Thursday, October 08, 2009
A Nigerian Bible scholar once told me as we met for breakfast in Nairobi, "once you drink the waters of Africa, you must return again and again for more."
It has been a little over a year since I've been back for a sip. I cannot believe it's been this long. Priorities have shifted with the new and exciting challenges at CBN News in my professional life and raising my little son in my private life.
I miss Africa so very much; exploring new cultures and meeting new people. And, of course, having a good, strong cup of Kenyan coffee with my friends at Java House.
I carry a bit of Africa in my heart and in my arms…
In my heart, I carry the memories of the past four years of coverage.
The oppressive heat of the Somali winds as they blow across the desert sands. The shock of seeing the bones and dried blood of the massacred in Rwanda. The grief of holding a dying baby. The fear of being a foot from a landmine, knowing little children pass by dozens like it everyday on their way to school. Sitting in the dirt under a scrub brush tree talking with Somali women who have seen horrors I could never imagine.
But for every sad memory, there are two happy memories.
The joy of the Masai dancers as they leapt in to the air with the widest of smiles. The beauty of the early morning mist on the plains. The hope of a South Sudanese teacher as she taught her pupils. Drinking a steaming cup of "coffee sludge" in a small village. Drinking a warm Coke in the desert. Drinking ANYTHING in the middle of nowhere. The naming ceremony a group of Dinka Christians held to "adopt" me into their tribe. The bliss on the face of a young woman holding her first healthy baby thanks to a new local clinic. Getting lost in a Sudanese swamp and walking across dry river bed with my cameraman whose name really is "Moses!"
And the church services! There's nothing like the hours-long worship in African churches. In every country, I met brothers and sisters who have very little, but gladly give anything to their neighbors in need.
I also carry a bit of Africa in my arms. Although he is now an American citizen, my Ethiopian son will always know his heritage. I need only look into his face to see the beauty of his race. The hope, joy and potential of the many I've met and, God willing, will meet again.
There is a part of me that will always remain scattered amongst the acacia trees. And the longing to return is too strong not to return.
Africa Matters is not gone. The column will only be on hiatus for a while as things settle down around here. Keep an eye out for my byline. I will continue to write news analysis pieces in the coming months and warmly welcome your comments and story ideas.
Also, thank you to all the Africa Matters readers who sent e-mails over the years. You have shared your wisdom and insights; the good, the bad and the critical. All have been appreciated. Please, please feel free to e-mail me anytime.
I remain your faithful correspondent, dedicated to covering news around the world... especially on the African continent.
Monday, July 20, 2009
(Editor's Note: This submission is from Tony Das. He will continue as a guest contributor to Africa Matters from time to time.)
Many Westerners believe Africa is a continent of animists who worship multiple gods, and a smattering of Muslims. In fact, Christian website www.the-tidings.com http:/www.the-tidings.com/ reported that "Christian growth in Africa is nothing short of astonishing" and that Africans represent 33% of the planet's Christians. Europe, by contrast is the only continent where Christian numbers are declining "and will likely decline for the foreseeable future."
I belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Martin Luther started the Protestant reformation in Wittenberg, Germany where only one-in-four citizens now call themselves Christian (undoubtedly due to generations of atheistic communism in that former East German city).
In America, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that "the US is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country". However, that report concedes that Catholics have been able to maintain a "steady" percentage of the Christian population due to the impact of Latino immigration.
Christianity is nothing new to Africa. By 500 AD there were three African-born Catholic Popes, all of whom made significant marks on Christianity.
Pope Victor I (AD 189-199), born in the Roman Province of Africa changed the liturgical language from Greek to Latin.
Pope Militiades (AD 311-314) was a North African Berber, a people who live west of the Egyptian Nile Valley. His Edict of Milan in 313 forced Roman Emperors Constantine and Licinius to tolerate Christians and return their confiscated lands.
Pope Galasius I (AD 492-496), also a North African commanded that the Eucharist be celebrated with both bread and wine; the latter had been prohibited by Persian Manicheans who claimed "dual identity" with the Christian church.
