanzanian Catholic Association of Sisters (TCAS), the Zambian Association of Sisters (ZAS) and the Association of Religious Institutes in Malawi (ARIMA) by then, now Association of Women in Religious Institutes of Malawi (AWRIM).

At this meeting in Nairobi, it was recommended that a regional meeting of religious women be convened to discuss their common concerns and aspirations and to deepen their religious commitments.

Consequently in the same year, Mother Marie Therese Gacambi, ASN, Sr. Edel Bahati, OLC, Sr. Cecilia Nibyobyonka, OLGC and Mother Stephen Nkoitoi, independently met to plan for what would become the 1st Assembly in the history of Consecrated Women from this part of Africa. The Conference with theme: The Role of the Religious Women in Evangelisation.took place in Limuru, Kenya in 1974, and it drew delegates from Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. They were then called the “AMECEA Sisters.”

And over the years the Study Conference, as it was then called took place either annually or after every other year though it now takes place after every three years.

At that first Conference, Sr. Edel Bahati addressed the delegates on behalf of Sr. Marie Theresa Gacambi, the then Chairperson of the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (AOSK) who also doubled as the chairperson of the AMECEA Sisters. In her address, Sr. Bahati thanked all who had made the conference possible and in her words said: “It was a historic moment – a first regional meeting of its kind in the history of African Women Religious.”

By 1976, the Association was becoming stronger and most importantly too, it was also during this 3rd Conference that the Association was renamed Sisters of East Africa Study Conference, (SEASC) from its original name “AMECEA Sisters.”

Through study conferences the aims and objectives of the SEASC became clear. These aims and objectives were articulated in the guidelines of the SEASC, which later on became the Statutes. The Association continued to grow in English speaking countries of Eastern and Central Africa.

In 1983, the Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese Conferences of Women Consecrated Life became members of the SEASC while retaining their national memberships in the Joint National Associations (Men and Women).

It was in 2002 that delegates to the 12th Plenary Assembly changed the name to the “Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA).” This according to members would take care of the increasing membership demands from other countries that had been brought on board. At this time the Association had a membership of eight (8) National Associations of sisterhoods.

But following the 2010 secession of South Sudan from Sudan, the South Sudan Sisters’ Association was recognised as an independent member of ACWECA in May 2013. Currently, ACWECA comprises Women Institutes of Consecrated life from nine English speaking countries of Eastern and Central Africa namely Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. And during the 2017 Plenary Assembly, ACWECA got a new baby – the Conference of Major Religious Superiors – CMRS of Zimbabwe as an Associate Member.

Today as a regional body, ACWECA is fully registered under the Society’s Act of the Republic of Kenya, from where the secretariat of the Association has operated since 1988.

In order to promote the vitality of Religious Life in this part of the world, the animation organised by ACWECA is aimed at reaching the Sisters through their National Associations. At the end of each Plenary Assembly, National Action Plans are made to help implement the resolutions taken by each Member country.

Thus, ACWECA supports and serves as an umbrella body for 10 National Associations of sisterhoods of the member countries. The Association has a membership of over 35,000 sisters from over 280 Religious Institutes, with 41 Superior Generals, thereby providing a real potential of great spiritual and pastoral impact in the region.