Kenyan Methodists defy ban on campaigning at church, saying ‘humans are political’

Kenyan Methodists defy ban on campaigning at church, saying ‘humans are political’

Kenya, in red, located in eastern Africa. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Some churches in Kenya have barred politicians from addressing their congregations, saying campaigning during services disrespects the sanctity of worship.

The national Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches have all issued bans, as many of the politicians begin early stumping for next year’s general elections. The Methodist Church, however, is keeping the church doors open for all.

The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, has said his church is not dissenting from the effort but is taking a different approach. The bishop said shutting the doors to politicians would mean discriminating against some of its members.

“The church is for all people,” Ntombura told Religion News Service in a telephone interview. “Human beings are political, so there is nothing wrong with inviting the politicians in church.”

According to the bishop, congregations need to hear the views of politicians on issues of national interest, such as the sharing of resources. In the past, Ntombura said, the church has invited other experts to speak to congregations on important matters, and politicians are no different.

“Some of the politicians are our pastors,” said Ntombura.

The Rev. Joseph Ntombura, with microphone, presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Kenya, prays over former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, left, in Nov. 2015. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Kenya is about 85% Christian. About 33% of that group are Protestants and 20.6% are Catholic. The rest belong to evangelical, Pentecostal and African denominations. Muslims make up 11%  of  the population.

In issuing the bans on politicking in church, denominations have said they feared that church services would become campaign rallies and that candidates would use language bordering on hate speech in an attempt to win votes or sway the views of congregations. In the past, politicians hijacked church services to sell their agendas or criticize their opponents. Some have appeared in the churches with huge sums of money as offerings or as funds for church projects.

The no-politicking effort gained momentum this month when Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, the Anglican primate of Kenya, announced his church’s ban.

“Everyone is welcome in the churches, but we have the pews and the pulpit,” said Ole Sapit on Sept. 12, during the ordination of Kenya’s first Anglican woman bishop. “The pulpit is for the clergy and the pews for everyone who comes to worship.”

On Sept. 15, the Roman Catholic bishops said their places of worship and liturgy were sacred and were not political arenas. They urged politicians to attend Mass just like any other worshippers.

Analysts say the churches are seeking to reclaim their position as “honest arbitrators” in a country where elections often generate violent conflicts.

The most deadly came in December 2007 and January 2008, when two months of ethnic fighting left at least 1,000 people dead and more than 600,000 displaced from their homes. Among them, 30 people, mainly ethnic Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe, were burnt alive in an Assemblies of God church in Kiambaa Village in Eldoret.

Henry Njagi, program and information manager at the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said resistance to church guidelines on political speech risks a repeat of the events of 2008.

“When things went wrong, they turned around and accused the church of being silent and abandoning Kenyans,” said Njagi. “So right now is a call on political actors, aspirants and other stakeholders to listen to the church … and stop toxic politicking.”

Though the politicians have not been as present at mosques, Muslim leaders say they are supporting the ban on toxic politicking in the churches.

“I support the Christian leaders. Such a ban is long overdue,” said Sheikh Hassan Ole Naado, national chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

He added that Muslims were not facing the issue at the moment.

“When you go to a place of worship, you know what you are supposed to do. They are taking advantage of people who are gathered for worship. It should not happen in the first place,” said Ole Naado.

 

Help And Hope For Haiti: An Interview with Fr. Joseph Philippe

Help And Hope For Haiti: An Interview with Fr. Joseph Philippe

Haiti is one of the most important nations in world history because it was the first to defeat the French Empire under Napoleon, the first group of enslaved Africans to free themselves from slavery, and inspired the world to advocate for the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

But Haiti has suffered greatly from economic oppression, political corruption, and most of all natural disasters especially in recent years. In the Summer of 2021 Haiti experienced the assassination of their president, one of the largest earthquakes on record, and another hurricane all which devastated the people of the country.

But there is hope and help for Haiti. One of the people doing tremendous work not only in the aftermath of natural disasters, but daily, is Father Joseph Philippe. UrbanFaith sat down with this incredible man who has founded and led multiple organizations that are building up Haiti to talk about the needs today and his ongoing work to transform his home country. Full interview is above, information on how to support his organizations and Haiti relief are below.