To escape King Herod's thugs Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to Egypt, an African state for refuge. One of the first to be baptized a Christian by the Apostle Philip was a eunuch and aide to Ethiopian Queen Candace. Acts 8:39 says Philip went "on his way rejoicing."
In more recent years, Christian missionaries in Africa left local populations understanding that Christian charity is based upon providing those things that God has deemed necessary for what we now call "quality of life." Food, clean water, medical care and pastoral ministry during Africa's too-frequent natural and man-made disasters are not lost on the recipients.
I have been working in some of the most remote African locations - and some of the most violent - since 1978. I find that Christian clergy, missionaries and aide workers are among the most respected people on the continent. In 1982 as a foreign news correspondent, I covered the first Africa trip of the late Pope John Paul II. In Onitsha, Nigeria -- a country with the largest Muslim population in sub-Sahara Africa-- more than one million people walked as long as two weeks to attend his outdoor mass.
Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, who in 1965 became the world's youngest bishop at the age of 32, was by all accounts a serious contender to replace John Paul II after his death. Cardinal Arinze said at the time: "the great St. Augustine of Hippo, Algeria (again, an African nation), son of St. Monica was the earliest philosopher/theologian to …re-interpret the teachings of Christ, the Epistles and the Old Testament, thus welding together the old and new in honor of Christ".
To turn Western preconceptions of Africa's religious demography on its head: African Protestant and Catholic clergy have raised the concept of "re-evangelizing the West" by sending African missionaries to under-served Christian communities in Europe, their former colonial masters.
Tony Das has 30+ years of experience as a U.S. diplomat, foreign news correspondent and businessman in Africa. Now President/COO of Global Markets Consulting Group he has just been elected to Church Council at Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Orkney Springs, VA. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Earlier this week, we carried a report about seven Somalis beheaded by Islamists with links to Al-Qaeda in Baidoa, Somalia. The murderers accused the seven of everything from being "spies" to leaving Islam to become "Christians."
I do not know whether these victims were indeed Christians or not. It's very hard to confirm. The families are probably not volunteering that information for fear they, too, may be killed.
What we do know is that, according to Open Doors, there are only 4,000 Christians in the predominantly Muslim country of more than 10 million. And Somalia is ranked fifth in the world by the organization for persecution against believers.
"Christian" = Criminal
Unfortunately, calling someone a Christian has become the "accusation du juor" that leads to persecution and death in many Muslim countries-whether or not the accused is indeed a Christian. It seems the term has become an easy way to make sure someone is convicted.
It's kind of like a reverse of the American "Salem Witch Trials" in the late 1600s. When many good and honest people were accused of being witches and killed by hanging. The meer accusation often led to death.
"They even called me a 'Christian!'"
When I was in the Dadaab refugee camp on the border between Somalia and Kenya, I interviewed a young Somali girl regarding the awful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Her father, a devout Muslim holy man (imam), stood up in his mosque to denounce the practice. He refused to let his daughters be mutilated.
As I talked with the beautiful young refugee, she said she had been beaten and called vicious names, because of her father's unpopular stand against FGM.
"They even called me a Christian," the Muslim girl said with eyes downcast.
Even though this girl's family is obviously Muslim, the easiest way to persecute them without just cause is to call them Christians.
To be fair, those that beheaded the seven in Somalia do not represent the majority of Muslims. Most of the Muslims living in the neighboring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan are followers of Sufi Islam, a more contemplative "denomination," if you will.
The brand of radicals that killed these Somalis come straight from Saudi Arabia. Hard-liners that believe those who disagree with their point of view are worthy of death.
"To live is Christ, to die is gain."
Early believers were ripped to shreds by lions and persecuted beyond imagining simply because they were called "Christians." And Acts 11:26 says the term "Christian" was first used by believers in Antioch. For more than two thousand years, people have lived and died for being associated with the label.
Murdering people, Christian or Muslim, is against everything Scripture dictates. Persecution of any kind is wrong. We are told to treat others the way we want to be treated, regardless of their race, gender or creed.
However, if someone must die for being a "Christian," at least let it be one who believes in Christ. One who has promise of a better life; for whom death is considered "gain."
Friday, July 10, 2009
On the heels of the G-8 summit, President Obama is making his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa since he assumed the presidency.
