Zambia's Compulsory HIV Testing Decision Sparks Debate
AllAfrica || By Mildred Katongo, Steven Zande and Kennedy Mudenda, Times of Zambia || 17 August 2017
Stakeholders have hailed President Edgar Lungu for directing that HIV/AIDS testing now be mandatory in all public health institutions.
The Zambia National Blood Transfusion Services (ZNBTS) said the mandatory test was a brilliant move that would help people know their status and begin treatment early to lessen the disease burden.
ZNBTS medical director Joseph Mulenga said the move would reduce HIV stigma and also help people who test positive commence the treatment early when the CD4 count was still high.
Dr Mulenga said this could also reduce the demand on blood transfusion as people who tested positive would be put on treatment on time as opposed to knowing their HIV status when their CD4 count was already low, meaning they would require more blood.
"The mandatory AIDS test is a brilliant idea and a step in the right direction. This means that there will be less disease burden, because the disease will be suppressed. People who test positive will be put on treatment early and will not get most of the opportunistic infections such as anemia which requires blood," he said.
Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMCR) executive director Bernadette Deka said mandatory HIV testing presented a new gateway to HIV prevention, care and treatment.
Ms Deka said the expanded access to HIV testing would provide important opportunities for ensuring universal access to knowledge of HIV, enhancing access to HIV prevention activities, including prevention of mother to child transmission, management of Sexually Transmitted Infections among others.
She said this needed to begin in the health care facilities and extended to the community and that it was important to explore health care providers' attitudes toward mandatory HIV testing for different patients and various factors associated with providers' attitudes.
"This will offer suggestions to help policy-makers design more targeted interventions to help health care providers deliver better services to People Living with HIV/AIDS in Zambia that will feed into community initiatives that will translate into significant reductions in incidence and prevalence rates.
Ms Deka said the mandatory testing would also help in improving early diagnosis of HIV and linkage to appropriate care, support and timely initiation of antiretroviral treatment (ART), in order to improve health of people living with HIV, prevents onward transmission to HIV negative partners, including vertical transmission.
The Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) in Livingstone said the move was a step in the direction in creating a generation that was free of HIV in Zambia by 2030.
YMCA secretary general Susu Chinyimbwa said young people needed to be better equipped to manage their HIV infection and take ownership of their health care.
Mr Chinyimbwa said previously in Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) the emphasis ended at encouraging people to be counseled and tested voluntarily, but with the new direction people are mandated to be tested and know their HIV status.
Staying Alive in Africa: WhatsApp Finds New Uses in Conflict Zones
AllAfrica.com || By Inna Lazareva || 03 August 2017
New tool relies on WhatsApp to detect, verify and log attacks on health facilities and workers
These days, the word on the street in war-torn Syria is that hospitals are best avoided - even if you're injured.
"Sometimes we hear that people feel the home is safer than the hospital," said Mohamed Elamein, an information officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Gaziantep, Turkey, close to the Syrian border.
Communities often oppose plans to build a clinic in their town or village fearing it will be targeted, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
Keeping a standardised track of attacks on health facilities and workers has been a major challenge in conflict zones.
But a new digital instant messaging tool that relies on smartphone application WhatsApp has been developed by the WHO and its partners to detect, verify and log the devastating consequences of such attacks.
It is hoped the WhatsApp-based tool will provide vital evidence for the international community, which in the future could be used to hold perpetrators to account.
Syria has been named the most dangerous place on earth for healthcare providers by a Lancet Commission on Syria report, published in March, which revealed that more than 800 medical workers had been killed since 2011.
Nearly half of hospitals in non-government controlled areas were attacked and a third of services hit more than once between November 2015 and December 2016, according to a separate study published by Elamein and others.
The new tool piloted in Gaziantep by health organisations working in Syria involves a WhatsApp group of nearly 300 trusted contacts on the ground.
After the initial alert of an attack, further details are logged and cross-referenced with a range of sources in a central database.
'WHO' YOU GONNA CALL?
Mobile messaging is the fastest-growing digital communication phenomenon ever, according to a report compiled this year by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
From the Syrian hospital alert system to refugees who share information about safety at sea, digital messaging services like WhatsApp, owned by Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook Inc, are becoming indispensable in fast-unfolding humanitarian crises.
Their potential is growing every day, experts say, with 3.6 billion people globally expected to use messaging apps by 2018.
In Syria, the WhatsApp tool identified 402 attacks against health facilities and medical workers between November 2015 and December 2016. It is also designed to report attacks on ambulances and patients.
The tool is already being deployed in Jordan and Pakistan, and the WHO plans to roll it out in Iraq and Yemen. The U.N. agency is also considering its use in other troubled hotspots, including in Africa.
While smartphones are less widespread in Africa, the number of users almost doubled between 2014 and 2016, reaching 226 million.
In Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania, up to 90 percent of smartphone owners regularly use at least one messaging service, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, according to a study issued last month by GSMA Mobile Economy.
During the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, 25,000 people subscribed to the BBC's first "Lifeline" humanitarian service using WhatsApp. It disseminated public information via audio, image and text message alerts to combat the disease's spread.
In Somalia, a country grappling with drought and attacks by the al Shabaab militant group, messaging apps also play a critical role for the diaspora, said Amor Almagro, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme.
"It's one of the ways by which they stay in contact with their families in Somalia, get news from home and arrange for money transfers through the informal networks," she said.
FANNING THE FLAMES
But instant messaging is far from a panacea in crisis zones, and some experts say it can also be used to fuel violence.
In Central African Republic, diamond smuggling gangs are plundering the country's resources and funding conflict by making illegal sales via WhatsApp and Facebook, said a recent report by NGO Global Witness.
Connectivity disruptions are another hurdle.
Earlier last month, Somalia plunged into an internet blackout lasting more than three weeks, after a cargo ship damaged an underwater cable.
Other countries simply pull the plug. In 2016, 11 African governments suspended internet connections during elections or protests.
A 2016 paper by Adebayo Fayoyin of the United Nations Population Fund warned of a "new media utopianism", adding "technology is a tool of development, not an end in itself".
(Reporting by Inna Lazareva; Editing by Adela Suliman, Lyndsay Griffiths and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
The Eritrean Children Who Cross Borders and Deserts Alone
AllAfrica.com || IRIN || By Eric Reidy || 27 July 2017
Yobieli is 12 years old. He sits on a small leather stool and fumbles with his hands, interlocking his fingers and pulling them apart. There's a dark shadow of soft peach fuzz on his upper lip, and his cheeks are childishly smooth. But, his eyes look older. They take in the world around him with the measured calculation of an adult, not the innocent wonder of a child.
"I didn't discuss leaving with my family. I only talked about it with my friends," he tells me. "Because of the difficulties I was facing in my house, I decided to go alone."
Yobieli is Eritrean. In August 2016 he fled his home, crossing borders and the desert on foot, unaccompanied by any adult relative or caretaker, only to arrive here: a neon-lit apartment in the rundown outskirts of Cairo, Egypt.
He is one of thousands of children to have undertaken similar journeys in recent years as part of what the UN has called the largest refugee crisis in history. Last year alone, 25,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Italy.
Eritreans were the single largest nationality. But only the ones who make it are counted. An untold number of others disappear and die along the way or, like Yobieli, end up stuck somewhere they never intended to stay. Young, alone and vulnerable, they have been exploited and abused and continue to face a dangerous and uncertain future.
"The main reason I left was poverty," Yobieli says. But in Eritrea, poverty and politics are deeply intertwined. "My family was poor because my father was a soldier. He was taken to the army."
Like all Eritrean adults, Yobieli's father was conscripted into the country's national service. On paper, conscription is supposed to last for 18 months. In reality, it stretches on indefinitely, essentially acting as a system of forced labour for recruits who receive next-to-no pay.
