Southern DRC Violence Has Left More than 3,000 Dead
Catholic News Agency (CNA) || 20 June 2017
More than 3,300 people have been killed since October alone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region, said a report on recent violence by Catholic officials this week.
The death toll includes civilians caught in the crossfire of a brutal fight between the Congolese army and an opposing militia group.
A report was issued Tuesday by Catholic officials, who repeatedly appealed for both sides to embrace peaceful dialogue in order to facilitate the transition of power from President Joseph Kabila to his successor.
In the central-southern province of Kasai, the report said, 14 villages have been destroyed thus far, totaling at least 3,383 deaths.
Ten villages were destroyed by the central government’s army in an attempt to root out the opposition. Four more villages were demolished by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, killing hundreds of people and attacking church property while trying to drive out the government.
U.N. investigators say they have found 42 mass graves, according to Reuters. Additionally, the U.N. has stated that over 1.3 million people have fled from the country’s fighting.
This week, the U.N. Human Right’s Council in Geneva is expected to determine the need for an investigation into the country’s excessive violence. The DRC government has previously opposed such an investigation.
Political unrest developed in Congo in 2015 after a bill was proposed which would potentially delay the presidential and parliamentary elections. The bill was widely seen by the opposition as a power grab on the part of Kabila.
Relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated further when a Kasai chief was killed last August, after calling on the central government to quit meddling in the territory, insisting it be controlled by the local leaders.
Catholic bishops in the country had helped to negotiate an agreement, which hoped to prevent a renewed civil war by securing an election this year for the successor of President Kabila.
However, in January of this year, the bishops said the agreement was expected to fail unless both parties were willing to compromise. In March, the bishops withdrew from mediation talks.
With a history of bloody ethnic rivalries and clashes over resources, fears have developed that the violence in Kasai, a hub for political tension, will spread to the rest of the nation and even lead to the involvement of neighboring countries.
Forty percent of the DRC population is Catholic, and the Church’s report follows dozens of others around the country detailing the destruction of churches, gang violence against members, and even a death of the religious and clergy.
Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, the country’s capital, has told the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need that he thought the Church was being targeted “in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”
Source: Catholic News Agency…
Hear the Voices of Congo’s Girl Child Soldiers
IRIN || By Sandra Olsson || 19 June 2017
Multiple conflicts simmer across eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, further impoverishing already struggling rural communities, trapping children in a web of violence.
The conflicts have destroyed communities and created thousands of child soldiers, serving directly on the front lines, or labouring as porters, cooks, and spies. Up to 40 percent of them are girls.
In 2016, Child Soldiers International interviewed 150 girls formerly associated with some of the country's multiple armed groups.
The interviews form the basis of our new report, What The Girls Say, released today on 19 June – the UN's International Day For Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. It gives a voice to former girl child soldiers, revealing testimonies that are rarely heard and often overlooked.
The hope of a better life
Of the 150 girls we spoke with, two in three had been abducted by armed groups, while one third had joined 'voluntarily'.
"We heard that we could get money there," 15-year-old Judith* told us. "I went because I wanted to get enough money to go back to school."
Similar accounts were given by dozens of girls we interviewed in South and North Kivu and Haut-Uéle, pushed into conflict because of financial hardships at home.
It is estimated that only 60 percent of girls complete primary school education (compared to eight in 10 boys).
This inability to attend school was a factor in many girls' decisions to join armed groups; self-defence militias (known locally as Mai-Mai), Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army and the M23 among them.
"I was pushed out of school because my parents could not pay," 16-year-old Sara explained. "So instead of roaming aimlessly in town, it was better to go and help them in the bush."
For some though, their motivation for joining was to avenge the death of a friend or family member. Others did so because their communities were threatened and they sought protection.
"The Mai-Mai were doing bad things all the time," one girl explained. "They were looting and raping. It became so frightening and impossible to live at home. To protect ourselves, me and five others, three girls and two boys, decided to join them. We walked for two days."
Abused and exploited as “wives”
However, the hope of earning money or being protected by armed groups would never materialise.
Physical and sexual abuse, combat, hard labour and constant fear of death are common realities for children and teenagers within Congo's armed groups.
Girl's roles are far from limited to the front line and direct fighting.
Many are exploited as “wives” for soldiers, or used to carry out various domestic duties, such as looking after babies in the groups. Many will give birth to children of their own, often under very difficult circumstances.
"We were treated like toys," a 15-year-old girl said. "Lucky were those who only had one man."
The majority of the girls interviewed said they had suffered sexual abuse while in captivity.
"I was often drugged," 17-year-old Jeanette recalled. "I would wake up and find myself naked. They gave us drugs so that we would not get tired of all of them using us."
Such experiences are disturbingly common experiences for women and girls in conflict zones across the world.
The UN's international day on sexual violence in conflict was launched in 2015. The 19th of June is the anniversary of the adoption of the UN security council's resolution in 2008 that condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war, and a key date for raising awareness of this neglected area of conflict.
"Sexual violence is a brutal form of physical and psychological warfare rooted in the gender inequality existent not only in zones of conflict, but in our everyday personal lives,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a report published to mark the day. “The persistence of such forms of violence undermines peace and security and shatters community and family ties."
In 2016, the UN's Congolese mission, MONUSCO, verified 514 cases of conflict-related sexual violence in Congo – more than a third of the victims were girls aged under 18. The UN's Population Fund reported 2,593 cases of sexual violence in “conflict-affected provinces” during the same period.
MONUSCO has said that non-state armed groups, including various Mai-Mai groups, were responsible for almost 70 percent of the cases.
Recovery and reintegration
Freeing girls from armed groups can be an incredibly difficult task. Of the more than 9,000 child soldiers released by MONUSCO between 2009 and 2015 in Congo, only seven percent were girls.
For returning girls though, life back among family and community members often brings more suffering.
Stigmatisation and rejection is prevalent, with such treatment largely shaped by the fact that they have had sexual relations outside of marriage.
"Not two days goes by without neighbours making us feel we have known men," one girl said. "We are not allowed to associate with their daughters."
Such discrimination leaves many ostracised in their communities, and deprives them of social and economic capital.
As a result, some decide to rejoin the very armed groups that abused them.
"If we leave the group, we're going to be targeted, rejected," one girl told me. "So many girls accept and continue to live with their bush husband."
Child Soldiers International’s research reveals these issues of stigma and community rejection as the main hurdles in reintegrating many girls formerly associated with armed groups in the country.
Changing attitudes and behaviours towards returning girl soldiers is vitally important.
As an organisation, we are now working with the Congolese government, local partner NGOs, the UN, and community leaders to improve the treatment of girls and the assistance provided to them when they return home.
We have outlined numerous activities that can be implemented at community level to transform the lives of former girl child soldiers and the views of family and community members.
Education and economic empowerment
Among the initiatives, we believe education can be a very efficient catalyst for such change.
Many returning girls are deprived of education, while some don't have the means to pay, and others are shunned by family members and thus not allowed to return to the classroom.
The desire to return to school was overwhelming among the girls we interviewed in eastern Congo. One girl said: "If we could go to school, the community would be nicer to us, we would get some consideration. That would help a lot."
The lack of educational opportunities, perpetuated by community rejection, is heightened by the fact that local NGOs are underfunded and unable to help reintegrate returning child soldiers.
We spoke with several NGOs dedicated to assisting child soldiers in the region, but many of them said financial restrictions mean they were unable to help all.
One said they only had funds to help 19 out of 119 children they had identified, while another organisation added: "We know that 273 children left armed groups in 2015, [but] we are still waiting for [funds]."
Providing education is costly and there is an urgent need to come up with innovative, low-cost alternatives to reach more girls, for example through literacy and numeracy classes that can be set up using a volunteer teacher after school hours. "A woman who has not studied has no value," 14-year-old former child soldier Alice told us.
Allowing these children to return to the classroom would not only foster community acceptance but also drive long-term economic development, as would providing greater opportunities and resources in agriculture, a predominant livelihood for many in a region devastated by armed conflicts, where fields have been neglected, animals stolen, and agricultural tools pillaged.
