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. 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
KAMPALA, Uganda (RNS) – On a recent Sunday morning, hundreds of worshippers gathered at Jehovah Pentecostal Church in Kisenyi, a slum on the outskirts of Kampala, to pray against their government’s intensifying crackdown against opposition politicians, journalists and supporters.
Pastor David Mukasa condemned, in particular, the brutal treatment of Ugandan lawmaker and popular Afropop singer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, who had been detained by the government and allegedly tortured before seeking medical help in the United States last week.
“I’m very deeply concerned about the brutal torture inflicted on the people of Uganda including (Bobi Wine),” he said. “This shows how our leaders are merciless and inhuman(e). We need God to save our country from such leadership.”
But Mukasa could have added religious leaders to the list of those caught up in the crackdown. Uganda’s government is trying to prevent faith groups from becoming another voice in the country to speak out against President Yoweri Museveni’s human rights violations.
Last month, Museveni’s aides warned religious leaders not to interfere with government matters.
“They should leave the matters to the police, the army and other security organs,” said Persis Namuganza, state minister for lands. “If religious leaders have started investigating how tension rose on the eve of the by-election, then what will police, the army and other security organs commissioned for crime investigation do?”
Earlier this year, after religious leaders criticized the constitutional amendment that allows Museveni, 73, to rule for life, Museveni warned religious leaders.
“The religious leaders have been provoking us and me in particular. It should stop,” he said in February while commissioning a new chapel in western Uganda. “Instead of working for the independence of Africa, they are always in cahoots with foreigners – encouraging the latter to meddle in our affairs. I don’t want people to lecture me about what to do for Uganda.”
Worshippers attend a Pentecostal church service in Eastern Uganda, near the border with Kenya, on July 21, 2018. RNS photo by Doreen Ajiambo
Last month, while campaigning for a parliamentary by-election, Wine was allegedly detained and tortured by armed forces on grounds of illegal possession of firearms. Observers said he was targeted because of his harsh criticism of Museveni.
“They pulled my manhood and squeezed my testicles while punching me with objects I didn’t see,” Wine said in a statement from the United States. “They wrapped me in a thick piece of cloth and bundled me into a vehicle and they did to me unspeakable things in that vehicle.”
Rights groups have long accused Uganda’s leaders of detaining opposition figures without legal justification, intimidation of the country’s media, beatings and other forms of torture by security personnel to help Museveni consolidate his power. Before ascending to power in 1986, Museveni had led a bloody civil war for six years that left thousands dead.
Faith leaders who criticize the president face threats of intimidation and violence.
“We are afraid to speak our minds or protest. If you speak bad things about the government then you are arrested. If you protest you are shot dead by police. Only God can save Uganda. We need to keep on praying,” said Richard Mayega, a student at Makerere University in Kampala.
The Uganda Joint Christian Council has called for the establishment of an independent panel of inquiry by Parliament to investigate the recent violence and other cases where citizens have been arrested and tortured without trial.
“The truth regarding what sparked off the violence on the eve of the by-election can only be established by an independent panel of inquiry established by the Parliament of Uganda or through a judicial process presided over by the ordinary courts of law,” the Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Constantine Mbonabingi, executive secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council, told the press.
The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda also condemned the violence and urged Museveni to respect the law of the country and tolerate those with different political orientations.
“We should all remember that violence begets violence and it is ultimately a lose-lose situation for all parties,” the group said last week. “The government should ensure that the members of Parliament, their supporters and other persons arrested during the by-election are treated with dignity in accordance with their rights and that they access justice through open courts of law.”
Mukasa also said Museveni was acting dishonestly. “We love our country, but the president should follow the law,” he said. “We don’t want to see our people being killed by our own security officers and detained without trial. We don’t want more blood to be shed.”