Fr. Joseph Philippe is a Haitian born Catholic priest who has founded multiple organizations over 35 years that are dedicated to building up Haiti for the long term. The Association of the Peasants of Fondwa (APF), empowers Haitian peasants and farmers at the grassroots level and creates Local Development Committees which help them to build up their community, maintain their natural resources, and organize together to build their local economy. Fonkoze is a microfinance bank that is dedicated to helping Haitians lift themselves out of poverty and has impacted thousands of families and millions of people over its existence. Sisters of Saint Anthony of Fondwa is a nuns organization that helps support the community of Fondwa, and University of Fondwa is a fully functional university which provides college and vocational education to students across Haiti with a goal of building up the 572 communities that make up Haiti over time. The websites are apfhaiti.org, fonkoze.org, and ufondwa.org.

For short term relief:

People can make their check at the order of APF ( Asosyasyon Peyizan Fondwa) and mail it for us to:

Industrial  Bank

C/O Sabrina Brice

382 125th St.

New York, NY 10027

This money is going to be used for

1)Temporary job (Cash for work)

2) Housing (repair and rebuilding)

3) Access to basic Health care

4) Access to water ( assessment, basic needs, replacement of destroyed water tank and repair)

SLAIN HAITIAN PRESIDENT FACED CALLS FOR RESIGNATION, SUSTAINED MASS PROTESTS BEFORE KILLING

SLAIN HAITIAN PRESIDENT FACED CALLS FOR RESIGNATION, SUSTAINED MASS PROTESTS BEFORE KILLING

Presidential guards patrol the entrance to the residence of late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 7, 2021. Moïse was assassinated there early that morning. AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn
Tamanisha John, Florida International University

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in the early morning hours of July 7, 2021, in a brazen attack on his private home outside Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Moïse’s wife was also shot in the assault that killed her husband. The assailants have not been identified, and Haiti’s prime minister reports he is running the country.

Moïse’s assassination ended a four-and-a-half-year presidency that plunged the already troubled nation deeper into crisis.

A political novice

Jovenel Moïse, 53, was born in 1968, meaning that he grew up under the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Like most Haitians today, he lived through turbulent times – not only dictators but also coups and widespread violence, including political assassinations.

Moïse, a businessman turned president, made his way into politics using political connections that stemmed from the business world. Initially he invested in automobile-related businesses, primarily in the north of Haiti, where he was born. Eventually, he ultimately landed in the agricultural sector – a big piece of the economy in Haiti, where many people farm.

Valerie Baeriswyl / AFP via Getty Images
The late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in November 2019. Jovenel at a podium with men sitting behind him

In 2014, Moïse’s agricultural finance company Agritrans launched an organic banana plantation, in part with state loans. Its creation displaced hundreds of peasant farmers, who received minimal compensation.

But the business brought Moïse prominence. It was as a famed banana exporter that Moïse met then-Haitian President Michel Martelly in 2014. Though he had no political experience, Moïse became Martelly’s hand-picked successor in Haiti’s next election.

Martelly was deeply unpopular by the end of his term, but party leaders assumed that Moïse would be more welcomed given his relatable background in farming.

A divisive and unstable presidency

Instead, Moïse barely eked out a win in a November 2016 election that fewer than 12% of Haitians voted in. His meager electoral victory came after two years of delayed votes and confirmed electoral fraud by Martelly’s government.

In 2017, Moïse’s first year in office, the Haitian Senate issued a report accusing him of embezzling at least US$700,000 of public money from an infrastructure development fund called PetroCaribe to his banana business.

Protesters flooded into the streets crying “Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a?” – “where is the PetroCaribe money?”

Protests signs seen laying on the ground, saying 'Jovenel must go' in English and Creole
Protest signs in Port-au-Prince in March 2021 before a protest to denounce Moïse’s efforts to stay in office past his term. Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP via Getty Images

Lacking the trust of the Haitian people, Moïse relied on hard power to remain in office.

He created a kind of police state in Haiti, reviving the national army two decades after it was disbanded and creating a domestic intelligence agency with surveillance powers.

Since early last year, Moïse had been ruling by decree. He effectively shuttered the Haitian legislature by refusing to hold parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2020 and summarily dismissed all of the country’s elected mayors in July 2020, when their terms expired.

Sustained protests – over gas shortages and blackouts, fiscal austerity that has caused rapid inflation and deteriorating living conditions, and gang attacks that have killed several hundred, among other issues – were a hallmark of Moïse’s tenure.

Existing street protests exploded in early 2021 after Moïse refused to hold a presidential election and step down when his four-year term ended in Feburary. Instead, he claimed his term would end one year later, in February 2022, because Haiti’s 2016 election was postponed.