Changing perceptions and helping improve the economic opportunities for Congo's returning girl soldiers and their communities can hopefully prevent other school-aged children being drawn into conflict and stop returning girls from rejoining armed groups.
Giving a voice to some of Congo's girl soldiers also helps raise awareness of their too-often-overlooked role in conflict.
By listening to what the girls say, we hope to help bring about change so that more girls in eastern Congo can be reached and successfully reintegrated back into their families and communities.
"I am very pleased to see that there are still people who care about our situation," one girl added. "Sometimes, we find ourselves alone without moral support. Thank you."
*(Names of individuals in this article have been changed to protect their identities)
The Scramble to Empower Africa's Youth Boom: G20-Africa Partnership Conference Berlin 2017
AllAfrica.com || By Jamie Drummond || 12 June 2017
Africa's youth-boom is "biggest story in the world right now"
Today in Berlin, a historic conference is kicking off that may prove to be the antithesis of the infamous 1884 Berlin conference that accelerated the colonial "Scramble for Africa".
Delegates from across Africa, the group of 20 (G20) leading economies, the private sector and anti-poverty activists will be gathering and planning how to invest in the biggest human phenomenon on the planet today: Africa's population boom.
The biggest story in the world right now isn't the Great British Brexit election, or a Presidents latest twitter tantrum but Africa's game-changing youth boom. Africa's population just doubled in size since 1985 - and will double again by 2050 to 2.5bn.
By then the young population of Africa will be 10 times the size of the EU's youth population, and equal that of the entire rest of G20 put together.
So instead of fruitlessly guessing what is on the American President's or British Prime Minister's mind, we should be far more focused on wondering what these young women and men will be thinking, doing, fearing and aspiring to - for these are far more relevant to our collective future.
Because we should - must - be investing in them. And that is the purpose of today's Berlin conference.
The German government has proposed a G20 partnership with Africa, with specific investment compacts for an initial set of African countries. This is a helpful start but the compacts need much more fleshing out, especially the implementation of the crucial details on youth education, employment and empowerment.
These investments must start with education. Tragically, 100 million African children of school going age are today not in school - especially girls who are out of school when it comes to teenage years. Millions more are in school but not learning anything - because the teachers don't turn up, they are taught in alien colonial languages, not local dialects, or they are too hungry or sick to concentrate.
Instead, there needs to be massive investment in their quality education, especially for those secondary school girls, to help this youth boom be future ready.
Today Niger has $6 a year to spend per child on education, in a country whose population will treble by 2050, whose government and state apparatus is targeted by highly organised crime and Wahhabist extremists, and whose landmass is crisscrossed by human traffickers, migrants and refugees.
German Chancellor Merkel to her immense credit has called for action in this area and if the G 20 doesn't tackle this, and significantly scale effective investment in education in countries like Niger, all other investments will fail.
The investment program cannot end with education: the private and public sectors must partner to leverage hundreds of billions of dollars more into African infrastructure and agriculture. This is where the jobs will come from - and 22.5 million more jobs are needed every year to keep pace with the youth boom. This new partnership will be difficult. Knee-jerk anti-corporate activists that fear the private sector are keeping people poor just as much as companies that avoid reasonable regulation or paying their taxes.
Both sides must be more responsible. The fact is there are trillions in offshore financial centres, sovereign wealth funds and bond markets which could flow into financing African infrastructure if African and global governments can open up and clean up the opaque armpits of international and national finance systems, - such as anonymous shell companies.
The EU anti-money laundering directive is one key opportunity. Worryingly, it is the German government who are dragging their feet and blocking this anti-corruption move. They must get out of the way of this key area of progress.
On top of education and employment, these youth must be empowered. That requires making this new partnership conditional on improving the accountability of government to the citizen they serve. The partners must sign up to the excellent Open government partnership, and implement open budget and open contracting as standard practice. Shockingly it isn't now. And of course, nobody can be called "empowered" if they cannot access basic health, nutrition clean water.
The threat of three famines in Africa this year is a reminder of this basic fact. Women's access to health services is particularly important to help improve their and their children's health. A basic social safety system to help deliver these is emerging in many African nations but can be enhanced with digitisation and efficiently targeted through better data about the poorest, especially girls and women.
Some G20 nations like Brazil and India have much experience in effective safety nets and digital identity systems, and can share this expertise.
So the stage is set for this to be an historic conference. It is only just the beginning. There are of course negative forces: for example, Trump in his first budget proposed an aid cut to Niger - one of the world's poorest countries - by 96 percent. Fortunately, the U.S. Congress is smarter and more strategic and will restore much of those funds. But with the rest of the G20 around the table there are enough leaders who get it - who have seen the demographic data and who know that in many ways the 21st century is the African century.
Now all leaders must get with this program or face being crushed by the new reality of Africa's population boom - because, as outlined here, there are some facts nobody can ignore.
Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Jamie Drummond co-founded the advocacy organization DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) with Bono, Bobby Shriver, and others in 2002 and ONE in 2004. The two entities merged in 2008 under the name ONE.
Dear Theresa May: A Counter-Terrorism Lesson from Africa
AllAfrica.com || By Simon Allison || 12 June 2017
Dear Prime Minister,
Congratulations on your election victory, which comes at a difficult time for your country and your leadership. What the United Kingdom (UK) needs now is certainty, you've said. Citizens will no doubt look to your campaign promises to see what that might mean for them.
That's what we wanted to talk to you about, actually. Usually, we criticise politicians when they fail to deliver on their sweeping campaign promises. This time, we are in the strange position of hoping that there is one promise you won't keep.
The twin terror attacks in Manchester and London in the run-up to the vote were tragic. The very real threat of terrorism facing the UK was rightly condemned in the strongest terms by leaders across the political spectrum, yourself included. 'Enough is enough,' you said, and 'things need to change'.
You're right. Things do need to change. But we're worried about the changes you propose to make.
You spoke about longer prison sentences for anyone convicted of terrorism offences, and making it easier to deport foreign terrorist suspects back to their own countries. You also spoke about 'doing more to restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.'
Using excessive force and foregoing human rights often plays into the hands of terrorists
And then there was this: 'And if our human rights laws get in the way of doing it, we will change the law so we can do it.'
On the African continent, we have been dealing with terrorism for decades. We've seen this kind of talk before, from leaders who want to appear strong and so resort to heavy-handed tactics. And we've seen this talk translate into action. From the massacres of civilians committed by the Nigerian military, to incidents of torture in Kenya, to extrajudicial executions in Algeria, to detention without charge in Egypt, to crackdowns on media and civil society in Chad.
In all these instances, human rights are often framed as an impediment to fighting terrorism - a burden that must be sidelined in order to solve the larger terrorist problem. In this, your pledge to dismiss human rights 'if they get in the way' echoes the rhetoric of some of the worst human rights abusers in the world.
But over the years, extensive research conducted across the continent and in some of its most dangerous areas has led us to a rather different conclusion.
'Violence begets violence. Using excessive force and foregoing human rights often plays into the hands of terrorist groups like Boko Haram in West Africa and al-Shabaab in The Horn, who use government's heavy-handedness to justify their actions,' said Ottilia Maunganidze, Head of Special Projects at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
Human rights are, ultimately, the difference between winning and losing the fight against terrorism
The research is compelling. In Kenya, former members of extremist groups overwhelmingly pointed to abuses committed by the state as a major factor in signing up. It is a similar story in Mali, where youths that were previously involved in 'jihadist' groups blamed the state's inability to protect its population, alongside abuses committed against that population, as a major spur to recruitment.
In a counter-terrorism atmosphere that has largely failed to protect human rights, the war on terror in Africa is failing. In 2009, according to Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, there were 171 militant attacks in Africa, causing 541 deaths. By 2015, just six years later, those numbers had risen to 738 attacks and 4 600 deaths.
