Africa

The Land of Gold and Blood

Congo

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock

THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC of Congo is one of the world’s poorest countries. In 2014, Congo ranked 186 out of 187 on the United Nations’ human development index—vying with Niger for the bottom of the list.

Yet Congo is extremely rich in soil, water, forests, and minerals. Diamonds, copper, gold, oil, uranium, and coltan are all mined, purchased, and traded from the DRC.    

Coltan is the ore used in electronic devices. The so call “war of coltan” in the mineral-rich eastern Congo has left millions dead and more than a million women raped. Transnational corporations are able to exert extreme pressure on Congo’s weak government and economy. As a result, the country’s natural resources have become an important factor in increasing poverty and violence rather than wealth and development.

The Catholic bishops in Congo (about half of the country’s population is Catholic) repeatedly have denounced three specific kinds of evil: a climate favoring genocide, outbreaks of religious fundamentalism, and a push toward Balkanization.

Sébastien Muyengo, author of In the Land of Gold and Blood, is the Catholic bishop of Uvira in eastern Congo. As a result of the mineral wars, he writes, the country’s poverty has become a mental, human, and structural poverty, rather than predominantly material. Yet Congo has resources the rest of the world wants.

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Kenyan Clergy Joins Battle Against Deadly Homemade Brews

Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

Community leaders, politicians and administration officers pour contents of an illicit brew during a crackdown in July 2015. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

Clerics in Kenya are backing a presidential decree banning homemade brews, largely blamed for a recent spate of deaths in the East African nation.

The homemade alcoholic drinks, popularly dubbed chang’aa (“kill me quick”) or Kumi Kumi (ten-ten shillings), are popular with the poor, who cannot afford commercially brewed bottled beer, which is heavily taxed.

Until recently, most Kenyan homemade brews were safe and were consumed at traditional parties, but unscrupulous brewers in the last few years have been introducing industrial chemicals such as methanol to make the drinks stronger and to quicken the brewing process, turning the drinks into poisons.

Islamic Insurgency Isn’t Just a Mideast Problem — Look to Africa, Too

A man walks past burnt cars destroyed during a terror attack in Lamu country, Ju

A man walks past burnt cars destroyed during a terror attack in Lamu country, June 2014. Image courtesy RNS.

The rise of the so-called Islamic State dominated headlines in 2014, and trained the eyes of the world back on the Middle East.

Perhaps it should have looked at Africa as well.

In 2014, Africans suffered dozens of deadly terror attacks by groups either allied with Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi or using similarly bloody tactics.

Consider:

  • In Nigeria: Boko Haram Islamists swept through the states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, killing and kidnapping civilians both Christian and Muslim. The group abducted more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok in April. The girls are still in captivity and the abduction still continues to draw global outrage.
  • In Kenya: the Islamist militant group, Al-Shabab massacred 64 non-Muslims in Mandera County in November and December. The victims were separated from Muslims and shot on the head. In June, Al-Shabab killed 48 people — mainly Christians — in the Mpeketoni area in Lamu County.
  • In Egypt: Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, the Sinai-based terror group, which recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, took responsibility for a deadly terror attack, which left 31 Egyptian soldiers dead.
  • In the Central African Republic: Former members of the Islamist coalition Seleka were accused of massacring 34 people in villages in northern CAR. In May, Seleka was accused of killing 11 people, in an attack at the Fatima Catholic Church in Bangui.

In Africa, Church Leaders Responding to Climate Change Locally and Globally

Climate change is causing serious droughts that decimate livestock in Africa’s rural areas. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili/RNS.

As climate change devastates communities in Kenya, church leaders are helping to address the crisis locally while also calling on industrialized nations to own up to their responsibilities for spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

“But we (in Africa) also have a role to play because we have not been very good stewards of the environment,” added Gichira, a poverty and development expert.“I think they (industrialized nations) are responsible for most of the emissions,” said Peter Solomon Gichira, the climate change program officer at the All Africa Conference of Churches. “They have responsibility to support climate change adaptation and mitigation as a moral obligation.”

People living in the Global South such as Kenya are suffering the worst consequences, climate experts say.

Droughts have become more severe and recurrent and are frequently followed by excessive rains or floods. Temperatures are much higher and weather patterns are now unpredictable.

The View from Africa

Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

Photo courtesy Jim Wallis

“There is nothing quite like the African bush to sooth and rejuvenate.” That experience was conveyed to me by a South African church leader who has been helping plan the speaking tour I just arrived for here in this beloved country.

My wife, Joy, and I decided to use this wonderful speaking invitation to South Africa as an opportunity to take our annual August family vacation here. We arrived for a week of rest before the tour began and spent a few beautiful days on the lovely beaches of the Indian Ocean, still warm even for this end-of-winter period. But then the last two days, our Washington, D.C.-based family did something we have never done before — visited the game park and wetland reserve to see some of God’s most extraordinary creatures. Of course we’ve seen these animals in zoos before, but we now had the opportunity to see them roam freely in their natural habitat. For a bunch of city kids like us, it was truly amazing.