The G-8 leaders have earmarked $20 billion to help poor African farmers boost their productivity. That may sound like a lot of money, but it really isn't. A good portion of that figure had already been tagged to go to the continent anyway. And many countries are far behind in paying the money they had already promised to give four years ago.
Also, if you compare the more than $48 billion President Bush set aside for Africa during his administration to this $20 billion cumulative donation from some of the richest countries in the world; their promise seems very small indeed. It almost seems a nice symbolic gesture. If history is our guide, this is a promise many countries may never keep.
Make sure to tune in to special coverage of the President's trip to Africa on the CBN Newschannel and Christian World News next week.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
According to his family, Burhan Hassan was a fairly normal American teenager; bright with a promising future in either medicine or law. And yet, somewhere along the way, Hassan was recruited to travel back to his native Somalia to fight in someone else's war.
He was only eight-months-old when his family left Somalia. They lived for a few years in a refugee camp in Kenya. I don't know for sure, but I would bet it was the Dadaab refugee camp that I have visited in the past. It is a desperate place and many of its inhabitants are desperate to leave. Some that I met begged me to help them come to America or give them money for college so they could get out of Dadaab.
The Promised Land
Hassan's family beat the odds and made it out of their refugee camp. They made it to the U.S. But why would a young man with so much ahead of him leave "the promised land" of America to return to the dry and dangerous land of Somalia?
I don't know. I haven't personally talked with Hassan's family. But from media accounts, they're not too sure either. Only the man and God know what was in his heart.
Looking for a Cause
Hassan was one of about twelve men to disappear from Minnesota, assumed to be in Somalia. Many of the men who went had good jobs. Hassan's uncle tells the Associated Press that the men were "doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and leaders of the future of our strong and prosperous nation."
Many in this next generation of Americans are looking for a cause to believe in; to live and die in its persuit.
Many recruited into terrorism around the world are lured by promises of money for their destitute families. But not these men. They had good jobs or were at least on their way to getting them.
It seems the thirst for a cause goes deeper than a profession or lack of anything better to do.
The need to be a part of something greater than ourselves is hard-wired into our DNA. Nearly everyone feels a need to fill the vacuum with something. It's up to us to decide what that something will be.
I feel for Hassan's mother. She survived losing her husband in a tragic accident years ago. She got her family out of Somalia and a refugee camp. She built a new life in America.
Last Friday the family got a phone call. A disembodied voice told them Hassan was dead and buried.
He was only 17.
Regardless of Hassan's motives for going to Somalia, he leaves behind a grieving family in need of our prayers.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
June first was the official start of this year's Atlantic hurricane season! Experts predict the U.S. will be hit with two or three major hurricanes this season. Some of those storms may start where you least expect...off the coast of Africa!
Hurricans and tropical depressions are a good example of how what happens in Africa effects the lives of Americans. Many storms are spawned off the coast of Africa and make their way across the ocean, heading for the Caribbean…and then…who knows? Hopefully back out to sea.
I am not a scientist, but here's a really, really condensed version of what happens….
The monsoon storms can cause huge amounts of problems for the people of Africa - drought, floods, diseases, etc. This and much more can plague those in the path of an African monsoon. But that's sometimes not the end of the story. Sometimes the storm gets big enough and spins out in to the ocean. That's when it begins its trek over to America and the islands in the Atlantic.
An article in the Herald Tribune discusses a research study about what part the waves off of Africa play in how many of those storms hit the east coast of the U.S. It says:
"About 70 'waves' are born off the coast of Africa every season, but only about 10 to 15 of them become tropical storms or hurricanes. Among them were hurricanes Andrew and Katrina."
Did you know that NASA has been talking about starting a project that studies African storms and their effect on the U.S.? Or how about that there's a whole organization that studies African monsoons? If scientists can learn more about the birthing process for these storms, they will be able to one day predict which of these storms will make landfall on America AND how strong they will likely be. This could help save lives and property.
On a side note, did you know that African sand has actually traveled across the ocean before and created "sandstorms" in Florida? Isn't that weird?
Yet again, I realize the amazing way in which our world was made…and just how small and interconnected this planet really is.