Prime Minister, remember these numbers as you contemplate reneging on the UK's human rights commitments. Africa's experience suggests that doing so is likely to make the terrorism problem worse - and, in the process, damage your country's standing in the world.
'We have seen the devastating impact of neglecting human rights and elements of the rule of law on how the US is perceived in the global fight against terrorism. But even more stark is how terrorist groups have used this to garner support - arguing that they are fighting repression, exclusion, marginalisation and unjust systems,' said Maunganidze.
Human rights are not a luxury, to be discarded at the first sign of trouble.
Human rights are, ultimately, the difference between winning and losing the fight against terrorism. That's why the United Nations, as one of the four pillars of its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, recognises 'respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.'
Crucially, it's not just about the principle of human rights. It's also good strategy.
Ironically, the UK has refused to cooperate with governments that are serial human rights abusers
'It's not just the moral issue. Experience shows that by doing counter-terrorism properly, by using the criminal justice system and respecting human rights, states are actually able to gather more evidence and intelligence into terrorist activities,' said Anton du Plessis, Executive Director at the ISS. 'This is how states can penetrate terrorist networks and funding streams. You lose that edge by going for a hardline approach.'
'A crucial aspect to this is international cooperation, which is vital in combating transnational terrorism. But countries can't work with or trust other countries that act extra-judicially or unlawfully. Ironically, the UK itself has in the past refused to cooperate with governments that are serial human rights abusers,' said du Plessis.
Consider also the impact your stance will have outside your borders. While imperfect, the United Nations Security Council remains the world's most influential decision-making body. But among its five permanent members, only France now remains vocally committed to upholding its human rights obligations. The onus then will shift to non-permanent members, such as Sweden or the Netherlands (whose term begins in 2018) to fight for these rights on the global stage.
Prime Minister, we understand that you are under huge pressure to act decisively against terrorism. Under the circumstances, taking the fight to the bad guys may seem like good strategy. But real strength and meaningful results do not lie in arbitrary detention, or torture, or restrictions on free movement.
To beat the likes of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State you have to do better than them; you have to offer an alternative that is inclusive and just. And the best way to build that kind of society is to guarantee the basic freedoms enshrined in Britain's human rights commitments. That's the only kind of strength that terrorists are really afraid of.
Simon Allison, ISS Consultant
South Sudan, A Place of Extremes, Adaptation and Hope
Global Sisters Report (GSR) || By Chris Herlinger || 07 June 2017
Those of us who are not called to consecrated life but write about women religious may sometimes feel our spiritual tools are inadequate. We see the example of the sisters and think, "I cannot possibly match them."
But traveling in South Sudan on assignment these last few weeks, I think that may be viewing things with the wrong lens. In an environment of extremes — of civil conflict, war, humanitarian crises — the frailty and humanity of all people is more visible. And that includes the sisters themselves, who work in a country where just under half of the nation's 13 million people are believed to be Catholic.
Here, in the capital of Juba, sisters get frustrated by nonsense and day-to-day annoyances like anyone else, though their tolerance and patience are usually far higher than that of the average soul.
Still, even sisters sometimes utter an expletive. One sister and I shared such a moment three weeks ago when some reckless kid in a car almost sideswiped the vehicle the sister was driving. We both cursed him loudly, laughed at our infraction, and joked about the stereotype of sisters not cursing.
Another way of putting it: In the depths of pain and suffering in a country experiencing famine, civil war and persistent poverty, sisters embrace not only the moments of grace and hope but also embrace the frailties common to all people.
And in a place like South Sudan, it's no surprise that sisters aren't afraid to acknowledge that side of life. They don't have all of the answers; their work in the name of God is only a small part of God's love for South Sudan.
"We're not superwomen or supermen," Sr. Anne Kiragu, the superior for a small Daughters of St. Paul community in Juba, told me when I first arrived there last month.
Kiragu was a key contact for me when I visited South Sudan in 2014 during my first assignment for GSR. She has remained a good source of help — not to mention inspiration — since then. With her trademark humor, infectious laugh and love of the absurd, Kiragu is energy personified. Still, she acknowledges that being in South Sudan can wear a person out. Kiragu has been here four years now.
"We're not stones," she said. "We have feelings of fear and anxiety, too."
Still, Kiragu persists, and she remains steadfast in the belief that the work of women religious (as well as of men and of the church in general) is making a difference in South Sudan, even in the face of so many problems.
"We can't let go of that string of hope," she told me.
A sister colleague, Sr. Barbara Paleczny, a Canadian School Sister of Notre Dame, agrees. Paleczny works as a teacher and workshop leader with Solidarity with South Sudan, a coalition of religious congregations training teachers, nurses, midwives, local farmers and community leaders throughout the country.
Paleczny's email signoff reads, "Lord, protect us from malaria, mosquitoes, snakes and scorpions, armed thieves and accidents, bullets and bombs, a collapsed economy," providing a glimpse of some of the country's hardships.
Paleczny believes a strength sisters possess is in knowing "that our 'roots' are elsewhere." That embrace of God and a sense that there is a reality beyond our immediate understanding gives sisters an insight into the vagaries of life.
"That makes the many challenges and inconvenience easier. The flight is canceled, and you're at the airport for a day," said Paleczny, who travels the country running workshops to help survivors heal from trauma. "And then the next flight is canceled again. You learn to adapt."
In the coming weeks, I will be telling some of the sisters' stories from South Sudan and the stories of brave and patient South Sudanese who remain committed to the ideas of peace, stability and a better future. This despite a present moment that has given many only dashed hopes and broken promises — the equivalent of bitter ashes in the mouth.
In all cases, the stories are of human beings — frail, vulnerable and imperfect — who are not naïve about their fellows and certainly not naïve about conditions in South Sudan. But in the particular case of the sisters, the women I met bring to the present moment courage, persistence and hope for the future, no matter how difficult things can get.
"I don't think the present situation will be permanent. I think it will change," said Sr. Mary Faida, a South Sudanese sister and member of the Sacred Heart Sisters. "God is present."
Source: Global Sisters Report…
How Trump's Climate Change Decision Will Hurt Africa
AllAfrica.com || By Dan Joseph Voice of America (VOA) || 03 June 2017
President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord could have a negative impact in Africa, say environmental activists on the continent.
Saliem Fakir, head of the policy and futures unit of the World Wildlife Fund in South Africa, worries about the withdrawal of some $2 billion the U.S. was to contribute to the "Green Fund," to help the developing world adopt climate-saving techniques and technologies.
"[T]he Green Fund is very important in that it would have supported climate change activities in Africa, especially adaptation activities," he told VOA in a phone interview from Cape Town.
Given that many Africans make their living from agriculture, Fakir says, they are particularly vulnerable to changes in the climate, such as stronger heat waves and less rainfall.
"I think that it has implications in the sense that if we cannot mitigate against climate change, that it will drive greater levels of poverty," he said.
Isaac Kalua is chairman of Kenya's Water Towers Agency and the founder of Green Africa, which promotes environmental protection in Kenya through mobilizing communities at the grassroots level. He says Trump's decision could have political implications.
“People may start looking at China as an ally in dealing with these effects," he told VOA in Nairobi.
He adds, "194 countries have come together and they have agreed on all [climate] issues, and therefore the reneging of this kind of situation makes particularly the developing world feel that they have to ostracize this particular country."
Kalua says he remains hopeful that "soberness" will prevail and the world will successfully deal with climate change issues.
Ghana, South Africa react
African governments have also voiced their displeasure with Trump's decision.
Ghana's president, John Dramani Mahama, tweeted: “My thoughts: The U.S. has just abdicated its leadership on a matter of critical global importance.”
The South African government strongly criticized the U.S. move in a statement Friday.
"The Paris agreement represents the most flexible and dynamic approach to addressing climate change, and the withdrawal of the USA is not only an abdication of global responsibility we all have to humankind, but damaging to multilateralism, the rule of law and trust between nations," it said.
