Tired of war, South Sudanese pray for latest peace deal

Tired of war, South Sudanese pray for latest peace deal

JUBA, South Sudan — During a recent Sunday service, Pastor Jok Chol led the congregation at his Pentecostal church to pray for a sustainable peace after President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the latest peace agreement in neighboring Sudan.

The two leaders signed an agreement in mid-September, hoping to end years of conflict.

“I want to rebuke the spirits of confusion in our leaders,” Chol prayed, amid cheers of “Amen” from hundreds of worshippers. “We thank God and pray that he touches the hearts of our leaders so that they can embrace the new peace agreement.”

During his sermon, Chol urged his congregants to have faith and hope and continue to pray for a sustainable peace. He said they should refuse to be divided by political leaders along ethnic lines.

“We are all children of God,” said Chol, 55, a father of three. “We should treat each other with the love of Jesus Christ. Please don’t do anything wrong because your leader has told you. Follow what the Bible says and you will be blessed.”

Chol and his congregants are among thousands of Southern Sudanese gathering in churches and various mosques across major cities and refugee camps to pray for their country, which has been embroiled in civil war since 2013.

South Sudan, red, in central Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

South Sudan erupted into civil war after a power struggle ensued between Kiir and Machar. The conflict spread along ethnic lines, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing millions of others internally and outside the border. The economy has collapsed as a result of the ongoing war. Half of the remaining population of 12 million faces food shortages.

The latest treaty is the second attempt for this young nation to find peace. South Sudan became officially independent from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, civil war broke out after Kiir fired Machar as his deputy, leading to clashes between supporters of the two leaders.

A previous peace deal in 2016 tried to bring warring sides together so they could find a permanent solution. But fighting broke out in the capital city of Juba a few months later when Machar had returned from exile to become Kiir’s vice president as outlined in the peace agreement.

Under the new power-sharing arrangement Machar will once again be Kiir’s vice president.

Religious leaders such as Chol are optimistic that the latest peace agreement will hold up. They believe it is an answered prayer for thousands of faithful.

“I have hope in the new peace agreement,” said Bishop Emmanuel Murye of Episcopal Church in South Sudan. “We have been praying for peace to return to the country and we are happy that our leaders are committed to bring peace.”

Murye has been holding evangelistic meetings in refugee camps in Uganda, where more than 1 million South Sudanese have taken refuge. He said people in the camps have been praying for leaders to embrace the new deal.

“People want to come back home,” he said. “They are tired of staying in the camp. Life in the camp is not easy because there is no food to eat and children are not going to school. They have been praying for peace and they believe this is an answered prayer.”

But others still doubt the new peace deal.

South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, center, and opposition leader Riek Machar, right, shake hands during peace talks at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 21, 2018. The two leaders signed an agreement in mid-September. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Fighting broke out in the country, killing 18 civilians, two days after the warring sides signed the latest agreement to end the civil war. Kiir and Machar supporters blamed each other for the attacks.

Religion has played a major role in South Sudan’s conflicts.

According to a recent report by Pew Research Center, Christians make up about 60 percent of the population of South Sudan, followed by 33 percent who are followers of African traditional religions. Six percent are Muslim.

The war for South Sudanese independence was often framed in religious terms — pitting Christians and followers of traditional religions against the Muslim leaders of Sudan.

Achol Garang, a catechist at the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda, said God was punishing her country for its sins. She said political leaders in South Sudan used religion as a tool to fight for independence from Sudan.

“They called themselves Christian liberators when they were fighting and promised to take us to the promised land of self-government,” said Garang, 45, a mother of five who fled Yei town in southwest South Sudan in 2015. “They lied to God and that’s the reason we are suffering now. We should just continue to pray for forgiveness of sins. We will get the answer one day.”

The South Sudanese government has accused church leaders of promoting violence among congregants by dividing them along ethnic lines.

The East Africa nation has two major tribes that have been involved in the civil war. People from Dinka tribe are loyal to Kiir, while people from Nuer tribe are led by Machar.

Religious leaders agree there has been ethnic conflict. But they say the church still remains strong.

“While individual clergy may have their own political sympathies, and while pastors on the ground continue to empathize with their local flock, the churches as bodies have remained united in calling and for an end to the killing, a peaceful resolution through dialogue, peace and reconciliation — in some cases at great personal risk,” John Ashworth, who has advised Catholic bishops and other church leaders in South Sudan, told Inter Press Service in Juba.

Chol, the Pentecostal pastor, believes the country has now found new peace after prayers.

“We must have faith that we have already found peace,” he said. “God has promised that he will never abandon his children, and we are happy he has answered our prayers.”