National service is the primary reason why nearly 400,000 people - almost nine percent of Eritrea's population - have fled in recent years, including a large number of unaccompanied children.
With Yobieli's father gone, his mother was forced to work as a maid in other people's homes. But the money was never enough. "I stopped going to school in grade four because of the difficulties with my family," Yobieli says. Instead of attending classes, he tried to find work to help support his family as their situation continued to deteriorate.
But even at such a young age, he knew that not all children faced the same struggles. "I saw young people like me on TV going to school and having a good life, enjoying life. So I asked myself and my friends, 'Why don't we have the same life? Why are we living these difficulties?'" Yobieli says.
"We deserve to also have a good life like them. We want to go to school. We want to have a normal life... The only solution was to take a decision [to leave]."
Once the decision was made, the first step was fairly easy. Yobieli's village is close to Eritrea's border with Sudan, and he was able to sneak across without the help of a smuggler. On the other side he faced a choice. Most migrants and refugees go to Libya where the chaos of civil war has allowed clandestine migration to flourish. But Libya is also notoriously dangerous. Extortion, kidnapping, rapes, beatings, and detention of migrants and refugees are all commonplace. Last year, more and more Eritreans were opting to come to Egypt to avoid these abuses.
"I heard that the situation in Libya is very difficult because of IS [so-called Islamic State] and the other armed groups and gangs," says Yobieli. "For the sake of my safety, I decided to come to Egypt."
The trip across the Sahara requires a smuggler and costs somewhere between $500 and $900. "I didn't have any money," Yobieli says. But, he was able to tag along with a group headed to Egypt. Some of the people he was travelling with convinced the smuggler to let him come for free because of his age.
"The trip was difficult," Yobieli says. "We were hungry and thirsty... The situation was very bad. They used to threaten us with knives. They also beat some of us." Yobieli was lucky. He wasn't beaten and even says the smuggler treated him kindly.
Abel, a 17-year-old Eritrean also living alone in Cairo, wasn't so fortunate. He fled Eritrea when he was 13, after receiving a draft notice for national service. "I didn't have any other option other than to leave," he says. After staying in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for almost three years without going to school, he decided to try to make it Europe.
Like Yobieli, he didn't have enough money to pay for the journey from Sudan to Egypt. "In the middle of the trip the smugglers threatened me with a knife," Abel says. "They said if I don't pay them money they will kill me."
Other Eritreans who Abel was travelling with called their relatives in Europe. They were able to gather enough money to pay the smuggler. Abel, who was 16 at the time, was able to complete the trip.
Zebib, a 16-year-old girl, broke down when I asked her about the journey from Sudan to Egypt. She left Eritrea in November last year, also to avoid national service. When I meet her in Cairo, she's wearing a pink shirt with small, white hearts on it, the red nail polish on her fingers is chipped and her curly hair is tied in a messy bun.
She has a smooth, pretty face, but her eyes are burning and her voice is choked with anger. "I wanted to go anywhere I could feel safe," she says, her voice rising and straining with emotion. "If you can help us, I will tell you everything. If you can't help us... " She trails off as tears start pouring down her cheeks and she buries her face in her hands.
It's impossible to know what Zebib experienced that made her break down because she won't talk about it. But rape and sexual abuse are so common along the people smuggling routes from Sudan to Egypt and Libya that women often take injectable contraceptives before starting the journey, according to Swedish-Eritrean migration activist Meron Estefanos.
"A woman knows she will be raped at least three times before she reaches Europe," Estefanos says. Young girls travelling alone are particularly vulnerable.
Cairo is no safe haven. "We are being treated very badly. When we go out to buy something, we are attacked and beaten," Zebib says. A group of Egyptian men broke into the apartment where she stays with other Eritreans her age. "They fought with the boys and tried to rape and harass us," Zebib says. Her lip quivers and she stops talking.
Yobieli also faces problems. "When I go to the shop, they don't give me change. They beat me in the street," he says, referring to Egyptians in the neighbourhood where he lives. "They've spat on my face. I've had money taken from me."
The living conditions are particularly difficult to tolerate because Yobieli, Zebib, and Abel never intended to stay here. What was supposed to be a brief stop on their way to Europe has now become their reality for the foreseeable future.
After more than 10,000 people arrived in Italy from Egypt last year, Egyptian authorities cracked down on clandestine migration. Now, there is no way for the roughly 8,000 Eritreans who are stuck here to leave without going through Libya, which they were trying to avoid in the first place.
"The way to Europe is blocked," Yobieli says. "The way to Libya is very risky with IS and the armed groups. Also, living here in Egypt is very difficult... I'm hoping for the UNHCR (UN refugee agency) process."
But UNHCR's resettlement programme is slow, and the number of people being sent to third countries is small compared to those in need. Last year, 7,000 people were approved for resettlement from Egypt out of a refugee population of more than 260,000.
Children like Yobieli, Zebib, and Abel are faced with an impossible choice: Endure the harassment and abuse in Egypt while waiting on the slim chances of resettlement, or go to Libya where the situation is even worse but where they might be able to cross the sea.
More and more people are taking the second option, according to Estefanos, the migration activist. "Now, everyone is leaving," she says. "They wasted nine months in Egypt."
Zebib is desperate to leave. "We want to go from this country. We want protection," she says. But she doesn't have enough money to pay for a smuggler. "I'm dependent on others... I can't do anything."
While Yobieli is waiting on UNHCR's resettlement process, he is attending classes offered by an NGO. "I want to finish school and to become a professor or an engineer or a doctor," he says. "My plan was to reach Europe in order to improve my life and help my family."
Sitting in the apartment on the outskirts of Cairo, that possibility seems far, far away. Yobieli's two older siblings left Eritrea before him with the same ambitions. "My older brother is missing in Libya," he says. "And my sister drowned in the sea."
France Defends President Over Alleged Racism Against Africans
AllAfrica.com || News24Wire || 20 July 2017
France has refuted recent media allegations that President Emmanuel Macron made a controversial and racist remark regarding Africa and African women at the G20 summit in Hamburg, German.
In an interview with News24, the French embassy in South Africa maintained that Macron's comment was not racist.
"Macron's comment did not carry any racial connotations. The president was answering to a question about the need for a 'Marshal Plan' for Africa. He said that he [felt] the challenges faced by the African continent needed a more complex solution than only a 'Marshal plan', aimed at reconstruction of previous stable countries," the embassy said.
Reports early this month claimed that Macron told a press conference during the G20 summit that "civilisation" problems and women having "seven or eight children" were hampering development on the continent.
Misery and war
Macron, according to the reports, said this as he responded to a question pertaining to why there was no concerted effort to help the continent economically.
A 28 second edited video clip of Macron's response was shared on social media and it provoked outrage, with some accusing him of racism and of blaming women for poverty.
But the embassy maintained that the context in which Macron was quoted by the media was wrong.
"He named three types of problems: 1) Problems of security, that have their origin in economic underdevelopment and religious fundamentalism; 2) Problems of state capacity, with failed states, complicated democratic transitions, and bad governance;
"3) Demographic problems, with high fertility rates that tend to fuel misery and war. This is particularly true in the Sahel region. That is why President Macron wants the 'Alliance to the Sahel', recently launched by France and Germany, to support the strengthening of women rights, the interdiction of forced marriages, together with a strong educational policy as well as family planning systems," said the embassy.
According to the embassy, the following were Macron's exact words:
"The Marshall plan was a plan for the material reconstruction of countries (... ). Africa's challenges are now completely different, more profound, more civilisation. What are the problems faced by Africa? Failed states, complex democratic transitions, demographic transition which is one of the biggest challenges of Africa [... ] It is through rigorous governance, the fight against corruption, the fight for good governance and a successful demographic transition [that you manage it].