"We recognize the outstanding contribution made to the fight against climate change in the U.S. by past administrations, states, cities, scientific organizations, civil society, business and individual citizens. South Africa therefore calls on the United States to reconsider its position and to re-commit to the multilateral process."
Anita Powell contributed to this story from Maseru, Lesotho, where she is covering that country's elections. Lenny Ruvaga contributed from Nairobi.
Countries, Regions Urged to Own AU Reform Process
AllAfrica.com || By Collins Mwai || 08 May 2017
President Paul Kagame has called on African countries and regional economic communities to take ownership of the African Union reforms process to facilitate urgent implementation.
Kagame made the remarks, yesterday, during a consultative meeting on the African Union Reforms attended by African foreign affairs ministers and ambassadors accredited to the AU, in Kigali.
President Kagame has been leading the reform process following the mandate given during the African Union Summit in Kigali last July.
He said that ownership of the process by African citizens and their representatives is a necessity towards implementation of the reforms and realisation of their goals.
Giving Rwanda's experience in changing its circumstances, he said that it was necessary to change the mindset from one of reliance to ownership and independence.
"Having resolved to change our circumstances two things became very important, as we struggled to turn aspirations of the new Rwanda into reality. The first was to overcome the mindset of sitting back and waiting for rescue," he said.
"Doing so involved becoming aware of the substantial means we already had both in our soil and much more importantly in our people. With these resources we found that we had more than enough to get started," the President said.
Another decisive factor in the implementation process, the president noted is the attitude of stakeholders involved in the process.
"If the mentality was to look for stumbling blocks, you would surely find lots of them and the end result is that goals are not accomplished. Instead of finding reasons to do nothing, look for what should compel us to act," the Head of State told the foreign affairs ministers.
"The decision and the decisive factor here was changing our mindset from dependence to ownership and from we 'can't' to 'we can. That is an asset that cannot be imported," Kagame added, referring to the mindset that characterised Rwanda's transformation.
Among the African union reforms is a decision to reduce donor dependence in funding the organisation's budget. At the moment, over 80 per cent of the union's budget is sourced from donations which experts say has often seen the body compromise on its priorities.
The Union, in July last year, adopted a proposal to fund 100 per cent of its administrative budgets, 75 per cent of programme budgets and 25 per cent of the peace keeping related activities.
The funds will be sourced from a 0.2 per cent levy imposed on eligible imports entering the continent. The decision takes effect from January 2018.
Kagame said that the decision was taken to avoid dependence on donors and to make the body more effective.
He said that if there are any problems or concerns about some details of the reform, it would be better to amend and improve it as opposed to sacrificing the principle.
"Regardless of the challenges we face in implementing the decisions, there are certainly better problems than the ones we faced before. Let's work together on the details, while standing firm on our principles," he said.
Other key reforms adopted by the union include a decision to focus on key priorities with continental scope and to empower Regional Economic Communities to take the lead on regional issues.
Nigeria Schoolgirls: 82 Chibok Girls Swapped for 5 Boko Haram Commanders
Fox News || 07 May 2017
Five Boko Haram commanders were released in exchange for the freedom of 82 Chibok schoolgirls, a Nigerian government official told the Associated Press.
The confirmation of the prisoner swap came a day after the young women were liberated after more than three years in captivity by the Islamic militants.
There was no immediate comment about the exchange from the Nigerian presidency or Boko Haram, the extremists linked to the Islamic State group. President Muhammadu Buhari said Saturday that some Boko Haram prisoners had been released for the freedom of the schoolgirls, but he did not give any details.
The freed young women were flown Sunday by military helicopters from northeastern Nigeria to Abuja, the capital, where they were expected to meet the president.
"They will face a long and difficult process to rebuild their lives after the indescribable horror and trauma they have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram," said Pernille Ironside, acting representative of UNICEF Nigeria.
Authorities say 113 schoolgirls remain missing of the 276 girls abducted from their boarding school in 2014. Girls who escaped said some of their classmates had died from illness. Others did not want to come home because they'd been radicalized by their captors, they said.
Human rights advocates also fear some of the girls kidnapped from the Chibok boarding school were used by Boko Haram to carry out suicide bombings.
In Nigeria's capital, Abuja, anxious families were awaiting the official list of names of the 82 schoolgirls freed. Some parents have not lived long enough to see their daughters released, underscoring the tragedy of the three-year-long saga.
Last year, 21 other Chibok girls were liberated in October and they have been undergoing counseling for months. It was not immediately clear whether the newest girls freed Saturday would join them.
Those girls are still in government care in Abuja for medical attention, trauma counseling and rehabilitation, according to the government. Human rights groups have criticized the decision to keep the girls in custody in Abuja, nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) from Chibok.
The newly freed schoolgirls should be quickly released to their families and not be subjected to lengthy government detention, Amnesty International's Nigeria office said, adding that they don't deserve to be put through a "publicity stunt" and deserve privacy.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which along with the Swiss government has mediated negotiations between Nigeria's government and Boko Haram, said the girls soon would meet with their families.
Saturday's release marks the largest negotiated release so far of the 276 girls whose abduction in 2014 drew international attention to the threat of Nigeria's extremists. Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, and has increasingly carried out attacks in neighboring countries.
The mass kidnapping horrified the world and brought Boko Haram international attention. The failure of Nigeria's former government to act quickly to free the girls sparked a global Bring Back Our Girls movement; U.S. first lady Michelle Obama posted a photo with its logo on social media.
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign said Sunday it was happy that Nigeria's government had committed to rescuing the 113 remaining schoolgirls.
"We urge the president and his government to earnestly pursue the release of all our Chibok girls and other abducted citizens of Nigeria," the group said in a statement.
The schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in 2014 are among thousands of people abducted by Boko Haram over the years.
A Nigerian military official with direct knowledge of the rescue operation said the freed girls were found near the town of Banki in Borno state near Cameroon.
Buhari late last year announced Boko Haram had been "crushed," but the group continues to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. Its insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Fox News…
U.S. Congress Rejects Trump's Cuts in Aid to Africa
AllAfrica.com || By Kevin J. Kelley || 03 May 2017
The US Congress is expected to vote soon in support of a budget deal that preserves most Africa assistance programmes and provides nearly $1 billion to respond to current and threatened famines.
The pending agreement announced on Monday rejects many of the aid cuts sought by Republican President Donald Trump.
That outcome results from the unwillingness of key Republicans in Congress to slash funding for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAid).
The most ardent congressional supporters of Mr Trump's proposed cuts were sidelined as a result of Republican leaders' decision to seek compromises with the Democratic Party minority.
President Trump thus suffered a significant setback for his effort to "put American first" at the expense of poor countries. But the president has nevertheless said he will accept Congress' version of the federal government spending plan.
The Republican-Democratic deal applies to the US budget for the 2017 fiscal year that ends on September 30. Mr Trump is vowing to push again for steep reductions in State Department and USAid allocations for fiscal 2018.
Backers of continued US assistance to Africa are praising the agreement reached by Republican and Democratic negotiators.
"The funding for the State Department and USAid demonstrates strong bipartisan support as negotiations move forward on next year's budget, particularly as proposals surface that would pull America back from the world," declared Liz Schrayer, head of the US Global Leadership Coalition. That group represents some 500 businesses and NGOs that call for diplomacy and development to be given as much priority as US military initiatives.
Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, specifically hailed the commitment to allocate $990 million to alleviate acute food shortages in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen.
"With 20 million people on the brink of starvation, there's no question that this money will save lives," Ms Lee said.
The legislation also extends US support for health programmes important to Africa, such as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Congress also plans to provide $30 million for the African Development Foundation, which Mr Trump had favoured eliminating.
But the compromise package does contain some of the funding reductions for international organisations that Mr Trump had targeted.
No money is to be allocated for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the Green Climate Fund. And the United Nations is facing a $640 million cut in Washington's $10 billion share of the UN budget.
The proposal prohibits any US spending for implementation of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. Kenya played a leading role in fashioning that international agreement, which is opposed by the US gun lobby.