Christian Surgeon who recites Bible and Quran to patients wins UN award

Christian Surgeon who recites Bible and Quran to patients wins UN award

Video Courtesy of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency


NAIROBI, Kenya  – Dr. Evan Atar Adaha knows that faith matters to many of his patients at the Maban Referral Hospital in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.

So, before administering the anesthetic for surgery, he recites verses from the Bible or the Quran with patients. Then the 52-year-old surgeon, who is Roman Catholic, follows with a short prayer — according to the patient’s faith — before taking up his surgical knife.

“My faith contributes a lot to my work,” said the surgeon, who is known simply as Atar. “I am inspired by a belief that we are all from one God. As we work, I keep telling my colleagues that we are one family and we must save lives.”

Atar is the only surgeon in Maban Referral Hospital. For more than two decades he has provided medical services to people fleeing war and persecution in Sudan and South Sudan.

Along with his surgical duties, he can also be found pushing the operating table, playing with a newborn or even fixing a light.

On Sundays, he relaxes by going to church.

For his service to refugees, the doctor has been named the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2018 Nansen Award winner. He received the award Oct. 1 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr. Evan Atar Adaha accepts the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award from UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Oct. 1, 2018. Atar runs the only functional hospital in Upper Nile State, South Sudan, where he and his team carry out an average of 58 operations per week with limited supplies and equipment. For more than 60 years, UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award has recognized those who show outstanding dedication to the refugee cause. © UNHCR/Mark Henley

“Dr. Atar’s work through decades of civil war and conflict is a shining example of profound humanity and selflessness,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, in a statement. “Through his tireless efforts, thousands of lives have been saved, and countless men, women, and children provided with a new chance to rebuild the future.”

Named after Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer and humanitarian, the award honors extraordinary service to refugees, displaced people and the stateless. According to the UNHCR website, the award includes $150,000 to fund a project designed in tandem with the agency.

“I am humbled by this award. It comes with some resources. We will use them to meet our next challenges,” said Atar, who is also the medical director in the 120-bed hospital, located about 600 kilometers southeast of the South Sudan capital, Juba.

Over the years, his hospital — which handles all manner of medical problems, including gunshot wounds, malaria and cesarean sections — has become a lifesaver for more than 200,000 people in the troubled region. Of these, 140,000 are refugees who fled violence in Sudan’s Blue Nile region.

Originally from Torit town in southern South Sudan, Atar studied medicine in Khartoum and later practiced in Egypt. In 1997, he moved to Kurmuk in Blue Nile State at the height of a Sudanese civil war. Amid falling bombs and intense fighting between government forces and rebels, he ran a health center that treated both civilians and fighters.

Increased bombing by the Sudanese air force in 2011 forced Atar and his team to flee with thousands of refugees to Maban, where he continued providing similar services.

“We started from nothing. At one time I had to bring down a door for use as an operating table,” he said.

Dr. Evan Atar Adaha accepts the 2018 Nansen Refugee Award on Oct. 1, 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland. © UNHCR/Mark Henley

The health center eventually grew into a hospital, with assistance from the UNHCR and from Samaritan’s Purse, the international evangelical relief organization run by Franklin Graham. “We still are trying to see how we can expand the hospital to offer more services to the people.”

In South Sudan, health care is often is short supply. There are serious shortages of drugs, equipment and skilled medical personnel. Armed groups also loot medical facilities and have kidnapped, detained and killed doctors and nurses.

When the country became independent in 2011, there were 120 doctors and 100 nurses serving a population of 12 million, according to UNHCR. In Maban, Atar has a 53-member staff, including three other doctors — two from Kenya and one from Uganda.

Atar’s wife and three children live in Nairobi. He sees them only a few times a year.

Most of his time is consumed with keeping the hospital running. Atar says his staff needs more training and equipment. And there’s never enough room for patients.

The hospital’s maternity ward has 30 beds, said Atar. He’d like to see that number doubled. At times, he said, there’s not enough room and maternity patients have to sleep on the floor.

“We still face many challenges,” said Atar.

South African artist talks art, apartheid with US students

South African artist talks art, apartheid with US students

South African artist Thokozani Mthiyane, center, poses with students from the Ember Charter School in Brooklyn, N.Y. after an art workshop in Johannesburg on Sept. 29, 2018. Dozens of students from a Brooklyn charter school are visiting South Africa to explore African cultures and South Africa’s journey from racial tension to reconciliation. (AP Photo/Christopher Torchia) (AP Photo/Christopher Torchia)

South African artist Thokozani Mthiyane told dozens of children from a Brooklyn school to close their eyes and imagine “the worst scenario that you can.”