"When some countries still have seven to eight children per women, you can spend millions of euros, and you will not manage to stabilise the country. So the transformation plan that we must implement together, taking into account the specificities of African countries and together with African heads of states, it's a plan that takes into account our own commitments on all the fields that I mentioned, and associate better public and private actions [... ]."
The embassy said that the president was talking about problems faced by Africa.
"As you can see, President Macron was listing the structural problems faced by the continent. Talking openly about these problems is the only way to deal with them," the embassy said.
The embassy said that Africa was a priority for France's foreign policy.
'Africa is for Africans first'
"We have a comprehensive and mutually beneficial relationship in many fields: on the economic side, on political and security issues, and on development aid. We also support the African governments' efforts to tackle the demographic challenges through the Ouagadougou partnership, which aims to foster family planning in West Africa.
"Recently, President Macron announced the launch of an Alliance for the Sahel, through which we will increase our aid to this region by €200 million. Our policy on Africa is intimately linked to our European commitment. We associate closely the European Union and its Member States to our actions."
The embassy said that Africa was for Africans first and that France would only intervene when it was asked to.
"Africa is for Africans first. African solutions to African problems must be prioritised. Should we be asked to intervene militarily, we do it in last resort, upon the request of local authorities, with the backing of the UN, and in partnership with African stakeholders. This is what France did in 2013 in Mali and in the Central African Republic," it said.
Triennial Southern Africa Catholic Leaders’ Joint Witness Meeting 2017 Emphasizes Unity in Diversity
Southern Africa Catholic Bishops' Conference || 18 July 2017
In his homily during the opening of the Joint Witness Meeting, His Grace Archbishop Stephen Brislin, the President of SACBC emphasized the importance of unity in diversity in proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord.
He said that diversity and richness of many charisms are the source of success in spreading the Good News.
Joint Witness is the meeting of Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life (LCCL) and the Bishops of Southern Africa Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC). The meeting normally comes once in every three years. It is a platform whereby the two conferences discuss the issues affecting the local church and the society at large.
The problems of Human Trafficking and Migrants and Refugees were some the topics on the top agenda of the discussions during the Joint Witness meeting 2017.
LCCLSA AND SACBC TRIENNIAL MEETING 2017
The Gospel of today’s Mass recalls the mission of proclamation of God’s Kingdom given initially to the Apostles, but in fact to all through baptism, and which unites us in a common cause, “And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand”.
Evangelization, as we know, is integral to the very meaning of what it means to be Church. In the words of St Paul, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken’. Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor 4:13).
Evangelization is achieved through three constitutive elements identified by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, namely proclamation of the Gospel and witness to Christ, celebrating the sacraments and humble service (cf. Deus Caritas est, 25a). Together we, in the diversity and richness of many charisms, spread the Good News.
The first Reading of today’s Mass holds many important lessons for this task. We hear part of the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and yet became the right hand man of Pharaoh. Through interpreting Pharaoh’s dream he knew that years of abundance would be followed by years of famine. He took the necessary measures to store food and was able to feed the nations. We, as leadership of the Church in Southern Africa, must always have the hope that God will transform what we perceive to be adversity into a blessing.
Joseph was sold into slavery but through that evil a great good was achieved. We may face many hardships, such as a shortage of resources and vocations, but let us never lose sight of God’s plan which brings blessings. Like Joseph, we too must read the signs of the times. There is a type of famine that grips the earth, the famine of those who hunger for and seek truth and meaning. We have the stored resources, the treasures, with which we can nourish others. This we do with the same generosity of Joseph and without holding back. Just as many nations went to Egypt for food, so we gather together different nations, cultures and languages into the unity of the one family of God.
But the task of evangelization is inseparable from our own discipleship. Pope Francis made the point, “When we walk without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we proclaim Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly. We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, all of this, but we are not disciples of the Lord”.
Discipleship means carrying our own cross and following Christ. Evangelization is not simply the proclamation of the Gospel by going out and heralding the Good News, as important as that is. There is another pathway that must also be followed. In the words of Pope Francis, it is “the inner journey, the path within, the path of the disciple who seeks the Lord every day, through prayer, in meditation.” These are not separate pathways; they are mutually dependent on each other. Prayer, meditation, the celebration of Sacraments are integral to proclamation and give credibility to it, just as proclamation ensures sincerity in prayer and worship. For this reason all our activity must be founded on an ever-deepening encounter with Christ through Word, Sacrament and prayer. The inner-spiritual life is essential for the mission, just as the mission strengthens and feeds our spiritual life.
The urgency expressed by successive Popes for what has been termed the “new evangelization” means that there is also an urgency for the renewal of our faith expressed in prayer and spiritual life. It is accurate, I think, to say that the crisis facing the Church is not fundamentally a crisis of vocations, of lack of trust, or people leaving the Church, or the supposed irrelevance of the Church to young people. It is a crisis of faith, a crisis of where our hearts lie.
The crisis of faith is, perhaps, not so much a loss of faith as such, but a faith that is being taken for granted, not nurtured or challenged – a complacency about our spiritual life and our call to discipleship. Liturgy becomes routine, our prayer superficial and the practice of faith in action mundane and without passion. A weariness has set in, a “saltlessness”. It can only be changed by seeking with fresh eyes the message of Christ and a return to the Gospel, where the starting point is a desire to know Christ more deeply with a commitment to obedience, especially to the commandment of love of God and neighbor.
The Gospel of Jesus both disturbed and fascinated many, including the commandment to love. We can become so wrapped up in ourselves and content that we do love God and, after all, we wish our neighbor no harm, that we no longer allow the Gospel to disturb us and to put ourselves at risk. The famous quote from Pope Francis recalls us from our comfort: “it is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one”.
Jesus, the incarnation of God, shakes us into the realization that we may be the greatest intellectual of all time, a bishop or religious, an ordinary person, but we are not his disciples unless we are able to express the same gentleness, care and compassion to the least of his brothers and sisters. It was in touching the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion that St Thomas recognized the divinity of Christ and made his profound profession of faith “My Lord and my God”.
It is in the wounded-ness of those around us that we must see the face of Christ - and respond. Pope Francis has been clear that it is through concrete acts of mercy that we serve God. “If a disciple is not journeying to serve, there’s no reason for the journey. If his life is not for service, there is no point in living the Christian life”. Touching Jesus’ wounds transformed St Thomas, just as those who were touched by Christ were transformed. Our kerygma and our witness is not primarily through words – it is through those concrete and personal actions that acknowledge and affirm the dignity and value of the other.
In the words of Blessed Oscar Romero, “The transcendence that the church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor, of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel, of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, ‘You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.’ It is to say exactly the opposite, ‘You are valuable.’” Part of the “crisis of faith” is a weakening of this sense of communion with others, of being in solidarity. It is a loss of the sense of caring for those when trouble strikes. It is a loss of a personal approach – a certain anonymity has set in. The warmth of a loving community has grown chilly.
As many people search for meaning and a sense of purpose, we rely on the tenets of our faith. The words “it is in giving that we receive, in loving that we are loved”, remain as true as ever. It is the understanding that in order to gain life we must lose it; it is through sacrifice and humble service that we find purpose and meaning to life, always remembering that this journey can never be separated from our inner spiritual journey.
For us, as leaders of the Church in Southern Africa it must be our continual recommitment to harness our diversity and the multitude of charisms and, in unity, to strive to achieve the common task of spreading the Gospel, through proclamation and witness, Sacraments and service. It is to return to those things that have always stood Christians throughout the ages in good stead. To shake off the weariness that clings so easily, to abandon the insidious idols that creep in so silently and that distract us and drain us of energy. It is Christ and his Gospel that we serve and no other. Pope Francis points us to the road ahead: “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, and spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace”.