Congress appears willing to give Mr Trump about half of the $54 billion increase in US military spending that he had urged. The Pentagon's $521 billion budget would grow by five percent under the terms of the compromise reached by Congress.
Why Africa is Due to Import U.S.$110 Billion Food by 2025
AllAfrica.com || The New Times, By Junior Sabena Mutabazi || 27 April 2017
The African continent has the potential to feed itself and even have surplus food to export to other parts of the world. But instead, the continent imports $35 billion worth of food and agricultural products every year, and if the current predictions hold, the import bill will rise to $110 billion annually by 2025. So the question is: if the African continent has vast agricultural potential as we have been led to believe, why are we facing an astronomical food import bill?
To say nothing of, I'm not the first or last person to ask this question. Indeed, a few days ago, the President of the African Development Bank (ADB), Akinwumi Adesina, made the following remarks while speaking at the Centre for Global Development in Washing DC: "Africa's annual food import bill of $35 billion, estimated to rise to $110 billion by 2025, weakens African economies, decimates its agriculture and exports jobs from the continent. Africa's annual food import bill of $35 billion is just about the same amount it needs to close its power deficit."
Adesina added: "to rapidly support Africa to diversify its economies, and revive its rural areas, we have prioritized agriculture. We are taking action. The Bank has committed $24 billion towards agriculture in the next 10 years, with a sharp focus on food self-sufficiency and agricultural industrialization." Clearly the AfDB chief is very concerned, and so he should be. With the latest food crises in East Africa (South Sudan and Somalia), there is a strange feeling that we may be about to repeat the scenario of two years ago when the United Nations declared that nearly 2.5 million people in the Sahel belt were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, particularly food. At the time, the UN and other organisations campaigned to raise more than $2 billion to feed people from countries such as Sudan and the Central African Republic.
But while the situation varies from one country to another and you cannot point to a stand-alone reason to explain why many nations on the African continent have continuously struggled to guarantee food supply let alone export agricultural products beyond coffee and tea despite the potential to do so, generally speaking, there are interlinking factors that can help explain the inability for Africa to fulfil her potential.
For instance, in a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 'Why has Africa become a net food importer', Rakotoarisoa et al. put forward five reasons they believe have hindered African countries the most from realising their full potential of self-sufficiency. They are: population growth, low and stagnating agricultural productivity, policy distortions, weak institutions, and poor infrastructure.
Nonetheless, while some of the limitations pointed out above could indeed be somewhat challenging to deal with especially when you consider the continent's financial limitations, population growth, conflicts, climate change and so on, other challenges that have also played a major part like primitive agricultural methods, policy distortions, weak institutions, poor infrastructure, poor governance are all manageable problems that can be addressed swiftly with the little financial means available.
We can start by addressing the basics:
A shift from primitive agricultural methods to more mechanised, technical and commercial-led principles is crucial today more than ever before. We must take the initiative and apply technology-led methods to improve the production cycle - including harvest, storage, processing and export.
In fact, with the right technical assistance, agriculture production would improve if many practitioners saw it as not just a subsistence vocation but also a profit-generating one.Undeniably, there must be a change of perceptions, especially among young people that agriculture is a primitive economic activity that employs the less educated and/or rural population alone. More young people should be encouraged to explore the dividends of agribusiness.
Better intra-African trade
It is reasonable to argue that although trade among African countries has gradually improved over time, particularly as a result of more economic alliances such as the East African Community where members have open markets to allow free movement of people and goods/services, there remains significant challenges. Several countries have not fully embraced the idea of trading with one another despite the potential to fill existing gaps.
It is understood that although food crises continue to be reported in parts of Africa almost daily, in many other African countries they have food surplus and are willing and able to trade with other African countries at reasonable prices, provided that trade barriers and other obstacles, such as corruption, are eliminated. For instance, you may remember that in 2007, the Guardian newspaper reported that although Malawi had record harvests of corn that year, it did not necessarily guarantee good times for Malawian farmers (in terms of trade). Instead, the paper argued that farmers across the country were wondering where to sell their harvest.
With better intra-African trade frameworks in place, however, corn surplus from Malawi could have been easily sold in Zambia, Mozambique or Tanzania, or to other countries with food shortages.This move could have improved the livelihood of farmers in Malawi while at the same time helping to tackle hunger in neighbouring Tanzania or Mozambique.
To conclude, while some factors are quite challenging to deal with (for instance drought conditions that have been exacerbated by climate change), there are many other man-made causes that continue to worsen Africa's food security despite the immense risks that can spring out of that insecurity. When you hear that the lives of 20 million Africans are at risk in the next five years, there must be concern, followed by actions. Business should not go on as usual.
Tanzania Becomes Sole Beans Producer, Feeding 10 African Countries
AllAfrica.com || Tanzania Daily News, By Hazla Omar || 23 April 2017
Tanzania exports over a million metric tonne of beans to ten countries in Africa as well as India, making it the sole producer of the important legume to millions of people on the continent.
That was revealed here during a special agricultural experts meeting aimed at addressing the issue of 'Unlocking potential of seed companies to reach smallholder farmers with quality seeds for improved bean varieties,' in Northern Zone of Tanzania.
The Country Coordinator for International Centre for Agriculture (ICA), Mr Jean Claude, said the neighbouring country, Kenya, alone imports over 200,000 metric tonnes of beans every year, a consignment which constitutes the country's 50 per cent of legumes consumption.
Mr Claude listed other African countries depending on beans from Tanzania as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but again, India across the ocean, is also a good consumer of Tanzanian grown legumes.
But, while beans grown in Tanzania are exported to more than ten countries in Africa as well as Asia, it was pointed out during the meeting that legume production in the country is still far from being satisfactory and hits well below its actual potential, despite commanding good market share elsewhere.
When it comes to beans production, it is Kigoma and Kagera regions that top the bill with each harvesting an average of 90,000 tonnes per season; other precincts in the top seven include Tanga (50,000 tonnes), Kilimanjaro (45,000 tonnes), Geita (35,000 tonnes), Arusha (35,000 tonnes) and Njombe (20,000 tonnes) regions.
Eleven other regions produce around 10,000 tonnes of beans each. The latest total figure for annual legumes production figure for entire country was not readily available, but the area currently placed under beans cultivation has reached over 1.3 million hectares and that nearly 1.5 million metric tonnes used to be harvested in the last few years.
The Principal National Leguminous Crop Researcher, Mr Papias Binagwa, said the consumption of beans among Tanzanians leaves a lot to be desired because, "the consumption per capita stands 19.6 kilogrammes per year which means a person consumes 60 grams a day, which is almost insignificant," he said.
How to Change Everything - African Women Assess Future Scenarios
AllAfrica.com || 19 April 2017
African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) is partnering with the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG)- a cutting edge public policy think tank based in Ghana- to launch the AWDF Futures initiative on 19 April 2017. The launch will take the form of a gathering at IDEG offices in Accra that brings together analysts, thinkers, donors, creatives, activists and programme implementers.
Participants will explore the questions: what is the future of Africa if seen through the lens of women’s rights? What opportunities and potential crises lie ahead? Are our current strategies appropriate in light of where Africa is headed? Using a futures lens, how do we contribute to shaping the most just, promising and democratic futures for Africa?
The discussion is premised on a belief that the future of women’s rights and opportunities in Africa is central to the future of the continent as a whole, and is thus foundational to discussions and decisions around governance, the economy, politics, and the shape of social and cultural life.
Background to the idea
In 2016, AWDF embarked on a strategic planning process focused on the question of how AWDF and African women’s organisations can contribute to shaping the future of Africa. To ground this, AWDF worked with Kenyan foresight practitioner Katindi Shivi Nyonjo to produce a trends analysis – bringing together the gendered data around Africa’s future trajectories. The resulting report, Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 is the first of its kind, offering both statistics and analysis around key political, economic and social trends, and illuminating gaps in the data needed to accurately plan for the future.