Before his death, Moïse planned to change the Haitian Constitution to strengthen the powers of the presidency and prolong his administration.

Memories of a dictatorship

For months before his assassination, Haitian protesters had been demanding Moïse’s resignation.

For many Haitians, Moïse’s undemocratic power grabs recall the 30-year, U.S.-backed dictatorships of François Duvalier, known as “Papa Doc,” and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Black-and-white image of François Duvalier, in a suit, and his wife, in a dress, surrounded by watchful men
François Duvalier with bodyguards and his wife, Simone, after they voted in Haiti’s 1957 presidential election, in which Duvalier was a leading candidate. AFP via Getty Images

Both Papa Doc and Baby Doc relied on murdering and brutalizing Haitians to remain in power, with the unspoken approval of Western political interests in Haiti. Working with the Duvaliers, U.S. manufacturers in Haiti ensured that their investments were profitable by pushing for wages to remain low and working conditions to remain poor.

When mounting Haitian protests ended the regime in 1986, Baby Doc fled the country. The Duvaliers had enriched themselves, but Haiti was left in economic collapse and social ruin.

The 1987 Haitian Constitution that Moïse sought to change was written soon after to ensure that Haiti would never slide back into dictatorship.

Beyond Moïse’s use of state violence to suppress opposition, anti-Moïse protesters before his killing pointed out another similarity with the Duvalier era: the United States’ support.

In March, the U.S. State Department announced that it supported Moïse’s decision to remain in office until 2022, to give the crisis-stricken country time to “elect their leaders and restore Haiti’s democratic institutions.”

That stance – which echoes that of Western-dominated international organizations that hold substantial sway in Haiti, such as the Organization of American States – sustained what was left of Moïse’s legitimacy to remain president.

Crowd in the street under smoky skies hold up a sign with U.S., Canadian and other foreign flags
Protesters in Port-au-Prince in 2019 highlight the role of foreign governments in supporting President Jovenel Moïse, who was accused of corruption. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Haitians unhappy with continued American support for their embattled president held numerous demonstrations outside the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, while Haitian Americans in the U.S. protested outside the Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

From its invasion and military occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 to its support of the Duvalier regime, the U.S. has played a major role in destabilizing Haiti.

Ever since the devastating Haitian earthquake of 2010, international organizations like the United Nations and nonprofits like the American Red Cross have also had an outsize presence in the country.

Now, the unpopular president that foreign powers supported in hopes of achieving some measure of political stability in Haiti has been killed.

This story is a substantially updated and expanded version of an article, originally published on May 10, 2021.The Conversation

Tamanisha John, Ph.D. Candidate of International Relations, Florida International University

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

Nigerian Women’s interfaith network builds bridges

Nigerian Women’s interfaith network builds bridges

One of the participants receives her certificate after the two-week empowerment program. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

When Fatima Isiaka, a religious Muslim teacher, asked the cab driver to drop her off at St. Kizito Catholic Church in Abuja, the driver thought she was lost. “The cab man that took me to the church, a Muslim, was surprised to see me enter a church,” Isiaka recalled of the summer 2014 meeting. “He told me, ‘This is a church!’ I said, ‘Yes, I know.’ ”

Isiaka was part of innovative effort to bring Christian and Muslim women together in hopes of fostering religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network was first started in 2011 by Sr. Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and local Muslim businesswoman Maryam Dada Ibrahim.

Isiaka, an observant Muslim who wears a grey jilbab, a long head covering and robe, the traditional dress of some Nigerian Muslim women, is a respected Muslim leader in Abuja. Today, she serves as deputy director in the network’s Abuja branch.

She looks back fondly on her time at the St. Kizito Catholic Church. “It was an amazing experience and I loved every bit of my stay there,” said Isiaka. “In fact, I found a place in the church where I performed ablution [ritual washing before Muslims prayer], to set up my mat and pray.”

Since the group started in 2011, the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network’s activities have reached more than 10,000 Muslim and Christian women across the country through seminars, meditations, presentations by religious leaders, and dialogue.

The peacebuilding network also offers vocational training in catering, bead making, fashion design, and soap production to a smaller group of women who participate in the annual 21-day seminar. “The empowerment [training] serves as bait to lure more women to the network so that they’ll learn peaceful coexistence,” said Isiaka. The Swiss Embassy provided seed money to get the vocational training started in 2014. Cardinal John Onaiyekan’s Foundation For Peace (COFP), an organization working for peace in northern Nigeria, has sponsored the vocational training in subsequent years.