Then he told his hushed audience at a Johannesburg art gallery to “find a way out,” through imagined trees and sky, to “where we would like to be.”

That was his enigmatic answer to a question about why he is an artist, delivered during a workshop for visiting American students from low-income families at the Ember Charter School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Bed-Stuy is known for its African-American heritage, and the trip is a chance to expose the children to African cultures and South Africa’s journey from racial tension to reconciliation.

The children also visited the Constitutional Court building, constructed in part from bricks that were originally part of a prison during white minority rule known as apartheid.

“We have an opportunity to explode their minds,” said school founder Rafiq Kalam Id-Din.

Mthiyane told the dozens of children, many in their early teens, about his eclectic influences — artists Mark Rothko and Jean-Michel Basquiat, poet Langston Hughes — and encouraged them to find inspiration within themselves.

“How do you feel?” he asked after a drawing exercise.

“It made me feel excited to see what the outcome would be,” one student said to applause.

A student asked: “Did you live through apartheid and if so, what was that like?”

Yes, Mthiyane replied. He said the system that ended in 1994 with all-race elections made him ask “taboo” questions about why it existed.

Apartheid, he said, was bad not just for the people it ostracized but also for “the person who’s exercising that power over you.”

Video Courtesy of Art Eye Gallery

Uganda’s faith leaders wade into country’s alarming drug crisis

Uganda’s faith leaders wade into country’s alarming drug crisis

Youth and young men live, beg and use drugs on the streets of Kampala, Uganda, on May 2, 2018. Drug abuse is prevalent in the homeless street community. RNS photo by Doreen Ajiambo

KAMPALA, Uganda  — As dawn breaks in this bustling capital city of 1.5 million people, Pastor Moses Mugisa treks along a main road, carrying his Bible as he heads to the streets to meet young people abusing drugs.

In the Wakiso district near the capital, youths meet in various dens to smoke marijuana and shisha and to drink illicit alcohol. Along the street corners of other slums, young men and women gather in abandoned buildings and rubbish dumps.

“These young people smoke and sniff everything,” said Mugisa, 52. “The drugs turn them into near-zombies. But we are helping them to recover from the abuse.”

Mugisa, who ministers at Redeemed Church of God in Wakiso, said he was also a drug addict before he was saved by God. He is now giving moral support to people with substance abuse issues, trying to rehabilitate them and ensure they are as healthy as possible under the tough circumstances.

“I talk to them about my past experience and also encourage them to stop abusing drugs and go to rehab,” he said, reflecting on his past life. “We pray together because I understand this is more of spiritual healing than physical.”

Drug and alcohol abuse in this East African nation has affected thousands. Uganda has one of the highest per-capita rates of alcohol consumption in sub-Saharan Africa, and 9.8 percent of adults have an alcohol-use-related disorder, according to recent studies cited by the National Institutes of Health. A study of 12- to 24-year-olds in northern and central Uganda showed 70 percent had used substances of abuse and more than a third used them regularly.

Uganda, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

The situation has prompted faith leaders in the country to intervene, with many urging the government to partner with the church to combat drug abuse among youths.

The Rev. Robert Muhiirwa of Fort Portal Catholic Diocese in Kampala recently said the church is battling drug abuse among youths, but he advised the government to partner with church-allied organizations or foundations to create awareness and treat addicts.

“It’s more worrying that we have lost many lives and resourceful professionals because of alcohol and drugs,” he said when he visited a rehabilitation center allied to the Catholic Church at Wakiso this month. The center serves at least 1,200 youths. “I urge the government to partner with us so that we can create awareness among our youths.”

In 2016, Ugandan lawmakers proposed new regulations on alcohol sales, including limits on bars’ opening hours. The measure has not passed, although Uganda does plan next year to ban the sale of sachet alcohol, sold in small plastic pouches.

Meanwhile, many addicts in Kampala and other cities across the country still walk the streets and alleys, scavenging for anything they can turn into cash and begging for meals.

Frank Mutebi, 21, said he didn’t know what he was getting into when he started using drugs and he wishes he had never tried them.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” he said, referring to his life on the streets. “I feel very high when I’m drinking alcohol and smoking bhang. It makes me complete and I can think properly like others. But it’s not something I like.”

Mutebi now wants to go to rehab but he said it was expensive for his parents.

A Ugandan youth begs on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, on Jan. 10, 2018. He came to Kenya in 2013 seeking work, but he ended up on the streets due to drug abuse. RNS photo by Doreen Ajiambo

Dr. David Basangwa, a psychiatrist in Kampala, said the rate of youths abusing drugs, especially illicit alcohol, is alarming. Most of the youths seeking treatment at his center are drug addicts who are warned of serious effects, he said.