These are the challenges that lie before us, the tasks that we must achieve together, always faithful to our vocation and mission. We gather for this triennial meeting to ensure that we are united, diverse in charism, yet one in our commitment to continue the spread of the Gospel and to proclaim the love and joy of the Good News. May God bless us and guide during our deliberations.
By Archbishop Stephen Brislin (President of SACBC)
+Stephen Brislin 12th July 2017
Beating Poverty in Africa: Where to Start
AllAfrica.com || 17 July 2017
One in three Africans is destitute, says a new study on poverty in 39 African nations led by development economists at Oxford University in Britain.
The figures for children are even more shocking. In what the study calls "truly staggering" statistics, two of every three African children are living in poverty. That's 300 million African children. [Link to story on children]
But as the world works to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, there is hope. Poverty has gone down over time, the study says, and most countries are reducing destitution - the worst form of poverty - at a faster rate than poverty overall.
The figures come from recently-released data and reports issued by the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI), drawn from a survey of 103 countries across the world - 39 of them in Africa. The study is unique in that it measures poverty not only by income levels but by 10 indicators in the areas of health, education and living standards which are also priorities in the SDGs.
The indicators rate poverty by factors such as malnutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, levels of school attendance and access to cooking fuel, sanitation, safe drinking water, electricity, proper flooring and ownership of forms of transport and electrical goods. These ratings are used to develop what the OPHI calls the "Multidimensional Poverty Index" (MPI).
The OPHI study defines the most severe form of poverty as "destitution".
By this definition of "the poorest of the poor", 282 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are destitute - the highest rate in the world. More than half the citizens of six countries - South Sudan, Niger, Somalia, Chad, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia - live in destitution.
Widening the definition of poverty to include all who are "multi-dimensionally poor", the OPHI says six in 10 sub-Saharan Africans - or 521 million people - are poor by this measure. (By the World Bank's measurement of poverty - the global poverty line of $1.90c a day - 402 million people are poor.)
But in what the Oxford study calls its "good news", it identifies countries which have succeeded in reducing destitution. Three of the four countries in the world which did best were in Africa.
Ethiopia reduced the proportion of destitute people by 30 percentage points between 2000 and 2011, mostly by increasing years of schooling and school attendance and providing better sanitation. Virtually across the board, the study shows that rural areas are poorer than urban areas, and Ethiopia reduced its number of rural destitute people from 51 million to 44 million over the decade.
Other stories of relative success cited are Ghana, where the number of rural destitute was cut from 4.9 to 2.9 million in the years covered by the study, and Niger, where although the numbers of rural destitute increased, their proportion to the country's total population dropped from 90 to 80 percent.
Looking at poverty more widely, two of three countries which did best in reducing it were African: Rwanda, where the proportion of poor in the population dropped to 54 percent over the period surveyed, and Ghana, where it dropped to 34 percent. The study cited better access to sanitation and safe water as key reasons for the improvement in Rwanda, and better school attendance and lower child mortality for that in Ghana.
Another feature of the Oxford study is its breakdown of poverty rates within different regions of each country. More than nine in 10 people are "multi-dimensionally poor" in at least one region of the following countries: Chad, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Niger, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Benin, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Gambia, Nigeria and Mali.
While Niger is shown to be the poorest country surveyed, with 89 percent of people living in poverty and 69 percent in destitution, people in two regions of Chad are poorer, with the incidence of poverty reaching 98 percent in the Lac region and 99 percent in Wadi Fira.
But poverty is at its lowest levels in urban areas, with a rate of less than 10 percent in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), Nairobi, Libreville, Yaounde, Douala (Cameroon), Lagos, Mzuzu City (Malawi), Dakhlet Nouadhibou (Mauritania), and Harare.
The OPHI uses the example of Chad to illustrate the importance of digging deeper than "headline" statistics, breaking them down to show what steps need to be taken to alleviate poverty.
"How people are poor differs," it says. "In Lac, 34 percent of people are poor and have experienced a child death, in Wadi Fira it's 20 percent. But in Wadi Fira, 97 percent of people lack clean drinking water, whereas in Lac it's 64 percent. So even between two extremely poor regions, policy responses need to differ."
Looking at specific indicators in the 39 African countries surveyed, the OPHI says 64 percent of the poor are deprived of cooking fuel, 57 percent of electricity and 56 percent of improved sanitation.
he 39 countries covered by the OHPI survey are: Burundi, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Comoros, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Mauritania, Malawi, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sao Tome, Swaziland, Chad, Togo, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Although the situation is mentioned in this report, Somalia was not among the countries covered by the OHPI consolidated figures for sub-Saharan Africa.
South Africa and Ghana Celebrate Success of African Network of Telescopes
AllAfrica.com || Government of South Africa Press Release || 13 July 2017
The Ministries of Ghana and South Africa announce the combination of 'first light' science observations which confirm the successful conversion of the Ghana communications antenna from a redundant telecoms instrument into a functioning Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) radio telescope.
Ghana is the first partner country of the African Very Large Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope. The 32-metre converted telecommunications antenna at the Ghana Intelsat Satellite Earth Station at Kutunse will be integrated into the African VLBI Network (AVN) in preparation for the second phase construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) across the African continent. The combination 'first light' science observations included Methanol Maser detections, VLBI fringe testing and Pulsar observations. Reaching these three objectives confirm that the instrument can operate as a single dish radio telescope and also as part of global VLBI network observations, such as the European VLBI network. Following the initial 'first light' observations, the research teams from Ghana and South Africa together with other international research partners, continue to do more observations and are analysing the data generated with the aim to characterise the system and improve its accuracy for future experiments.
"The Ghanaian government warmly embraces the prospect of radio astronomy in the country and our radio astronomy development plan forms part of the broader Ghana Science, Technology and Innovation Development Plan," says Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Ghana Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI). As an SKA Africa partner country, Ghana welcomed and collaborated with the SKA South Africa (SKA SA)/HartRAO (Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomical Observatory) group to harness the radio astronomy potential of the redundant satellite communication antenna at Kutunse. A team of scientists and engineers from SKA SA/HartRAO and the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI) which is under MESTI, has been working since 2011 on the astronomy instrument upgrade to make it radio-astronomy ready. In 2012, Ghana launched the GSSTI as the vehicle through which to grow its astro-physics programme.
The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has been funding a large part of the conversion project through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund (ARF). The South African Minister of DIRCO, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says, "The African Renaissance Fund is aimed at strengthening cooperation between South Africa and other African countries and to support the development of skills and build institutional capacity on the continent." Nine African partner countries are members of the SKA AVN, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zambia.
"A vital part of the effort towards building SKA on the African Continent over the next decade is to develop the skills, regulations and institutional capacity needed in SKA partner countries to optimise African participation in the SKA," says the South African Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor. The AVN programme is aimed at transferring skills and knowledge in African partner countries to build, maintain, operate and use radio telescopes. Minister Pandor continued by saying: "It will bring new science opportunities to Africa on a relatively short time scale and develop radio astronomy science communities in SKA partner countries."
The Leverhulme-Royal Society Trust and Newton Fund in the UK are co-funding extensive human capital development programmes in the SKA AVN partner countries. A seven-member Ghanaian team has undergone training in South Africa and have been trained in all aspects of the project including the operation of the telescope. Several PhD students and one MSc student from Ghana have received SKA SA bursaries to pursue further education in various fields of astronomy and engineering while the Royal Society has awarded funding in collaboration with Leeds University to train two PhDs and 60 young aspiring scientists in the field of astrophysics. Based on the success of the Leverhulme-Royal Society programme, a joint UK-South Africa Newton Fund intervention (the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA)) has since been initiated in other partner countries to grow high technology skills that could lead to broader economic development in Africa. This Newton Fund programme is providing a pool of talented young people who have been inspired by astronomy ultimately play a leading role in the emergence of new economies.