Alongside this empirical process, the AWDF staff team and advisors also worked to generate scenario stories- imaging four possible states for Africa in 2030 from a feminist and woman’s rights perspective. The stories are shaped by an analysis that the key independent drivers of change for women in Africa will be:
shifting demographics (age and migration);
the expansion and use of ICTs,
(geo)political power dynamics;
the nature of education.
The scenario stories have been made into an animation series which will be launched at the Future Africa event.
The launch will take the form of a one-day facilitated meeting aimed at encourage debate, dialogue, and imagination. The goal is to spark new thinking and provide both evidence and creative stories that push us as Africans to think about our current priorities and approaches, and where our collective contributions to Africa’s future are headed. Proceedings will be conducted in English.
About the hosts
The African Women’s Development Fund is a feminist pan-African grantmaking foundation supporting African women’s rights organisations and movements. Through grantmaking, institutional capacity building, advocacy and knowledge generation, AWDF invests in building a world where African women can live with dignity and justice and where there is equality and respect for women’s rights. As the first African women’s fund, AWDF is a grantmaking pioneer and an early leader in building African philanthropy. Since it was founded in 2001, AWDF has awarded more than US$29 million to 1,312 women’s organisations in 42 African countries. AWDF is based in Accra, Ghana.
The Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) is a leading civil society think-tank with a forte in critical political and social analysis, transformative policy advocacy, interface capacity building and high-level policy engagements. An independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan policy research and advocacy institute, IDEG seeks to contribute to the establishment of a just and free society in Ghana, West Africa and beyond.
Council of Churches in South Africa: “relieve the President of his responsibilities, and allow for the healing of the nation"
CANAA || By Father Don Bosco Onyalla, Nairobi || 10 April 2017
The South African Council of Churches (SACC) has revisited its year-old statement when the body called on President Jacob Zuma to do some soul-searching and had stated, "It is better for the processes to be initiated or negotiated to relieve the President of his responsibilities, and allow for the healing of the nation".
“This call remains as in-season today as it did a year ago, and the spirit of the statement is in-fact intensified by the various challenges of the last week,” SACC have stated in a media release dated Thursday, April 6 following President Zuma’s decision to reshuffle his cabinet during which he fired the Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
SACC is an inter-denominational forum bringing together 36 member churches and organizations with the mission to express, “through proclamation and programmes, the united witness of the church in South Africa, especially in matters of national debate.”
“The President and some in government seem to be afflicted with an objectionable outbreak of numbness, insensitivity and imperviousness to what impacts the lives of poor families and the marginalised of our country,” SACC has stated.
In their statement titled, SOUTH AFRICA – BE HEARD, SACC has encouraged all their “member churches and all people of goodwill and various faiths to find the most suitable way to enable their people to feel heard and participate in the actions of their choice around the country – be it a day of lament and prayer in the many places of worship; or through the public show of solidarity where other South Africans are gathered to register their voice.”
SACC’s statement reinforces that of the Catholic Bishops who, on Tuesday, April 4 called on President Zuma to “reconsider his position” as President.
“As we enter the coming week - the week of the suffering of Christ unto death, we encourage all Christians to mount their pain, anguish and their very tangible fears for South Africa, on the cross of the crucified Christ on Good Friday, believing in faith that the national cry for change has been heard, and that the resurrection of our nation will yet manifest, even as our savior, Jesus Christ is risen,” SACC’s statement reads in part.
“Beyond this, the SACC National Church Leaders Forum will convene on April 20 to further reflect on the broader state of the nation, and strengthen the message of hope in its pastoral role to the people, in order to move us closer to the South Africa We Pray For,” SACC has stated in conclusion.
Below is the full text of SACC’s media release statement
South African Council of Churches (SACC): 6 APRIL 2017
SOUTH AFRICA – BE HEARD: SACC
The South African Council of Churches (SACC), following its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of Wednesday 5 April 2017 has revisited its statement of almost a year ago to the day, on April 8 2016, made with all national religious formations, where it called for introspection on the part of the President of South Africa to ‘do the right thing’, saying that "It is better for the processes to be initiated or negotiated to relieve the President of his responsibilities, and allow for the healing of the nation". This call remains as in-season today as it did a year ago, and the spirit of the statement is in-fact intensified by the various challenges of the last week when the removal of a minister who stands in his way is conducted in a way that guarantees the most negative impacts on the livelihoods of ordinary South Africans not protected by State cushions.
The President and some in government seem to be afflicted with an objectionable outbreak of numbness, insensitivity and imperviousness to what impacts the lives of poor families and the marginalised of our country. Police Minister Mbalula's bellicose jingoism of fire for fire and invoking the Marikana tragedy manifests this governmental insensitivity to the pain of society.
The various mandates and rights of government to govern the country should not normally be in question; however the Church questions unreservedly, the capacity of the government to demonstrate any moral consideration of the people in effecting the decisions it is constitutionally required to make, pointing out numerous contradictions in the intentions behind certain government and Presidential decisions.
In 2015, we witnessed the incredulous ‘fire-pool’ demonstration at the President’s private residence. Later that year, the Church spoke out at the attempt to hoodwink the South African public through the ‘redeployment’ of Nhlanhla Nene to a post at the BRICS Bank that has yet to materialise. The Nation endured two years of the President's obdurate refusal to accede to the Public Protector's remedial instructions and pay for his private Nkandla benefits, only for him to tell the Constitutional Court that he'd always wanted to pay. And while on the one hand last week we were told of an ‘Intelligence Report’ exposing a gross conspiracy and a very much treasonable plot on the part of Pravin Gordhan; yet on the other hand we are today expected to believe that there were irreconcilable differences of opinion between Gordhan and President Zuma that motivated his dismissal. The ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach to the justification of decision making processes insults the intelligence of the people and the snowball effect of the too-numerous-to-mention examples of these instances has served as the catalyst for the unification of the people of South Africa against this leadership.
Where those elected into positions of leadership disregard and undermine their responsibility towards the protection of the interests of the people, those people can choose to exercise their collective moral conscience, and this has found full expression in their choice to host numerous activities lead both by the Church and civil society.
We would encourage all our member churches and all people of goodwill and various faiths to find the most suitable way to enable their people to feel heard and participate in the actions of their choice around the country – be it a day of lament and prayer in the many places of worship; or through the public show of solidarity where other South Africans are gathered to register their voice. With peaceful intentions, let all South Africans exercise their right to speak and be heard, without fear of intimidation and violence.
As we enter the coming week - the week of the suffering of Christ unto death, we encourage all Christians to mount their pain, anguish and their very tangible fears for South Africa, on the cross of the crucified Christ on Good Friday, believing in faith that the national cry for change has been heard, and that the resurrection of our nation will yet manifest, even as our savior, Jesus Christ is risen.
Beyond this, the SACC National Church Leaders Forum will convene on April 20 to further reflect on the broader state of the nation, and strengthen the message of hope in its pastoral role to the people, in order to move us closer to the South Africa We Pray For.
SCBC President Calls for Peace as Tribute to Late South Sudanese Bishop Deng, One Month after His Demise
CANAA || By Father Don Bosco Onyalla, Nairobi || 06 March 2017
One month since the death of Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak of the Catholic diocese of Wau in South Sudan, the President of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC), Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro of Tombura-Yambio diocese has called on the citizens of the late Bishops’ administrative region to work for peace as a tribute to Bishop Deng.
Bishop Barani made the call in “An Open Letter of Hope and Peace to the Elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazal” dated Thursday, April 6.
“I am writing to you this letter first to thank all the people of South Sudan for giving a dignified burial for Bishop Rudolf and in a special way to ask for another way, very simple but central, to pay tribute to Bishop Rudolf Deng – that is Peace,” Bishop Barani has said.
“Let us from now on pay tribute to Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak’s memory by being Ambassadors for Peace, first in Wau State, second in Greater Bahr El Ghazal and thirdly throughout South Sudan,” Bishop Barani’s letter says.