Here are links to all sorts of resources to learn more about this process:
Africa Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis
Earth & Sky: "African Storms Spawn Atlantic Hurricanes"
St. Petersburg Times, 2005: "Desert Sandstorm Heads Toward Florida"
Friday, May 29, 2009
It was just a small article listed on the DrudgeReport. I almost missed it...
A parlimentarian from Swaziland is making an apology for making the suggestion that people living with HIV should be branded on the buttocks to warn future partners of their health status! As if living with a deadly disease isn't bad enough, this official wanted them to be forever physically scarred. (Click here to read the full story)
This is an interesting and sad story. There are, however, many ministries reaching out to people living with this disease; giving them hope, healing and dignity. A quick Google search shows many Christian ministries that are aimed at meeting their specific needs.
One ministry that particularly caught my eye is the Micah Network, a group of 300 Christian relief, development and justice organisations from 75 countries. They have a great discussion paper on thier web site offering a Christ-centered theology on HIV/AIDS. It's worth the read. Click here to read the paper.
You may or may not agree with everything contained in the article, but it will certainly make you think about how Jesus would treat victims of the disease...and encourage us all to treat them accordingly.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
(Editor's Note from Sarah: I wrote this post back in November of 2007. It got a lot of response from readers. In light of the ABC story by Dan Harris, I thought I would repost this...)
Can a child be a witch? How about a demon possessed kid? A recent New York Times article reports a growing phenomenon in Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic. Parents and families call a child a witch and kick them out on the street. They beat these children and worse.
Sharon LaFraniere's article is a startling and compelling read. She goes on to explain that it's not truly a matter of the children being witches or being demon possessed. It is more a case of families being unable to care for their children. It seems calling your kid a witch is the surest way to "divorce" yourself from your child; some go so far as to beat their children. The families cannot pay for the children, so they get rid of them. Witchcraft seems to be only an excuse. This is so heartbreaking.
The article continues on to say that there are not enough places to care for these children. I am telling you, you've got to read this article!
Here's where true believers in Jesus Christ need to step in. God's best is for His people to take care of widow's and orphans. I cannot say for sure, but my guess is that if there was a big humanitarian push to bring aid to these regions of Africa, this strange practice would be nearly obliterated.
Couple the aid with the teachings of Jesus. All are precious in His sight. Children are a blessing. That God loves us as a good, all-caring Father. There is hope for the future.
The Bible does talk about children being possessed by demons, but in every instance, Jesus casts out the demons with a word. He heals them and sends them home. There are several of these cases...
Mark seven recounts how Jesus heals a little girl from demon possession. All it took was the mother's faith in Him and a word from the Master.
In Luke nine, a boy was possessed by a demon. As Jesus came nearer, the demon "threw him to the ground in a convulsion." Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father.
In Matthew 17, a boy was being thrown in fire and water - literally being destroyed by the demonic spirit. But Jesus healed him.
In the case of these children in these various countries in Africa, I hope and pray there would be those who would reach out to these families in Christian love. And help meet their physical, mental and spiritual needs. This practice of abusing children in the name of "religion" must end.
I'd love to know your thoughts! Please leave your feedback or e-mail me directly.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
First off, I hope you all like the slick new look of our web site! The web team has been working for months to revamp our web site. In the process, a few of my postings got "lost." But now that everything is running normally, that shouldn't be a problem.
On to today's blog...
I hope you all got to see the story we ran on Christian World News this week about the Africa Mercy. The ship is a converted ferry that recently entered service as the world's largest privately-run hospital ship. It's a fantastic story that offers hope and healing!
Please check out the story. I think you will be encouraged by it. (Click here to read and view video.)
In my opinion, the most exciting thing about this trip by the Africa Mercy is that the crew and medical staff is committed to in-depth ministry. The ship will be spending ten months in Benin.
Not to discount short-term missions, but spending quality time in one place gives you an added advantage when you minister.
The local population gets to see how the Christian crew handles adversity, heat, critters, exhaustion over the long term. It's harder to keep up a brave face after four, six, ten months away from the comforts of home. My bet is they will see the love of Jesus shining through...and that will make all the difference.