A Ministerial Forum comprising Ministers from the nine SKA AVN partner countries convenes on an annual basis to provide strategic and political leadership on the cooperation with the SKA and AVN projects, and on other relevant radio astronomy programmes and initiatives. The next SKA AVN Ministerial Forum will be held in Accra, Ghana in August when the Kutunse radio telescope will officially be launched.
Nasir Ahmad Yartey
What the G20 Said on Africa
AllAfrica.com || 09 July 2017
Excerpts most directly applicable to Africa drawn from the declaration of leaders of the G20 nations, issued after the leaders' summit in Hamburg on July 7 and 8:
Globalisation and technological change have contributed significantly to driving economic growth and raising living standards across the globe. However, globalisation has created challenges and its benefits have not been shared widely enough. By bringing together developed and emerging market economies, the G20 is determined to shape globalisation to benefit all people. Most importantly, we need to better enable our people to seize its opportunities.
We are resolved to tackle common challenges to the global community, including terrorism, displacement, poverty, hunger and health threats, job creation, climate change, energy security, and inequality including gender inequality, as a basis for sustainable development and stability. We will continue to work together with others, including developing countries, to address these challenges, building on the rules based international order.
Expanding on the results of previous presidencies, in particular the 2016 G20 Summit in Hangzhou, we decide today to take concrete actions to advance the three aims of building resilience, improving sustainability and assuming responsibility...
Trade and Investment...
We recognise that the benefits of international trade and investment have not been shared widely enough. We need to better enable our people to seize the opportunities and benefits of economic globalisation. We agree to exchange experiences on the mitigation of the adjustment costs of trade and investment liberalisation and technological change, and on appropriate domestic policies, as well as to enhance international cooperation towards inclusive and sustainable global growth...
International investment can play an important role in promoting inclusive economic growth, job creation and sustainable development, and requires an open, transparent and conducive global policy environment. We will seek to identify strategies to facilitate and retain foreign direct investment....
Sustainable Global Supply Chains
Global Supply Chains can be an important source of job creation and balanced economic growth. However challenges for achieving an inclusive, fair and sustainable globalisation remain....
We will work towards establishing adequate policy frameworks in our countries such as national action plans on business and human rights and underline the responsibility of businesses to exercise due diligence. We will take immediate and effective measures to eliminate child labour by 2025, forced labour, human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery....
Digital transformation is a driving force of global, innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth and can contribute to reducing inequality and achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To this end, we need to bridge digital divides along multiple dimensions, including income, age, geography and gender. We will strive to ensure that all our citizens are digitally connected by 2025 and especially welcome infrastructure development in low-income countries in that regard.
We will promote digital literacy and digital skills in all forms of education and life-long learning. We recognise that information and communication technology (ICT) plays a crucial role in modernising and increasing efficiency in public administration. We recognise the important role that SMEs and start-ups play in the development of a full range of new and innovative business models and will promote better access to financial resources and services and a more entrepreneurial friendly environment...
International Financial Architecture
We need strong, effective and representative global economic and financial institutions to underpin growth and sustainable development. As laid out in the Hamburg Action Plan, we will continue to improve the system underpinning international capital flows and emphasise the need to promote sound and sustainable financing practices. We will enhance the international financial architecture and the global financial safety net with a strong, quota-based and adequately resourced IMF at its centre....
International Tax Cooperation and Financial Transparency
We will continue our work for a globally fair and modern international tax system and welcome international cooperation on pro-growth tax policies... We commend the recent progress made by jurisdictions to meet a satisfactory level of implementation of the agreed international standards on tax transparency and look forward to an updated list by the OECD by our next Summit reflecting further progress made towards implementation. Defensive measures will be considered against listed jurisdictions. We continue to support assistance to developing countries in building their tax capacity. We are also working on enhancing tax certainty and with the OECD on the tax challenges raised by digitalisation of the economy. As an important tool in our fight against corruption, tax evasion, terrorist financing and money laundering, we will advance the effective implementation of the international standards on transparency and beneficial ownership of legal persons and legal arrangements, including the availability of information in the domestic and cross border context.
Safeguarding against Health Crises and Strengthening Health Systems
The G20 has a crucial role in advancing preparedness and responsiveness against global health challenges. With reference to the results of the G20 health emergency simulation exercise, we emphasise the value of our ongoing, trust-building, cross-sectoral cooperation. We recall universal health coverage is a goal adopted in the 2030 Agenda and recognise that strong health systems are important to effectively address health crises.
We call on the UN to keep global health high on the political agenda and we strive for cooperative action to strengthen health systems worldwide, including through developing the health workforce. We recognise that implementation of and compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) is critical for efficient prevention, preparedness and response efforts. We strive to fully eradicate polio. We also acknowledge that mass movement of people can pose significant health challenges and encourage countries and International Organisations to strengthen cooperation on the topic.
We support the WHO´s central coordinating role, especially for capacity building and response to health emergencies, and we encourage full implementation of its emergency reform. We advocate for sufficient and sustainable funding to strengthen global health capacities, including for rapid financing mechanisms and the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme....
Combatting Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)
AMR represents a growing threat to public health and economic growth. To tackle the spread of AMR in humans, animals and the environment, we aim to have implementation of our National Action Plans, based on a One-Health approach, well under way by the end of 2018. We will promote the prudent use of antibiotics in all sectors and strive to restrict their use in veterinary medicine to therapeutic uses alone....
Energy and Climate
A strong economy and a healthy planet are mutually reinforcing. We recognise the opportunities for innovation, sustainable growth, competitiveness, and job creation of increased investment into sustainable energy sources and clean energy technologies and infrastructure. We remain collectively committed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through, among others, increased innovation on sustainable and clean energies and energy efficiency, and work towards low greenhouse-gas emission energy systems....
Leading the Way towards Sustainable Development
The adoption of the 2030 Agenda represented a milestone towards global sustainable development. We call on countries to work with stakeholders to strive towards its ambitious and integrated implementation and timely realisation in accordance with national circumstances. We commit to further align our actions with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its integral part, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, domestically and internationally, including in support of developing countries and the provision of public goods.
Building on the G20’s Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Hamburg Update emphasises our collective and concrete commitments. We support the central role of the high-level political forum on sustainable development and other key UN processes towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals... Recognising the importance of financial inclusion as a multiplier for poverty eradication, job creation, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, we support the ongoing work of the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion and welcome the 2017 G20 Financial Inclusion Action Plan....
Enhanced equal access to the labour market, property, quality employment and financial services for women and men are fundamental for achieving gender equality and full realisation of their rights as well as a prerequisite for sustainable and inclusive growth. We are making progress in achieving our 2014 Brisbane commitment to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25 percent by 2025 but agree that more needs to be done.
We also commit to take further action to improve the quality of female employment and eliminate employment discrimination, and reduce gender compensation gaps and provide women with protection from all forms of violence. We will improve women´s access to labour markets through provision of quality education and training, supporting infrastructure, public services and social protection policies and legal reforms, where appropriate.
Digitalisation and access to ICT serve as powerful catalysts for the economic empowerment and inclusion of women and girls. Access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related trainings and occupations is therefore key to establish an enabling environment for women’s empowerment. We welcome the launch of the #eSkills4Girls initiative to promote opportunities and equal participation for women and girls in the digital economy, in particular in low income and developing countries (see Annex).