Bishop Deng died Monday, March 6, at a relative’s residence in the city of Siegburg, Germany, while awaiting an operation that had been scheduled for Tuesday, March 14. He was aged 76.
“The best gift we can give him forever is being part of the reconstruction, reconciliation, and reintegration, regeneration of our country, ravaged by the war waged by us and against ourselves,” SCBC President went on to say.
SCBC brings together Catholic Bishops of the seven dioceses of South Sudan and the two dioceses of Sudan.
Below is the full statement of Bishop Barani’s open letter a month after Bishop Deng’s demise.
N. 00020/CDTY/0017 April 6, 2017
Dear beloved Elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazal,
Ref. An Open Letter of Hope and Peace to the Elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazal
It is exactly one full month when the worst happened to us, the passing on of our beloved Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak of the Catholic Diocese of Wau. We must continue to celebrate Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak. The wound inflicted by his death remains deep and raw and so, as we pray for him, we carry in prayer those for whom his death has left a painful void: the Catholic Diocese of Wau, the family, the people of Greater Bahr El Ghazal, the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, circle of friends and the people of South Sudan.
We surely hold in sadness and with a deep sense of loss. We come before God with empty hands, aware of our need for God’s healing. Over one month now, the enormity of what happened with the death of Bishop Deng Majak has slowly come home to us. ‘The people that walked in darkness’ – that Isaiah speaks of – describes the journey we have made during this one month (March 6th – April 6th); it has been a time of disbelief, shock, loneliness and grief. We struggled – and continue to struggle – to make sense of Bishop’s untimely death.
However, Isaiah goes on to say that ‘the people who walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone’. Where, for Isaiah, does the light come from? He says, in a phrase that we know well: 'For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid upon his shoulders’.
For Christians this promise of a light coming to those who walk in darkness was fulfilled in the birth of the child Jesus. This is why St John describes Him as ‘a light’: All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men and women, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.
In spite of all that has happened and all its impact, we continue to believe that Jesus, the light of the world, has accompanied us at every step. He has given us strength to carry a heavy cross; He has opened His compassionate heart to us; He has been close to us when we turned to Him in prayer; He has listened to our prayers for ourselves and for each other.
I am writing to you this letter first to thank all the people of South Sudan for giving a dignified burial for Bishop Rudolf and in a special way to ask for another way, very simple but central, to pay tribute to Bishop Rudolf Deng – that is Peace.
Let us from now on pay tribute to Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak’s memory by being Ambassadors for Peace, first in Wau State, second in Greater Bahr El Ghazal and thirdly throughout South Sudan.
The best gift we can give him forever is being part of the reconstruction, reconciliation, and reintegration, regeneration of our country, ravaged by the war waged by us and against ourselves.
Today April 6, 2017 clocks one full month since Bishop Deng Majak left us; hence I boldly take this solemn occasion to make an earnest appeal first and foremost to the people who come from Greater Bahr El Ghazale, all political leaders and organizations to recognize the urgency and gravity of the situation.
The situation of suffering, death, hunger, hate, revenge killings, huge internal displacement, very poor level of tolerance I saw two weeks ago in the historical city of Wau dragged me into uncontrollable tears. It was not the Wau I knew in the 'eighties where people were identified by the beauty and greatness of Wau.
When we were laying Bishop Deng Majak to rest, I appealed to you the great daughters and sons of Greater Bahr Ghazal to reread your history to appreciate the spiritual, cultural and political richness Wau has had. The people of Bahr El Ghazal have a rich history which has hugely and significantly influenced the entire nation of South Sudan. Please stop, retreat and move together to solve the problem at hand.
It demands of all of us that we act with real respect for human life. It demands that those who still sponsor anger, hate, segregation and violence against one another end such meaningless projects or ideas.
It demands new initiatives to move Greater Bahr El Ghazal and our country forward to freedom as quickly as possible. With this letter I am indeed consulting leaders of civil society, religious leaders, community organizations, business, cultural and other leaders in Greater Bahr El Ghazal to sieze an opportunity on such initiatives.
Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak was your beloved Bishop of the Greater Bahr El Ghazal, please honour him by working hand in hand, each and everyone of you for peace! It is because of this motive that I have chosen to send you this peace-seeking letter.
The people of Greater Bahr El Ghazal should draw their strength from each other as one people. You have common humanity, heritage, history and you are socially interwoven. At his funeral I saw one people, I did not see Fertit, Dinka nor Jur but one people of Wau, who are one, with mixed cultural values by their great history, also by blood. Over the death of Bishop Deng Majak you have shown your care, determination, respect, pride, unity, greatness of Wau, your courage, your love of freedom.
Wau your historical city is now at a very pitiful situation caused to it by her own children. I urge you to consider what has happened and act. I ask you to help stop as soon as possible the spiral cycle of violence, targeted killings, suffering, the spirit of displacement and hate which is now dominating the once great people of Wau.
These losses of youth, children, women, men and elders alike are not occurring in a context of war but sustained act of violence motivated by hate. The attack on innocent civilians seriously undermines all confidence in the one great people of Wau. The killings must stop. The Intellectuals, Elders, Generals, Army, Organized forces, Religious leaders, community leaders, politicians, you have power to change the course of things for the better.
At the core of the crisis within South Sudan’s war-affected communities and regions is the desire to acquire power and secure resources for one group of elites or one ethno-national group at the expense of others. In our current society for example, the country has become fragmented in many directions with government and armed groups on opposite sides. The issue of identity has mixed with culture, heritage and the control of economic resources to create a base of political tension and violence. This activity has undermined the social fabric of our society or nation.
The effects of these conflicts in terms of refugee flows into neighbouring countries and the emergence of internally displaced persons (IDPs) now in the great Wau City, have locked communities as prisoners in churches and UN compounds.
In all of these cases, violence has led to the breakdown of our beloved homes. Human lives have been lost. Infrastructure has been destroyed, education and health services have suffered, and the environment has been damaged. The ties that link people together (Belanda-Bongo-Jur-Dinka-Banya, Golo-Shere-Azande,etc), have been broken, social solidarity has collapsed and political tension has been highly generated. In addition, socio-economic development has also been severely retarded as a result of the bloodshed and destruction caused by conflicts.
If we are looking for reasons why these conflicts have plagued our beloved country South Sudan, we do not need to look any further than into ourselves, especially the leaders. Competing self-interested political and military elites have made use of the divisions and legacies of the past malice.
It is not all bad news from about us as South Sudanese, however. There is enough reason for hope. We have witnessed relative peace, development and economic growth after our national independence shortly in 2011.
I am appealing to you Elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazale in the spirit of the called for National Dialogue to take lead in finding immediate solution to the suffering in Wau and other parts. Something must be done to change the dynamic and preserve the possibility of peaceful resolution.
“Asks” in Light of Events:
As one of the largest power blocs in South Sudan, also as Elders of the region, you have a moral obligation to take action as this situation is disgraceful. The stability of the Historical Wau city, the whole Bahr El Ghazal region and the entire country is hanging in a delicate balance.
I ask that you:
– convene multiple searches for peace by engaging all stakeholders in various communities concerned without pre-conditions. All the processes must be inclusive so that no stone be left unturned in finding solution to the problem urgently at hand.
– Support all groups who sincere seek peace through activities of reconciliation and healing. Allow room for people to speak out and create the ability of listening! If possible you can permit an independent investigation into atrocities carried out by the community against each other and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
– Collectively as Elders of the community in the area you should be seen together publicly voicing unequivocal condemnation of revenge killings, violence which target civilians, and use of hate speech which sponsor tribal sentiments!
– Call urgently for immediate robust humanitarian intervention for the starving people in and outside Wau. There is high desire to encourage the authority to open roads and support aid workers and safe delivery to the needed population. Any failure to provide enough food staff this season will bring serious consequences for the hungry population.
- Call for use of stronger measures of actions to prevent or stop killings of any sort but work more on reconciliation and healing of the wounded society. I strongly encourage that the moral authority of the Elders can be felt and will introduce some significant and meaningful breakthrough on this extremely troubling reality for the suffering communities.