In Hluhluwe Game Reserve, beautiful zebras slowly grazed with a South African sunset behind them over the mountains. There are no more graceful creatures than giraffes, elegantly tasting the leaves on the tallest trees as they wander together at peace. Buffalos with great horns shared the terrain with antelopes that showed us their speed when they decided to run. And hyenas really do laugh off in the distance.

Church of England Approves Women Bishops in Historic Vote

University of York, where the Church of England voted to ordain women bishops. Creative Commons image by Carl Spencer.

After 20 years of turmoil and angry debate, on Monday the General Synod of the Church of England said “yes” to women bishops.

The first could be named by the end of the year with the appointment of at least three additional women sometime in 2015, say senior church officials.

The General Synod is the three-tier governing body of the Church of England and it is made up of bishops, clergy, and laity.

At a meeting in York, the General Synod gave final approval to legislation introducing the changes by the required two-thirds majority.

Overall 351 members of the 433 Synod voted in favor of the measure.

At Angelina Jolie-Chaired Summit, Faith Leaders Work to End Sexual Violence

Attendees of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Creative Commons image courtesy Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Religious leaders from across Africa and England came together Wednesday to discuss the role clergy should play in preventing and responding to sexual violence.

The panel was part of the three-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict co-chaired by Angelina Jolie, the special envoy for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees. Jolie made an unannounced appearance before the event, causing attendance to surge and preventing several dozen participants from entering the crowded conference room.

In a pre-recorded video message, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby started the session by describing some of the positive developments he observed firsthand on a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Historically there has been a culture of impunity,” he said. “Faith leaders are challenging that culture fiercely and saying that rape and sexual violence in war is absolutely unacceptable and will result in consequences.”

Unintended Journeys -- Showing the Effects of Natural Disasters and Climate Change

Padmapukur, Banglasdesh. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos, 2009.

Padmapukur, Banglasdesh. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos, 2009.

“Humanity is intimately tied to the world we live in, and every societal action and technological advance has an effect on the earth,” reads one of the plaques in the current Unintended Journeys exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C.

The temporary exhibit, which runs until Aug. 13, is a powerful photographic portrait of the catastrophic effects environmental disasters are having on millions of people around the world.

The exhibit focuses on five different countries that have recently experienced or continue to experience severe weather conditions that have caused displacement, migration, intense hardship, and death for inhabitants. The disasters covered are the Hurricane in the Gulf, the Earthquake in Haiti, the Tsunami in JapanFlooding in Bangladesh, and Desertification in East Africa.

African Church Leaders Resist Gay Rights, Call it a Colonial Import

Bishop Arthur Gitonga, center, of the Redeemed Church in Kenya. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

A call for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians has put African and Western churches on a collision course, as some African clerics liken mounting criticism from the U.S. and Europe to a new wave of colonization by the West.

Consider some of the statements at a news conference last week led by Bishop Arthur Gitonga of the Redeemed Church in Kenya:

“Homosexuality is equivalent to colonialism and slavery,” said one participant.

“We feel it’s like a weapon of mass destruction,” said another.

“It is not biblical and cannot bring blessing to Christians,” said a third.

Gitonga, a powerful East African Pentecostal church official, is among a group of Kenyan leaders who have launched “Zuia Sodom Kabisa,” Kiswahili for “Stop Sodom Completely.” The campaign seeks 1 million signatures to petition legislation to criminalize homosexual acts in Kenya.

'What is to prevent me from being baptized?'

LUKE'S SECOND VOLUME, the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of what happened to Jesus’ followers after they received spiritual power to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Beginning in Jerusalem, the movement proceeds north and west, eventually tracing Paul’s journey to Rome. But the plot takes one big detour along the way, heading south to the mysterious lands beyond Egypt, carried by a person more foreign and unusual than any other in Luke’s vast cast of characters. Only divine intervention orchestrates the encounter between the Jewish Hellenist Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.

What is the main thrust of this missionary story? Is it geography—a foray into “the ends of the earth” long before Paul reaches Rome? Is it religious ethnicity—the first God-fearing Gentile believer converting, even before the Roman centurion Cornelius? Is it the man’s undeniable African origins—straight from the lands of Nubia and Cush? Is it his wealth and connections to royalty that will enable him to bring Jesus’ gospel to Africa?

Luke likely included this story for all these reasons, but the text itself points over and over to what must be the driving force of Luke’s inclusive theology in this account—the rider in the chariot is not referred to by Luke as a man. Luke calls him a “court official” and a eunuch (8:27), and later calls him a eunuch four more times, but never a “man.” He has been castrated before puberty and trained to take sensitive positions not entrusted to males. He is beardless with a higher voice. Torn from his birth family and enslaved at a young age, he has no family of his own. Loyal only to his queen, he is “in charge of her entire treasury.”

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