In order to scale up support for women´s entrepreneurship, we welcome the launch of the Women Entrepreneurs Financing Initiative (We-Fi), housed at the World Bank Group. The We-Fi will support ongoing G20 efforts to reduce barriers to financial inclusion and increase women´s access to capital, markets and technical assistance as well as contribute to achieving the goals of the G20 Africa Partnership and the G20 Entrepreneurship Action Plan....
Towards Food Security, Water Sustainability and Rural Youth Employment
Water is an essential and precious resource. In order to achieve food security, we are committed to increase agricultural productivity and resilience in a sustainable manner, while aiming to protect, manage and use efficiently water and water-related ecosystems. In order to harness the potential of ICT, we stress the need for strengthened cooperation on ICT in agriculture and underline the importance of access to high-speed digital services for farmers and of adequately serving rural areas.
To enhance transparency in global food markets, we call for a strengthening of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) and an active engagement of its entire membership. We underline that making markets function better can contribute to reducing food price volatility and enhance food security. It is vital for farmers to be profitable and, along with consumers, have access to national, regional and internation al markets.
We launch the G20 Initiative for Rural Youth Employment in developing countries with a focus on Africa. This Initiative will, in alignment with developing countries’ strategies, contribute to creating 1.1 million new jobs by 2022vand to providing innovative skills development programmes for at least 5 million young people over the next five years.
Recognising the famine in some areas of South Sudan and risk of famine in Somalia, Yemen and North-Eastern Nigeria, we are more than ever committed to act with the required urgency, supporting UN agencies and other humanitarian and development organisations in a coordinated and comprehensive response to save lives and support conditions for sustainable development.
We recognise the contributions made by different G20 members in line with the UN appeal for humanitarian assistance which represents over two thirds of the funding received for immediate requirements. We will further strengthen our humanitarian engagement and reaffirm our commitment to addressing the underlying causes of recurrent and protracted crises....
We launch the G20 Africa Partnership in recognition of the opportunities and challenges in African countries as well as the goals of the 2030 Agenda. Our joint efforts will foster sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development, in response to the needs and aspirations of African countries, contributing to create decent employment particularly for women and youth, thus helping to address poverty and inequality as root causes of migration. The Partnership includes related initiatives, such as #eSkills4Girls, Rural Youth Employment, African Renewable Energy and facilitates investment Compacts...
We welcome the outcomes of the G20 Africa Partnership Conference in Berlin, which highlighted the need for joint measures to enhance sustainable infrastructure, improve investment frameworks as well as support education and capacity building. Individual priorities for “Investment Compacts” were put forward by Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia. Led by the respective African countries, the African Development Bank, IMF and WBG as well as the G20 and other partners, these Compacts aim to mobilise private investment as well as promote efficient use of public funding.
We are ready to help interested African countries and call on other partners to join the initiative. We support the goals of the Partnership through complementary initiatives as well as encourage the private sector to seize African economic opportunities in supporting sustainable growth and employment creation.
Based on equal partnership, we strongly welcome African ownership and commit to align our joint measures with regional strategies and priorities, in particular the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and it’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). The African Union and its specialised agency, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), are important partners in its implementation and monitoring.
Stepping up Coordination and Cooperation on Displacement and Migration
The world is experiencing historic levels of migration and forced displacement. While migration is influenced by many political, social and economic developments, the main drivers of forced displacement include conflicts, natural disasters as well as human rights violations and abuses. Migration and forced displacement trends are of major relevance for countries of origin, transit and destination. The social and economic benefits and opportunities of safe, orderly and regular migration can be substantial.
Forced displacement and irregular migration in large movements, on the other hand, often present complex challenges. We support those countries that choose to develop pathways for migration, underline the importance of nationally determined integration and endorse the G20 Policy Practices for the Fair and Effective Labour Market Integration of Regular Migrants and Recognised Refugees. We emphasise the sovereign right of states to manage and control their borders and in this regard to establish policies in their own national interests and national security, as well as the importance that repatriation and reintegration of migrants who are not eligible to remain be safe and humane. We commit to countering migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings and we are determined to take action against people smugglers and traffickers.
We seek to address the root causes of displacement. We call for concerted global efforts and coordinated and shared actions, in particular with respect to countries and communities that are under high social, political and financial pressure, and for combining both an emergency approach and a long-term one. To this end, we acknowledge the importance of establishing partnerships with countries of origin and transit. We will promote sustainable economic development in those countries.
We commit to addressing the distinct needs of refugees and migrants, in particular close to their region of origin and, when applicable, to enable them to return home safely. At the same time, we place special emphasis on vulnerable groups, including women at risk and children, particularly those unaccompanied, and to protecting the human rights of all persons regardless of their status.
We call for improving the governance of migration and providing comprehensive responses to displacement and recognise the need to develop tools and institutional structures accordingly. Therefore, we look forward to the outcome of the UN process towards Global Compacts on Refugees and for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, both envisaged to be adopted in 2018. We emphasise the need for monitoring global displacement and migration, as well as its economic consequences. To this end, we ask the OECD, in cooperation with ILO, IOM and UNHCR, to update us annually on trends and policy challenges.
We remain committed to fighting corruption, including through practical international cooperation and technical assistance, and will continue to fully implement the G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan 2017-18. We endorse four sets of High Level Principles aimed at fostering integrity in the public and private sector. By endorsing the High Level Principles on the Liability of Legal Persons, we commit to ensuring that not only individual perpetrators but also companies benefitting from corruption can be held liable. We commit to organising our public administrations to be more resilient against corruption. We will intensify our fight against corruption related to illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Wildlife trafficking is a threat to the planet’s biodiversity, economic development, and, among others, health and security, and is facilitated by high levels of corruption, which the G20 cannot tolerate.
We also endorse the High Level Principles on Countering Corruption in Customs and publish a guide on requesting international cooperation in civil and administrative proceedings. We will continue our work to address integrity in sports and urge international sports organisations to intensify their fight against corruption by achieving the highest global integrity and anti-corruption standards. In this respect, we strive for a common understanding regarding corruption risks in bids to host major sport events. We are also committed to fighting corruption in contracts, including in the natural resources sector. We call for ratification and implementation by all G20 members of the UN Convention against Corruption and for a strong involvement in its review process.
High Testosterone Female Athletes in Africa Pose Ethical Dilemma
AllAfrica.com || By Christina Okello || 06 July 2017
With one month to go till the start of the World Athletics Championships in London, there's wide public debate about whether hyperandrogenic athletes with abnormally high testosterone levels should be allowed to compete in sports.
A new study published Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has reignited debate about whether hyperandrogenic athletes should be allowed to compete.
The research, jointly sponsored by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has shown that women with high levels of naturally occurring testosterone enjoy a "significant competitive advantage."
A point of view shared by former Commonwealth and Olympic champion Tim Hutchings.
"Castor Semenya won the 800m in Rio very, very easily, and then from fourth backwards, you have athletes who are world class, great runners but who look like little boys competing against men," he told RFI.
South Africa's Caster Semenya, has once again become the unwilling face of track's ethical and medical dilemma over what to do about women with high levels of testosterone.
Didn't choose their body
"We have to protect the well-being of these athletes," Bernard Amsalem, in charge of the ethics at the IAAF, told RFI.
"They didn't choose to cheat, they were born this way and they shouldn't be discriminated because of it."
But Semenya and track stars like India's Dutee Chand have been singled out.
The pair both endured banishment for failing so-called "gender tests".
In 2011, the IAAF introduced new rules obliging hyperandrogenic women to lower their testosterone levels to below its required threshold of 10 nanomoles per litre, with medicinal treatments.
Unlevel playing field
"I think that while nobody is blaming these athletes for being born into the bodies they were born into, it is their choice to step into the world of sports. And if they step into the world of sports they have to accept that that arena is utterly dependent on fairness," says Hutchings.
"I don't think at the moment the playing field is even, I don't think it's fair to all."