Sr. Agatha Chikelue started thinking about how to build bridges between Christians and Muslims in 2008, as northern Nigeria disintegrated into violence. Nigeria’s population is evenly divided with 48 percent Muslims and 49 percent Christians. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian. Ensuring equal Christian and Muslim political representation at local, state, and national levels is an especially sensitive subject.

Since 2009, Boko Haram, a group of extremist Muslims whose name means “Western education is forbidden” has terrorized northeast Nigeria. The terror group murdered Christians and burned churches, hoping to clear the area of Christian influences and create an Islamic caliphate to rule under Sharia law.

Hajya Fatima Isiaka, left, is co-deputy director of the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network in Abuja, Nigeria; right: Ekene Ofodili is a Catholic laywoman who oversees the six chapters in Abuja alongside Isiaka. (Festus Iyorah)

Later, Boko Haram began carrying out attacks in other parts of Nigeria and targeting moderate Muslims as well. In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 270 female students in Chibok, Nigeria, prompting the international social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Chikelue knew that religious leaders would need to step up. “We don’t want to use our religion as barrier, rather we want to use it as stepping stone towards achieving common good,” she said. “The essence of an interfaith group is to break barriers, break the walls and build bridges.”

In Nigeria, some religious clerics forbid their members from even visiting a house of worship from the other religion. But Chikelue dismissed those notions, using the respect afforded to her as a Catholic sister to visit mosques and set up meetings with more moderate Islamic clerics to propose an interfaith network.

But Chikelue knew she couldn’t do it alone.

A parishioner recommended Chikelue contact Ibrahim, a respected leader in the Muslim community. Chikelue visited Ibrahim’s office, and within a few months the two started planning the first meeting between Christian and Muslim women in Abuja. As the capital of Nigeria, Abuja, a growing city with a population of 2.5 million, is more diverse and integrated than other parts of the country. The city is about 40 percent Christian, and the Christian population is growing quickly.

Chikelue and Ibrahim recruited Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja, and Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, the sultan of Sokoto and president-general of the National Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, to act as patrons of the organization.

“Getting the Muslim women was not as difficult as getting the Christian women,” Chikelue recalled. “We started during the early days of the insurgency [with Boko Haram in northern Nigeria]. The insurgents started with bombing churches and killing Christians before they started killing Muslims too. A lot of Christians were holding grudges against Muslims at the time. Anytime we planned a meeting with Muslims, the Christian women would withdraw. They’d say ‘All Muslims are Boko Haram.’ ”

It took time, patience, and weekly meetings after Sunday Mass to convince the first group of Christian women to sit down with Muslim women.

Women attend an empowerment program that was sponsored by Cardinal John Onaiyekan foundation for peace in 2017. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

“That first meeting in 2011 was one of the best meetings we’ve had,” said Chikelue. “The Christian women changed their perceptions about Muslims even after just one dialogue together. Everybody went home happy.”

The women’s meetings include presentations by clerics and priests, explaining basic tenets of each religion or challenging the view of religious extremists who say that Muslims and Christians should not interact with each other. Sometimes they discuss parts of their religions that overlap; for example, when Abraham plans to sacrifice Isaac, and how both religions interpret the story.

“Peace can be achieved through dialogue,” Chikelue said. “When Muslims and Christians sit together to explain how both religions operate it will aid understanding and put out any form of ignorance, stigma or hate that both parties have against one another.”

The women also visit each other for holidays. In 2017, a group of Christian women prepared the evening meal at the mosque to break the fast during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Muslim women have joined for special church programs, especially the annual end-of-the-year interfaith party organized by Onaiyekan.

The decision to create a women’s peace network was made after careful deliberation about which group would be most effective for fostering peace. Women have a unique a way of addressing conflicts, Chikelue explained. “In the family, women manage the home and are closer to their children, making it easy for them to preach peace,” she said. It can also be empowering for women, who are often marginalized, to suddenly have a leadership role in creating a more tolerant community. “We also want women to be aware of their role in peace building,” Chikelue added.

In 2014, with a special grant from the Swiss embassy, Chikelue began offering vocational training for the women as an added incentive. In a region where the female adult literacy rate is 41 percent, women welcome free empowerment training on sewing, soap making and catering. Basic communication skills, personal hygiene and training on financial literacy and how to start small businesses are also part of the free empowerment program. The training programs also help the women meet people from other religions, getting to know the “other” as well as combating poverty and gender-based violence.