“Abusing drugs of any kind can result in death from suffocation caused by the chemical entering the lungs and the central nervous system,” he said. “Youths should desist from taking alcohol and other drug abuse because it risks their lives.”

Meanwhile, Mugisa, the church pastor, said he will continue to save lives of drug addicts, but he urged the government to make treatment free for anyone willing to go to a rehab center.

“The problem is money,” he said. “Many youths are willing to go to rehab but they are told to pay for the services. It’s very expensive for their parents. I want to urge the government to make it free so that we can save many lives on the streets.”

For deaf Tanzanians, places to worship are rare

For deaf Tanzanians, places to worship are rare

A preacher delivers the sermon with sign language during a service at Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam. Video screenshot

BAGAMOYO, Tanzania  — On a recent Sunday morning, Isaac Mbaga met with two friends to worship in his house in this town on the east side of the country’s major port city, Dar es Salaam.

As they began their worship service with songs, the three — all of whom are deaf — danced and signed along to the songs.

Soon, they sat and opened their Bibles and read from the Gospel of Matthew: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Then, Mbaga asked his fellow worshippers in sign language about the meaning of the Scripture. They looked at each other and replied that they did not understand the scriptural message.

“This is the problem we have as deaf people,” said Mbaga, 33, with the help of a sign language interpreter. “We desire to know the Word of God, but we have nobody to help us. We have no pastors and churches around here for deaf people.”

Mbaga and his colleagues are among many deaf Tanzanians who have few options for worship. They say there is only one church nearby where deaf people can worship through sign language interpreters.

Many others across the country who cannot make their way to the church are left to read the Bible on their own to meet their spiritual needs.

Tanzania, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

“These deaf people are very frustrated because they can’t find anywhere to worship God,” said evangelist Mary Temba, who is also deaf. “We have very few churches in the country where deaf people can go and worship. We have only one church in Dar es Salaam, and you need to travel over 300 miles to find another church. In fact, we have only two active churches where deaf people can worship.”

Temba, who oversees several deaf churches in Tanzania and in other East African nations, said churches, mosques and other places of worship in the country are unwelcoming to people with hearing disabilities.

“They really don’t care if deaf people exist in their churches or mosques,” Temba said at her home in Bagamoyo. “These places of worship have no special services for people with hearing disabilities, therefore leaving them out from active worship. This is very unfair.”

Seleman Munisi, who is deaf, has attended the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church at Bago village in Bagamoyo.

Throughout praise and worship time, Munisi danced with other worshippers and often tapped the edge of a folded fist to an open palm to indicate “Amen.”

When the pastor took to the podium to bring the message of the day, Munisi sat attentively but struggled to follow the preaching and prayers.

“I enjoyed the praise and worship service, but I didn’t hear the Word of God,” said Munisi, who is 25. “I love Jesus but I have nowhere I can go and worship. It’s the reason I come here and worship with others. I have no fare to travel to Dar es Salaam and worship with my colleagues with the help of a sign language interpreter.”

The National Bureau of Statistics Disability Survey Report of 2008 showed deafness is Tanzania’s third-most-prevalent form of disability. The number of deaf people was 607,618 in 2008 when the population of the country at the time was 42 million. The population currently stands at 56 million.

The praise team performs at Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam. Video screenshot

At the Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam, hundreds of deaf worshippers filled the sanctuary while others stood outside, trying to catch a glimpse through the windows during a recent church service.

The church for the deaf was founded with a group of pastors from Kenya and Uganda when they realized that there was a dire need in Tanzania. The church now has more than 700 congregants.

“We have a problem here but we are going to open more branches. We have realized that the use of sign language has helped deaf people to accept Christ and even live better lives. They are confident and they now feel loved,” said Joseph Hiza, the church’s general secretary.

Church member Agnes Salome agreed. “I’m very happy nowadays because I can worship God,” Salome said through a sign language interpreter. “I can comfortably follow the preaching by the evangelist. The worship service is great and we sing in sign language.”

Others deaf Tanzanians hope to have the same experience in the future.

“We want to worship God like other people because it’s our basic right,” said Mbaga. “I want to feel satisfied with God while I worship.”

Jazz isn’t dead: it’s just moved to new venues

Jazz isn’t dead: it’s just moved to new venues

File 20180919 158228 1y01ijl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

South African rising jazz star, Thabang Tabane. Lidudumalingani Mqombothi

When, a few weeks back, Johannesburg’s largest jazz venue, The Orbit, posted a crowd-funding appeal to stay afloat it prompted the usual flurry of concern that the genre might be on its deathbed.