But in 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decided that it was the IAAF who was being unfair in a challenge brought on behalf of India's Chand.
CAS didn't overturn the rules completely however, and gave the IAAF until July 27 this year to produce evidence that hyperandrogenic women do have a significant advantage.
It's now done that, collating blood samples from more than 2,000 women in all sports combined.
Towards a third category?
"This study is one part of the evidence the IAAF will be submitting to the CAS", one of the authors Stephane Bermon, said Tuesday.
Bernard Amsalem insists that the IAAF must protect hyperandrogenic women.
"These female athletes were born with these anomalies and they're already suffering as a result. If on top of that we ban them from all sporting competition it would be a double punishment."
The issue has become a minefield for the IAAF, which is due to meet in London next month to discuss the study's findings and present its next batch of evidence.
"Some people have even said that these athletes who are transgender are a separate category," says Hutchings, "in the same way as paralympic athletes who have one or two physical differences."
"Now nobody's suggesting they should have a paralympic category for these athletes but clearly if they are in a separate category then some conclusion has to be arrived at that is fair to all."
Tutsis and Hutus Practice the Multiplication of Love and Fishes
Global Sisters Report (GSR) || By Melanie Lidman || 03 July 2017
When Sr. Mary Rose Mukukibogo first approached women in Gisagara, southern Rwanda, about starting an agricultural association, they were furious. It was 1997, three years after the 100-day genocide in 1994 that killed more than a million people during the fighting and the chaos afterwards. Mukukibogo, a member of Les Soeurs Auxiliatrices (Helpers of the Holy Souls), remembers walking from house to house in the district near the southern city of Butare, asking them if they'd like to join a farming cooperative.
"They said to me, 'I don't understand how you can ask us to stand up,' " said Mukukibogo. "We have lost everyone. How can you ask us to stand?"
In 1994, Rwanda lost 13 percent of its population in the course of a single season, the result of a civil uprising between the Hutu, a peasant majority, and the Tutsi, the minority ruling class. After the genocide, infrastructure lay in ruins. The rural farmers, who had barely eked out a living before the killing, found themselves thrust deeper into poverty. Most men of working age had been killed, were imprisoned or fled to neighboring states as refugees, making economic recovery even more challenging.
"It was very difficult for them to do any type of activity, because their spirit was so low," recalled Mukukibogo, a genocide victim herself who lost multiple siblings in the genocide. "I started to accompany them to have hope in life."
Rwanda is a communal society, and farming associations have been a part of community life for hundreds of years, through "Ubudehe," or mutual field cultivation. Slowly, Mukukibogo built a group of genocide victims, all of whom had lost their husbands, to start farming together.
Charlotte Nyiromasuhuko, 58, was one of the first women to join, and today she is a respected leader within the group, divvying up jobs and overseeing the harvests. "I wanted to join a group to talk and move away from isolation," Nyiromasuhuko said, of the difficult period directly after the genocide. "I joined this association to move away from isolation and fight against the hard times."
After two years of working with just genocide victims, Mukukibogo challenged the women again, opening the farming association to those whose husbands were in prison for genocide crimes. This forced Hutu and Tutsi women together, just a few years after ethnic hatred between the two groups had boiled over into wanton killing.
Rwanda is a unique situation in that the perpetrators and the victims were forced, almost immediately after the genocide, to live side by side. Visit Rwanda today and it is impossible to tell who is Hutu and who is Tutsi. This is partly due to a Rwandan law that made talking about ethnicity illegal, and partly due to a countrywide desire to concentrate on the future and rebuild the Rwanda as a technology and innovation hub. But this process didn't happen overnight.
Sisters have been intimately involved with the healing and reconciliation process in Rwanda since the genocide, even when they were suffering from post-trauma themselves. Many of the sisters came from mixed Hutu-Tutsi congregations. Early on, they understood that offering communal support to both the perpetrators and the victims, at the same time, in the same groups, has a special value. Sometimes, the simple act of having daily interactions with the other side is as integral a part in the healing process as the therapy itself.
"At the beginning, there was fighting between the women, not physical, but with words," Mukukibogo recalled of the days in 1999 when Hutu women first began to attend the farming association meetings with Tutsi women.
"At the beginning there was a fear from each other," said Nyiromasuhuko, who lost her husband and multiple children during the genocide. "But once we started to talk, we were slowly, slowly, gaining trust. When the other members [wives of the genocide perpetrators] joined, the fear was diminishing as each other was sharing. The fear was moving out slowly until it was possible to be together."
"Before, we were very, very quiet," said Groleise Nyitegeba, 53, whose husband was imprisoned for genocide crimes. "We had anger, but slowly, slowly, we see how life has changed. Now I can dance, I can talk; neighbors say to me, 'What has happened to you?' Even families who lost their family members [as genocide victims] will talk to me now."
They christened their association "Dususuruke," which in the local language of Kinyarwanda means "warm solidarity."
"It was always easy to put people together in Rwanda [from the two ethnic groups]," said Mukukibogo. People were always together. The genocide happened because politics separated them."
"When they are together, it is easy to pass along this message of working together, because they see that by being together they have more power than when they are separated," she added.
In the beginning, the association focused on economic empowerment as a form of healing. They had vegetable gardens, potato fields, tomatoes, maize and beans, sown in neat lines in the fertile Rwandan soil. They did reconciliation work, but as time went on Mukukibogo also wanted to offer the women a more holistic approach to healing that would combine psychosocial support as well as economic opportunity.
Sr. Antoinette Gasibirege, also a member of the Holy Helper Sisters, discovered the Capacitar methodology while studying in Chicago. A genocide survivor herself, she found Capacitar, a mindfulness training that utilizes pressure points to release strong emotions, to be helpful in confronting trauma in her own life. Starting in 2006, she arranged for Capacitar International founder Pat Cane to come to Rwanda on a yearly basis to help train religious and lay people and to bring the method farther afield.
"We started with the religious [sisters], with the priests, and with people working with survivors," said Gasibirege. More than 40,000 people have taken part in her Capacitar training since 2006.
"There are not so many psychologists in Rwanda, and [professional treatment] is expensive," said Gasibirege. "Capacitar puts it in your hands, what you need to heal yourself."
Four different congregations in Rwanda use Capacitar on a regular basis, including the Medical Missionaries of Mary, the Little Sisters of Jesus, the Bernardine Sisters and St. Boniface Sisters. Other sisters, such as the Benebikira congregation, employ a "sister listener" approach, having sisters whose main ministry is simply to sit and listen to people, especially those overcoming the trauma of genocide.
Bernardine Sr. Donatille Mukurabiyiza trained under Gasibirege and has trained many women in the village of Kamonyi, where she is the local superior. She started with genocide survivors but now offers Capacitar training alongside vocational training in sewing or agriculture for anyone who wants to join.
"When people are together and you offer them the opportunity to express what they feel or think, you need that exchange," said Mukurabiyiza. "Each person needs to learn to accept each other and respect each other. After that period of exchange, they also have to think of a development activity instead of staying in suffering."
Combining psychological support with economic empowerment is an essential part of the healing process for people in rural Rwanda, the sisters say. No amount of psychosocial support can change the situation if people are still so impoverished they are worrying about their next meal.
Part of the Capacitar training, and also psychological support, is helping those emerging from trauma find ways to become economically stable. "You can have compassion without the motivation to do something, but now people have both the compassion and they take action," said Mukurabiyiza. She said the training has helped people discover awareness of their own needs and sensitivity towards the needs of others.
"People who are not genocide survivors are motivated to help others who are, especially during the memorial period," she said, referring to the period that starts on April 7 when the country marks 100 days of ceremonies and memorials. "For example, they try to help someone cultivate their field, rehabilitate their house or rebuild their fences; they really try to support others."