“When there’s peace at home, we can achieve peace in the society. That is why we empower women in order to stop gender-based violence between women and their husbands,” Chikelue said.

The women who participate in the peacebuilding network are expected to pass on the information to the children in their communities by making presentations in their elementary and secondary schools about religious tolerance and talking about their experiences working with women from other religions.

Sr. Agatha Chikelue, left, presents catering equipment to women as part of the women of faith Network empowerment program in Abuja (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

Participants of a Women of Faith Network empowerment program organized in 2017 learned catering and were given catering equipment afterward to try their businesses. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

“There is also violence that doesn’t carry a gun,” explained Chikelue. “There are situations whereby parents don’t allow their children to have interaction with children of a different religion, or when they instigate them to go for war against a different religion.”

The network has made it easier to gather Christians and Muslims to speak on certain issues with one voice, Chikelue told GSR. For instance, in 2015, the network protested against a bill proposed to ease restrictions on obtaining an abortion. Armed with banners scrawled with messages against the bill, both Muslim and Christian women marched under the scorching sun to Nigeria’s parliament. The bill was later dropped.

Isiaka, the Muslim teacher whose cab driver thought she was lost, oversees the six chapters in Abuja with Ekene Ofodili, a Catholic laywoman.

Ofodili was one of the people who believed that all Muslims were Boko Haram, and at first, she resisted any interaction with Muslim women. But after Chikelue’s encouragement in 2011, Ofodili started seeking out Muslim women to hear their stories.

In 2012, Ofodili was invited to Turkey as a guest of a Turkish government-sponsored peacebuilding tour. The program invited Christians and Muslims women working to fight religious violence in Africa, the United States, Asia and Europe to discuss peace, harmony and religious tolerance. Additionally, the Turkish government wanted to highlight its own peacebuilding efforts by visiting areas where minority Christians lived with Muslims in harmony. In Turkey, Ofodili mingled with Muslim participants and entered a mosque for the first time.

“It changed my mentality about Muslims, and that’s why I can move with them,” Ofodili said of her time in Turkey. “Often times, many of the Catholic women shy away [from meeting with Muslims], but I tell them never to use one person’s actions [like the Boko Haram insurgents] to generalize an entire religion.”

Ofodili owns an English version of the Quran, a gift she got in one of her visits to the Muslim community in Abuja, which she reads in her free time.

“I discovered that the Muslims also recognize the Blessed Mother Mary,” said Ofodili. “That was when I had a total change of mind about them. I am a Legionary [a member of the Legion of Mary, a lay Catholic organization focused on Mary and charitable work], and anyone who says something good about our Mother is endeared to me,” she said.

The women celebrate after receiving catering equipment from the network. (Courtesy of Sr. Agatha Chikelue)

In the Quran, an entire chapter (called Surah 19/Surah Maryam) is dedicated to Mary’s genealogy, childhood and her role as the mother of Jesus.

Isiaka, Ofodili’s co-deputy director in Abuja, said she did not face any opposition from her Muslim community regarding her interfaith work.

“We have been able to understand each other better and have also passed the message of religious tolerance to our children,” she said. While the group has worked hard to break down barriers and build friendships, she knows there is still much work to do. Still, Isiaka is optimistic.

“If we groom our children this way, I think in the next few years, we’ll have the peace we are all craving,” she said.


This article originally appeared on the Global Sister’s Report

Festus Iyorah is a Nigerian freelance journalist and photographer based in Lagos. He reports on global health, social innovation, gender equality, technology, development, conflicts and religion. He has been published in Al Jazeera, The Catholic Herald, The Guardian, National Catholic Reporter and World Politics Review.

Quality research in Africa matters more than ever – for the whole world

Quality research in Africa matters more than ever – for the whole world

We are at a unique moment in history. Two particular, ongoing events stand out. COVID-19 is one. The other is a long-overdue recognition of inequities among people in the US and worldwide, as exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement. These issues provide a useful, timely lens through which to consider the role and value of African research.

There are many levels on which the future of the world, not just Africa’s, rests on African research. First, Africa represents the youngest and fastest growing population in the world. This makes intellectual investment an imperative, to harness talent that is a significant and growing share of the global population.

Second, Africans represent the oldest and most diverse genome in the world. Human genetics research has the potential to reveal some of the small differences in our genes that are influential in determining what makes Africa more susceptible or resistant to certain diseases. The findings can influence disease outcomes and response to treatment.