How can our Cultural values of Bhar El Ghazal assist Peace-building?
Elders let me bring you also before I conclude this letter by referring you to one of the riches which you are endowed with. I repeat you have the strength, the power, the influence and obligation to use whatever you have at hand to solve the problems facing the people in Wau and other parts of Bahr El Ghazal.
As you are urged to seek ways and means to solve your problems, you cannot ignore the role that culture can play in enabling you as a people to resolve your disputes and to strengthen the ties that bind you together. People derive their sense of meaning from their culture. What does it mean to be human? What is – or ought to be – the nature of human relations? These notions feed into the attitudes and values that we choose to embrace, which in turn determine how we interact with each other. Cultural attitudes and values throughout the history of the people of Wau State and adjacent regions, therefore, have provide the foundation for the social norms by which you as people exist and live. Through internalizing and sharing these cultural attitudes and values with fellow community members, and by handing them down to future generations, societies can – and do – re-construct themselves on the basis of a particular cultural image.
For Wau State to live and prosper, we must come together! In order to re-establish social solidarity in our war-affected community, a key step would be to find a way for members of these communities to ‘re-inform’ themselves of their rich history of co-existence with a cultural logic that emphasizes sharing and equitable resource distribution. This, in effect, means emphasizing the importance of reviving progressive cultural attitudes and values that can foster a climate within which peace can flourish.
God’s Guidance for Christians in the time of Violence:
My beloved people of Greater Bahr El Ghazal, I write to you as one of your Bishops in South Sudan and above all of the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio. The Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio was born of Bahr El Ghazal, it means you are our grandparents in Faith. So I want invite you to seek answers to the current conflict in Jesus Christ in whom the majority of you believe. I wish conflict among Christians were a relatively insignificant problem. I wish we who believe in Jesus could experience the unity he commended to us (John 17:20-24). I wish there wasn’t animosity within communities of believers, in societies, in churches, etc.
But all of this is, I admit, wishful thinking. The fact is that Christians often have a hard time getting along with each other. This has been true from the earliest days of the church. The Apostle Paul, who planted the church in Corinth, wrote what we call 1 Corinthians to the believers there principally because of internal conflict in the church. By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the tension was largely between Paul and his church.
Perhaps one of the most discouraging things about studying church history, from the first century onward, is to see just how often Christians have been mired in disputes and strife. Sometimes, in our worst moments, we have actually put to death fellow community members who even are Christians. Not a happy story, not at all.
This was not what Jesus intended, to be sure. In his famous “High Priestly Prayer” recorded in John 17, Jesus prayed:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
A little earlier, Jesus had said to his disciples: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). To be sure, there are times when followers of Jesus do love each other in an exemplary way. But, far too often, such love is marred by conflict, tension, and outright meanness. And, far too often, we have not dealt with these problems in a loving way.
Therefore, God does not keep a record of our wrongs in that, after he deals with them through the cross, and after we confess and are forgiven, God chooses to look upon us as if we had not sinned. At first he does keep a record of wrongs, however, calling us to account for what we have done that is contrary to his will. But in the end his mercy triumphs as the record of wrongs is nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).
Where does this leave us in our effort to imitate God’s love by not keeping a record of wrongs? Well, it does not mean that we should simply pretend as if a wrongdoing hasn’t happened. (Sure, we should ignore trivial, unintended offenses at times, but this isn’t the main point of our text.) When someone has wronged us, there needs to be an accounting for this wrong. The offender needs to acknowledge the offense so that there can be reconciliation. Ignoring or rationalizing or minimizing sin is yet another form of sin, and must be avoided.
In conclusion I want to thank you for reading this letter and doing something about it. Please pay attention to it and we shall be saved! I also register my sincere thanks to His Excellency the President Salva Kiir and all the government officials for the enormous support they gave us during the funeral of Rudolf Deng. I thank all Cooperating Partners, Dioceses, Ecumenical Bodies, Priests, Religious Brothers and Sisters, the choir and various Church groups, the Lay Faithful and people of good will for your comforting messages of condolence and support-both financial and material.
Let us all live to remember Bishop Rudolf as one who was naturally kind-hearted, friendly, cheerful, and always available to everyone. May God reward him by welcoming him into His heavenly Kingdom!
May the Soul of Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak rest in eternal peace! Be sure of my prayers for you all!
God bless you!
Sincerely yours’ in Christ,
Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio &
President of Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference
African Students No Longer at Ease in India
AllAfrica.com || By Rasna Warah || 02 April 2017
The brutal mob attack on a group of Nigerian students in a shopping mall in the city of Greater Noida has generated a lot of discussion about how Africans in India are treated.
Although the government has condemned the attack, the incident has once again raised the issue of racism in India.
Africans studying in India report being routinely discriminated against by shopkeepers and landlords.
Residents complain that African students fail to assimilate into Indian culture and are responsible for introducing bad habits, such as alcohol and drug abuse, into their society.
Media reports indicate that the Nigerians were attacked because it was believed that they supplied drugs to an Indian man who died of an overdose.
However, past incidents indicate that often Africans are blamed for crimes they have not committed.
Last year, a Tanzanian woman in Bangalore was harassed and nearly stripped naked by a mob after a Sudanese man allegedly ran his car over a woman.
Ironically, the latest incident occurred not long after an Indian engineer was shot dead by a white racist in a bar in Kansas, United States.
That murder generated a lot of furore among Indians in India and America, many of whom favoured Donald Trump's presidency, but who are now having second thoughts about his paranoia-fuelled racist policies that threaten to keep the majority of the world's people, including Indians, from entering the US.
The attacks in Greater Noida and Kansas may have been racially motivated, but they are occurring at a time when ultranationalism and hatred of "the other" are being associated with patriotism in both India and the US.
As one Indian commentator noted, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s hypernationalistic "Hindutva" ideology has found common cause with Trumpism.
This ideology is fuelled by ignorance. Last week, at a seminar titled, "Connectivity Revisited: India, Kenya and the Indian Ocean", hosted by the Indian High Commission in Kenya, many participants lamented that both Indians and Kenyans have little knowledge of each other's cultures and history.
Yet, India and the East African coast have had trade links for centuries.
When Vasco da Gama arrived in Mombasa in the 15th century, Indians had already established trading positions there.
In the 19th century, most of the commerce in Zanzibar was controlled by Indians.
With the building of the Uganda Railway at the beginning of the 20th century, the East African interior opened up to Indian trade.
Indians also took up clerical and other posts in the British colonial administration. Later, some participated in the struggle for independence.
The descendants of these pioneer Indians are found today across all East Africa.
However, while the history of East African Indians has been widely documented, little is known about the many Africans who went to India and settled there.
People of African descent known as the Sidis have been living in the Indian state of Gujarat for centuries.
Also known as the "African Sufis of Gujarat", the Sidis are known for their Africa-inspired music and dance called Sidi Goma, which they have performed in various parts of the world, including Zanzibar and Kenya.
It is believed that the Sidis' origins lie in East Africa; many of their songs are peppered with Kiswahili words.
Even less known is the fact that many Africans were coopted into India's aristocracy since the 14th century.
These former slaves came mainly from Ethiopia and Sudan and were taken to India by Arab slave traders who sold them to kings, rich merchants and aristocrats.
However, not all of them remained slaves. Some rose through the ranks to become nobles and generals.
One of them, Malik Ambar, a slave-turned-general, held a prominent position in the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in western India in the 17th century.
Evidence of Africans playing a role in India's history can be found in an exhibition of paintings that depict Africans participating in various events, not as slaves but as important members of royal Mughal courts.
The exhibition titled "Africans in India: A Rediscovery", which was recently held in New Delhi and New York, shows that unlike African slaves in the Americas, many African slaves in India rose to hold military and other positions.
For their descendants, however, social mobility has not been easy; they are still classified as among one of India's marginalised "scheduled tribes".