That’s nothing new. Nearly half a century ago rock musician and musical maverick Frank Zappa’s “Be-Bop Tango” (1973) first asserted that jazz wasn’t dead, but just smelled funny. Zappa’s track alluded to debates about the impact of the then revolutionary jazz style of bebop after World War II.

But the question also threaded through commentary on “cool” jazz, on the demise of British “trad” jazz under the assault of pop groups such as the Beatles, on “smooth” jazz, on Wynton Marsalis’s jazz neoclassicism and much more. Now that hip-hop has become the unchallenged behemoth of the US music industry, it’s being heard again.

But the music industry now occupies a new, digital landscape, and the “Is jazz dead?” debate has several – not just one – aspects. The statistics tell us less than half of the story.

Health of a genre

First, the demise or rise of an individual venue tells us very little about the health of a genre. Even when The Orbit was flourishing in 2015, its owners were voluble about the difficulties of maintaining a big, double-decker space that needed to fill every night to cover its costs.

In a country such as South Africa only a tiny minority of a population far smaller than that of the US have disposable income to spend on high-priced clubs. Jazz is only one music niche among many (the biggest by far is gospel), so devising the right business plan is a conundrum many venues have failed to solve.

Second, assessments of the health of any genre depend on how you define that genre. Worldwide, what is defined as jazz by commercial analysts may not coincide with the definitions of consumers. A case in point is the landslide success of what the analysts may define as crossover artists, such as pianist Robert Glasper, or hip-hop artists such as the award-winning Kendrick Lamar, whose sound is shaped by the inputs of multiple jazz musicians, including saxophonist Kamasi Washington (and as of March 2018 veteran pianist Herbie Hancock) – but the jazz that fans hear in this music is not recorded in the statistics.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar got help from his jazz friends.

Third, international comparisons based on the fortunes of, say pop singer Ed Sheeran’s multimillion selling “÷” (pronounced “divide”) as compared to any jazz album fail to compare like with like. The business model for the music of pop artists such as Sheeran is based on fast, high-volume sales shortly after release. It was the fastest selling album ever by a solo male artist – 672,000 in its first week of release in March 2017. It sold 2.7 million in 2017.

John Coltrane’s “Both Directions at Once”, which was released earlier this year half a century after the saxophonist’s death, will sell far fewer copies immediately. But it will likely continue selling, in some format or on some platform or other, for a further 50 years or more.

Fourth, the technology and value chain of the music industry have transformed over the past decade. Intermediaries have been removed from the supply chain. Digital downloads and more recently streaming have sidelined the major record labels as sources of music. What they sell, and the official figures they provide, are a fraction of the music that is consumed.

It’s easier for smaller music niches to thrive. Compact, low-cost recording technology allows for self-publishing independent of labels, and those products can reach global buyers online. The detail of most of this activity, however – and of what’s happening in the growing arena of jazz vinyl – is far below the radar of those collecting data on industry trends. South Africa has been a fast follower in this movement, with the shift to streaming proceeding apace.

South African jazz artists are now self-publishing their music at an increasing and unprecedented rate. The music is original and often contemptuous of commercial genre marketing categories.

South African experimental composer, Gabi Motuba. Delwyn Verasamy/Mail & Guardian

Music writer

Over the past few months alone, my work as a music writer has brought me flurry of new releases. These have included a piano trio outing from Bokani Dyer, an Argentinian/South African collaboration from bassist Ariel Zamonsky, a vocal/string quartet song series from avant-garde composer Gabi Motuba, explorations of rhythm patterns from Norway-based Cape Town drummer Claude Cozens, the debut of young Thabang Tabane, who plays the indigenous South African malombo style of jazz, and the third album from Durban-based pianist Sibu Masiloane. That isn’t, by any means, everything that has been released during the period.

‘We Will Be Home’ by Tumi Mogorosi and Gabi Motuba.

All these artists find audiences when they play, and those audiences are overwhelmingly young. As well as at comfortable metropolitan jazz clubs, there are now events at more informal, less expensive venues. In addition, audiences are growing for events around the discourses of jazz, such as the current series of Johannesburg discussions on jazz photography themed around the exhibition of photographer Siphiwe Mhlambi.

For a musician anywhere, surviving and prospering within the genre called jazz has never been easy, and it still isn’t. But the story is not summed up by the figures cited in international media commentaries.

Jazz author Stuart Nicholson’s 2005 book on the US scene posed the question differently: Is jazz dead? Or has it moved to a new address? To which the answers are: no, yes – and one of those addresses is definitely South Africa.The Conversation

Gwen Ansell, Associate of the Gordon Institute for Business Science, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. .