Such studies are critical not just to improve the health of Africans themselves, but also to shed light on diseases that affect people of African origin who reside all over the world.

Scientists around Africa are working at the cutting edge of research and their work is relevant beyond the continent.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

Third, Africa carries about 25% of the global disease burden. This is rapidly shifting from communicable to noncommunicable causes. Of course, it’s good news that part of this equation reflects a decline in death and illness from AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases.

But it is also a sad story of the rapid increase in incidence in the noncommunicable diseases that have for a long time dominated in the global North. Heart and other vascular diseases, cancer and diabetes in African countries are often driven by the same excesses that exist in societies that have been prosperous for longer: obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise. By investing in African science to address African diseases, we invest in the parallel prevention and treatment of the same diseases everywhere in the world.

Fourth, scientific research is a vital driver of economies. Currently, the African continent’s scientific output represents less than 2.6% of the world’s share, according to UNESCO. Without major investments in scientific research, particularly the kind of basic research that is often not considered cost-effective for private enterprises, African economies will be at a perpetual economic disadvantage.

All of this raises the question: is there world-class research in Africa? Yes, there is. Thanks to major investment in science infrastructure, human resource training and education, the continent is well placed to lead from the front.

World-class research

This investment has not happened by accident. It’s been driven by deliberate programs and advocacy, much of it through the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa.

We and our colleagues at the African Academy of Sciences created the Alliance in 2015 through a partnership with the African Union Development Agency, founding and funding global partners, and through a resolution of the summit of African Union Heads of Governments. The Academy’s research and training programs operate under the Alliance. Its mission is to shift the centre of gravity for African science to Africa through setting agendas, mobilizing research and development funding, and managing science programs.

The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa has funded 186 grantees directly. Some of them in turn offer master’s, PhD and postdoctoral fellowships. This has led to a scientific community numbering over 2,000 scientists in about 40 countries.

Among our premier programs are DELTAS Africa and Grand Challenges Africa. They tackle major infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases and other health challenges.

These and other programs are bearing fruit. Research emerging from the Alliance includes point-of-care diagnostics; the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and identifying novel genes to detect hearing impairment early.

All of this research can be applied in African countries and beyond. And more of it can be produced if the global scientific community, governments, funders and others come together to tackle the hurdles that African researchers still face.

Challenges

These challenges include:

  • Inequities within and among populations and between genders. These result in much potential talent being lost to science in general.
  • Exploitation by commercial enterprises that regard the African continent as a source of large populations for clinical trials.
  • Funding. Until more African science is predominantly performed in Africa, by Africans, and for Africans, the full potential of this work will never be realized.

The nations of the African Union have all pledged to dedicate 1% of their respective GDPs to research and development but spend an average of 0.45%. These nations are grappling with many competing needs.

Basic research is almost never attractive to commercial funders, and African governments often do not have the resources to fill this void. Or they are not in office long enough.

Western funders tend to focus on health and medical research. This is worthy. But it leaves the physical, mathematical, and chemical sciences as underfunded orphans. Big innovations are built on the foundation of basic discovery. African scientists must enjoy the opportunity to contribute to that foundation alongside their peers in countries where public investment in basic science has been provided for decades.

This article is adapted from a longer piece in ACS Omega, available here.The Conversation

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

Lied to and abused, trafficked persons from Zimbabwe find some healing

Lied to and abused, trafficked persons from Zimbabwe find some healing

Religious sisters attend the Regional Conference on Human Trafficking, March 18 at Arrupe Jesuit University in Harare, Zimbabwe. Center: Sr. Theresa Nyadombo of the Handmaids of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, education secretary for the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said a collaborative effort is needed to raise human trafficking awareness. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

This article originally appeared on The Global Sisters Report


HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Jane sat on a hard, wooden chair at a church in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, and stared into space for some minutes. Then, she began to croon in worship and, a few minutes later, the gates of her heart burst open, and she began to pour out her heart to her Lord, tears flowing freely like a fountain.

“Father, I forgive my abusers and the people who caused me pain,” prayed the 37-year-old mother of two, who asked that Global Sisters Report not use her real name. “They treated me like an animal, like I didn’t matter, like I was a dog, worse than a dog. God, please heal my pain and heal my broken heart.”