To borrow a phrase from my Australian friends, "good on ya!" Africa Mercy. May God richly bless your ministry...
Thursday, May 07, 2009
The lone Somali "pirate" who was captured by American forces last week is on U.S. soil. He sees a New York judge today. The teenager is expected to be charged with piracy and hostage taking.
(Editor's Note from Sarah: Today's blog (below) is written by Tony Das. He will be contributing to Africa Matters from time to time. Das has decades of reporting experience from Africa. Enjoy reading his article...)
In 1979 as a junior officer in what was then the United States Information Agency , I visited with a senior US Cultural Affairs Officer. We drove along a scenic corniche lined with classic Italianate buildings and overlooking the ocean. We dined and drank excellent Chianti at a fine Italian restaurant and spent the rest of that weekend with his family at a gorgeous beach where we ate fresh seafood and fruit. It was Mogadishu, capital of the former Italian colony of Somalia.
Today Somalia is a failed state, its recent iconography being the movie "Blackhawk Down" that horrified us with images of the bodies of heroic US peacekeepers dragged through the streets of the capital by rabid thugs and video of what has most recently been termed "piracy" off the Somali coast.
Mainstream American media focus on what they call "piracy" by Somali terrorists, and we contemplate "taking the fight to the pirates" by attacking them in their home ports. The waters from the Suez Canal in the north through the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean are critical to commercial shipping and the right of free passage by legitimate warships from all nations. Taking the fight to the mainland is a legitimate tactical option.
However, long-term strategy that would preclude us from facing these tactical situations in the future lies in an approach that combines "three Ds": diplomacy, development and defense. That's the foundation of a "smart power" concept conceived by the administration of George W. Bush and openly embraced by President Obama and his current Secretaries of State and Defense.
The commander of the Pentagon's newest unified command, the African Command based in Stuttgart, Germany, General William "Kip" Ward described to the Senate Armed Services Committee in written testimony last month his command's unique mission. AFRICOM's ultimate goal is to achieve three "end state" scenarios through US training:
1.) African militaries can provide their continent's own security;
2.) African nations can deal with extremists;
3.) Africa can boast professional militaries subject to democratic civilian control.
It may not be politically correct to say so, but when bad things happen in Africa, Africans don't want to rely upon white guys with guns to keep the peace, and leaders of the US and its western allies don't want to have to explain to their constituents why their loved-ones in uniform are being sent to African countries that they've never heard of to prevent Africans from ethnic groups they've also never even heard-of from killing each other.
AFRICOM's strategy is to utilize very few uniformed troops while emphasizing the role of military partnership with civilian US government agencies, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations and contractors. Those partners have expertise in "capacity building": the nurturing of civic and physical infrastructures that would turn failed states such as Somalia and reconstructing states such as Liberia and Sierra Leone into stable nations. Young men whose societies offer jobs and basic financial security do not risk their lives by joining Al-Qaeda-supported organizations in the Maghreb or taking to small boats to attack international shipping off the east African coast.
Real pirates are thieves who gain remuneration from the value of the ships and cargo that they capture. The thugs who seized the Maersk Alabama and other vessels in the Gulf of Aden took hostages for ransom. That makes them terrorists, no different from those who have seized airliners and demanded the return of jailed terrorists and/or money in return for sparing the passengers and crew. Had they been true pirates, whey would have taken the Alabama's cargo - food aid from the American people to Africa - and shared it among their starving Somali countrymen. Ironically, mainstream western media would likely have afforded them some Robin Hood panache and they would have saved the US taxpayer the cost of shipping that food from the Alabama's intended destination of Mombassa, Kenya overland to Somalia. The history of US-African relations is a collection of ironies. The namesake of the destroyer USS Bainbridge, which led the rescue of the Alabama's captain, was Commodore William Bainbridge. He was a hero of the first Barbary Wars more than two centuries ago after the United States refused to pay ransom to those who seized American ships off the north African coast and took hostages. There may be some honor among thieves - but none among terrorists.
Tony Das is President/COO of Global Markets Consulting Group and has more than 30-years of experience in Africa as a journalist, diplomat and businessman.