"To reach this level to be together and to trust each other, it was possible because the sisters were here to help us," said Gisagara association member Illuminiree Nyirautegeyimaha, 50. "If the sisters were not here, the association would not have started, and it would have taken us at least 10 years to make these connections. The sisters have used many approaches, like dialogue, prayer, taking time to think of the past, present and future, to give meaning to our lives," she said.
In 2010, Mukukibogo realized that as the members of the association were getting older, the physical farm work was becoming increasingly difficult. She organized for a government representative to come and teach the association about tilapia fish farming, which had the potential to be more lucrative with less physical labor. It has also enabled the members of the association to add an important protein source to their diets.
Each week before she visits the association, Mukukibogo takes orders from restaurants in the regional capital of Butare. Fish wasn't a big part of the local diet in the region, but restaurants are quickly finding it is a popular dish. Mukukibogo could sell more fish if she had a refrigerator and generator, but now she is limited and the association only harvests what has been pre-ordered.
On a harvest day in February, as the association members drained one of the four fish pools to fix leaks, members caught and bagged about 40 kilos of fish (about 88 pounds), which sell for 2,500 Rwandan francs ($3) per kilo.
"We were given the tools to help ourselves," adds Beretirida Nyambuga, 65, as she helps sort fish from the day's catch. "The Capacitar exercises build ourselves to fight against fear, against sorrow, so we can give of ourselves and grow our self-esteem."
Recently, genocide perpetrators have begun finishing their prison terms and are being released. The Dususuruke Association welcomes them as well.
"When they come from prison, they have fear about going everywhere," said Mukukibogo. "We want to put them in the association so they can do some work. From this process of reconciliation and building internal healing, they reach a new level of economy."
Six years ago, Jean Damascine Bizimana, 58, was released from prison for genocide crimes, and he came straight to the association to look for work. "There is a solidarity spirit here, so we are not isolated, we can be together with others, and talk freely without judgment," he said. "It has helped me to grow my economy; I am even able to pay school fees for my son, and I can pay health insurance." (Mandatory national insurance in Rwanda is $3.60 a year per person.)
At 52, when he was released from prison, Bizimana would have had to start his farm from scratch, a process that could have taken years before it was financially viable. By joining the farming association, he works the communal fish pools with the rest of the community and splits the proceeds.
"Also when I don't have the money for my son's school fees, they lend and help me; there is mutual spirit," said Bizimana. "Sometimes I even go to other [agricultural] associations and give advice. I say that being together is very important. This move from isolation takes time, but working in isolation makes it hard to make money."
Members of the Dususuruke Association are now taking on the role Mukukibogo filled all those years ago: visiting other farming associations. They go from group to group and share their experiences of how collective farming and psychological support have helped raise many in their community, from both sides of the bitter conflict, out of abject poverty.
"To touch the soil is internal healing," said Mukukibogo. "When you use physical energy, you drain the negative energy. And when you drain this negative energy, you are receiving fruit from the soil."
[Melanie Lidman is Middle East and Africa correspondent for Global Sisters Report based in Israel.]
Source: Global Sisters Report…
Cardinal Sarah against the Dictatorship of Noise
Crux || By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer || 27 June 2017
In a new book, Cardinal Robert Sarah warns against equating silence with simply staying quiet: Silence is the manifestation of a presence, "the most intense of all presences." The cardinal says modern man is capable of all sorts of noise, all sorts of wars, and so many solemn false statements, in an infernal chaos, because he has excluded God from his life.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, in his new book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, offers a profound examination of the silence that “leads us toward God and others so as to place ourselves humbly and generously at their service.”
The initial inspiration to write this book came from the Guinean cardinal’s visits with a young religious unable to speak due to the multiple sclerosis that eventually consumed his life. Theirs was a friendship that “was born in silence, it grew in silence, and it continues to exist in silence.”
This friendship also led to Sarah’s visit to the Grande Chartreuse, the principal monastery of the monks of the Carthusian Order. These two encounters, in addition to the Cardinal’s own experience as a great contemplative, motivated this treatise on the indispensable role of silence for the interior life.
It is basic Christian teaching that our purpose in life is to “know, love and serve God.” While God is always present, we seem to be having a harder time finding Him.
Sarah explains our challenge: “Modern man is capable of all sorts of noise, all sorts of wars, and so many solemn false statements, in an infernal chaos, because he has excluded God from his life, from his battles, and from his gargantuan ambition to transform the world for his selfish benefit alone.”
Instead, of throwing our hands up in the air because we are living during “the dictatorship of noise,” Sarah advises that “[n]othing will make us discover God better than His silence inscribed in the center of our being.”
The Power of Silence takes the form of points of reflection given by Sarah in response to questions and commentary posed by French journalist and author Nicolas Diat. In total, the book offers 365 points.
While not written in the form of daily reflections, that the number matches the days in a year cannot be lost on readers. Silence must be a part of our lives - each and every day.
We normally equate silence with simply staying quiet. At the supernatural level, however, “[s]ilence is not an absence. On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences.”
While recognizing that there are external situations that promote interior silence, Sarah explains that “[i]t is in the silence of humiliation and self-mortification, by quieting the turmoil of the flesh, by successfully taming the noisy images, by keeping at a distance the dreams, imaginations, and roaring of a world that is always in a whirl, in order to purify himself of all that ruins the soul and separates it from contemplation, that man makes himself capable of looking at God and loving him.”
Throughout the book, Sarah refers to the beauty of the silence of the monasteries where “men and women who enter into the silence offer themselves as a holocaust for their brethren.” But “[c]loisters are not the only places where we can seek God.”
Pointing to the exemplary lives of our contemporaries such as Saints Faustina Kowalska, Josemaria Escriva, Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul II, Sarah reminds us that “[i]t is up to each individual to place himself at the disposal of the silent God who awaits us in the deep desert of our heart by avoiding din and turmoil.”
As Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Sarah is head of the Vatican office in charge of most affairs related to liturgical practices and matters concerning the sacraments.
He explains that the sacraments, while having specific external signs, are actually founded upon silence. For example, although we hear the name of the Trinity in the sacrament of Baptism and the sound of water flow over the infant’s forehead, “we perceive nothing of this immersion into the interior life of the Trinity, grace, and creation which requires nothing less than the personal, almighty action of God.”
The same, Sarah notes, occurs during priestly ordination where in silence “a man becomes not only an alter Christus, another Christ, but much more: he is ipse Christus, Christ himself.”
And most obvious, although so easily forgotten or unfortunately dismissed, is the miracle of transubstantiation where bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ in “the utmost sacred silence.”
When explaining the connection between silence and the sacred, Sarah observes that “[s]acred silence is the only truly human and Christian reaction to God when he breaks into our lives.” Silence in the liturgy “is above all the positive attitude of someone who prepares to welcome God by listening.”
He continues by warning that “[w]ithout this contemplative spirit, the liturgy will remain an occasion for hateful divisions and ideological confrontations instead of being the place of our unity and of our communion in the Lord.”
Unlike many who are critical of the liturgical changes of our times, Cardinal Sarah expressly accompanies his observations with the deep and humble “desire to serve God” as well as his “submission and obedience to the supreme authority of the Church.”
So that there be no confusion, The Power of Silence must not be read as a Catholic justification to retreat into oneself for selfish reasons; a sort of Church-approved yoga.
Sarah aptly notes, “[t]here are souls who claim solitude so as to find themselves, and others to give themselves to God and to others.” Yes, it is time to “revolt against the dictatorship of noise.”
The Power of Silence is an encouraging reminder to the Church, Her priests and the faithful that “[o]nce we have acquired interior silence, we can transport it with us into the world to pray everywhere.”
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation.
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…
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