Jane’s journey of pain began in 2016, when she was enticed by a trafficking agent in Harare with promises of a salary of $1,400 per month at a hotel in Kuwait, more than 3,000 miles away. Life had become unbearable in Zimbabwe after her husband lost his job as a casual laborer in a local milk factory and they were evicted from their house for nonpayment of rent.

“Life was very difficult and we barely had something to eat, and if we ate, it was one meal per day,” she said.

It was at this difficult time that she met her trafficker, who was well acquainted with her mother. Everything was planned quickly, and within one week, all her travel documents were ready, including her passport. She was given a new Islamic name: Amina Ishmael.

Religious sisters display cloth promoting work against human trafficking at the Regional Conference on Human Trafficking, March 18 at Arrupe Jesuit University in Harare, Zimbabwe. The conference was organized by the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching and brought together various activists in the area of human trafficking. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

Upon reaching Kuwait, she was picked up from the airport by a man who would be her boss. It was at his house that Jane realized she had been lied to and trafficked. Her host took away her travel documents and forcefully performed a medical procedure to check her overall health.

“I was raped every day, and I was helpless to do anything about it,” she said, weeping throughout the interview with GSR but insisting she wanted to tell her story. “I was forced to work day and night, beaten, restricted to go anywhere, threatened of arrest and deportation and unlawful withholding of my passport. I wasn’t even paid for the five months I worked at the home.”

When things became intolerable, she fled the home and took refuge in the Zimbabwe consulate. Jane was deported after a week, and upon arrival back in Zimbabwe, she was introduced to the religious sisters who run the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching (AFCAST), an association of justice and peace practitioners throughout Africa, and who chaired the Counseling Services Unit, a group of doctors and counselors who assist the victims of human trafficking in Zimbabwe.

“As AFCAST, we deal with social problems that affect the people,” said Sr. Janice McLaughlin of the Maryknoll Sisters, who is one of the forum’s founders. “We focus our attention mainly on human trafficking and abuse of children and vulnerable adults. We always do our research and then we try to reach out to those affected or those we feel need help. All this is done by following Catholic social teaching and mission.”

Maryknoll Sr. Janice McLaughlin, one of the founders of the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching, leads dozens of sisters in denouncing trafficking during the Regional Conference on Human Trafficking, March 18 at Arrupe Jesuit University in Harare, Zimbabwe. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

‘There are no jobs here’

Jane is among the 40.3 million people who have been trafficked globally, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage, according to 2016 estimates by the International Labor Organization, the most recent available data.

Human trafficking in Africa is an urgent crisis, and women and children are especially at risk. People can be trafficked within their own countries, to neighboring countries and to other continents for sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, forced marriage, domestic slavery and various forms of forced labor, according to the latest report by the United Nations.

Zimbabwe does not meet the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so, according to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. State Department. The report also notes that the southern African nation has been mapped as a source, destination and transit point for trafficking. In most of these cases, victims are vulnerable children and young adults.

In 2014, the Zimbabwe Parliament passed the Trafficking in Persons Act to identify those who have been trafficked, mitigate the illicit practice and prosecute trafficking offenders. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that the government launched the Trafficking in Persons National Plan of Action to enforce the law.

Since then, Zimbabwe’s government has made some headway in its efforts to end human trafficking. It investigated 72 potential cases of trafficking and prosecuted 42 cases in 2016, compared to none in the previous year. The government reported prosecuting 14 trafficking cases in 2017.

However, women and girls from Zimbabwean towns bordering South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia are still trafficked and subjected to forced labor and prostitution. In rural areas, men, women and children are also trafficked internally to farms for agricultural labor and to cities for forced domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation, according to the U.S. State Department.

Along Robert Mugabe Road in Harare earlier this year, hundreds of young female travelers stood in queue, holding luggage and waiting for their turn to enter into a bus. The driver of the Citiliner bus, a South African coach company offering services from Harare to Johannesburg, told GSR that many of them were heading to neighboring South Africa to look for greener pastures.

One of them, a young blond woman in a navy dress, told GSR she felt there was no future for her in her home of Bulawayo in southwest Zimbabwe, and she was seeking opportunities in South Africa to help educate her siblings. She said her friend living in the United States had put her into contact with a woman in Johannesburg who promised to use her connections to find her a well-paying job as a maid.

She blamed poverty and lack of jobs in the country as a reason of migration. The World Bank estimates that extreme poverty in Zimbabwe has risen over the past few years, from 33.4% of the population in 2017 to 40% in 2019. The bank predicts levels will continue to rise in 2020, to between 6.6 million and 7.6 million people. That is about half of the people in this country, who are living on less than $1.90 per day.

“I have no choice but to go and try my luck,” the woman said on condition of anonymity, noting that she doesn’t even have regular migration documents. “I’m told that one needs to have at least $30 to bribe border officials, then they will let you in. There are no jobs here, so I have to try elsewhere to earn a living and help my family.”

High school students attend the Regional Conference on Human Trafficking, March 18 at Arrupe Jesuit University in Harare, Zimbabwe. Public education and awareness campaigns were launched to help especially children, since they are the most vulnerable. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

How the sisters and AFCAST help

On the streets of Harare, people jostle for space to get a glimpse of some notice boards advertising jobs and vacancies in the Middle East, North Africa and in Italy, Spain and other European countries. The vacancies on the glass-sealed notice boards are for recruitment agents looking for saleswomen, housekeepers, hotel attendants, drivers, waitresses and chefs.

Such practices that lead to trafficking have prompted religious sisters in the country and elsewhere to stand up against it. They have been organizing workshops every month in schools and churches to create awareness and assist women and girls affected by trafficking.

McLaughlin said the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching assists women and girls affected by human trafficking with counseling, reuniting them with their families and even helping them start self-help projects.

“I was really moved by the plight of young women and girls trafficked to Kuwait and other Gulf states when I met some of them through the migration office,” she said. “They are abused in foreign countries after being promised lucrative job offers. But it has been really rewarding to see some of them heal from trauma.”

While addressing a regional conference on human trafficking March 18 at the Arrupe Jesuit University in Harare, McLaughlin denounced human trafficking as dehumanizing.

“Human trafficking is destroying the lives of many people, especially young people and young women. Therefore, there is need for a collective effort to fight the vice,” she said.

The conference, which was organized by the African Forum for Catholic Social Teaching in partnership with the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, brought together various organizations involved in fighting human trafficking: the governments of Zimbabwe and the United States; survivors of trafficking; faith leaders, including Muslims; and members of civil society.

Sr. Mercy Shumbamhini of the Mary Ward Congregation of Jesus in Zimbabwe holds a Talitha Kum banner during the Regional Conference on Human Trafficking, March 18 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Talitha Kum is a Rome-based organization of Catholic women religious established by the International Union of Superiors General in 2009 to end human trafficking. (GSR photo/Doreen Ajiambo)

“It is the responsibility of each one of us to fight human trafficking,” said Maria Phiri, a detective representing the Zimbabwe Republic Police. “I would like therefore to encourage everyone to collaborate in this fight by detecting any suspicious activities and also report cases of human trafficking to the authorities.”

Human trafficking has disturbing and long-lasting effects on mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, anger, guilt and shame.

Sr. Elizabeth Boroma, a psychologist, has been counseling women and girls who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced labor. Boroma told GSR she has helped hundreds of women to come to terms with their pasts and to face their futures with confidence and dignity.

“Most of them are always hesitant at first to talk about their experiences, but with time, they open up and release it,” said Boroma of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. “Some usually cry throughout the entire counseling session, and I let them do it because it’s their way of healing.”

Sarah is one the beneficiaries of Boroma’s counseling service. She recounts heartbreaking tales of desperation, rape, hunger, life on the streets and the suffering she endured in the hope of a better life four years ago in Saudi Arabia, where she thought opportunities were better.

“I wanted take away my life because of the bad experience I went through while in Saudi Arabia,” said the 28-year-old mother of one, who asked GSR not to use her real name. “I went through therapy with the help of the nun, and it helped me move on quickly. I’m now happily married and doing a grocery delivery business.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has changed the nature of the sisters’ anti-trafficking work. Victims of human trafficking say they are not getting the personalized, face-to-face counseling and interaction they previously enjoyed with the sisters. They are also dealing with the loss of their livelihoods.

The sisters have adopted new ways of providing the needed follow-up counseling by communicating with the young women via WhatsApp, email, texting and phone calls.

Jane is still suffering from the sexual assault she went through while in Kuwait and hopes to attend several months of therapy to help her heal and move on.

“I want to move on, but it’s hard to forget what the man did to me,” she said. “He treated me like an animal, but I leave everything to God.”

GSR video by Doreen Ajiambo (YouTube/NCRonline)

[Doreen Ajiambo is the Africa/Middle East correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow her on Twitter: @DoreenAjiambo.]