Category: African Insight

Threatened Peace In Sudan

For years, it was the “forgotten war” by definition. Every time a journalist “discovered” that in a corner of Africa called Sudan – a corner so to speak, as only Southern Sudan is vast as Central Europe – there was still an ongoing guerrilla war that had began in 1982 , the inevitable cliché became part of the title. Later, since January 9, 2005, when after two years of negotiations, a complicated peace treaty – that the experts called Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – was signed in Nairobi, it has become the “forgotten peace.” Waiting for a rekindling of the war?  Skepticism aside, it is true that there have been many efforts to end the long civil war but very little has been done to consolidate peace. The U.S. and its European allies during negotiations have not hesitated to evoke, both to the North and the South, alternatively the stick of international sanctions, cuts in cooperation programs and political isolation, and the juicy carrot of economic development, limitless oil exports and abundant humanitarian aid. But today all seem uninterested in what is happening in Sudan.  I visited Southern Sudan recently. Expectations and emotions in preparation for the referendum scheduled according to the CPA in January 2011 have created an atmosphere of euphoria that obscures the real dangers. People will have to choose whether to stay united with the North or go for complete independence. I have never known a South Sudanese who did not want full independence from the North, even John Garang, who was affirming his belief in a united secular Sudan merely for international political reasons.  So, it is widely expected that next January, the South Sudanese, will vote almost unanimously for independence. The historical divisions, cultural, social and religious differences between North and South are too deep to be healed in five years. And this was easy to predict. But the international community should have predicted and prevented also the conditions that could lead to the return of war, or to the fragmentation of South Sudan as a non-state, with the risk of creating another Somalia.    The oil curse It is clear that the North has no intention of letting the South go – taking with it all the oil it contains – and will do everything to divide and weaken it.  In September, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in a speech to a committee of the American Congress, alluded to Sudan only briefly. Then, answering a specific question, she added that relations between North and South Sudan, in the context of the referendum that is being prepared, are “a time bomb ready to explode.” What a discovery!  The list of delays and failures of the CPA is long. Not only little has been done to make the country’s unity attractive to Southerners, as required under the CPA, but the international community has pretended not to see that the two sides were rearming. It has allowed the proliferation of human rights abuses and corruption. It

Educating Njira

Some days ago, at Lusaka, I met a child called Njira that, in the Chinyanja language, means road. A name that, obviously, the mother got from the job she is doing and gave to him as a life program. We were in the huge open market, and he was with a gang immediately recognizable as street children. They were clad in rags and hanging from their shoulders was a bag to put the food, either dumped by the stalls or pilfered here and there. He saw me from a distance and he headed immediately towards me while I pretended not to see him. He touched my elbow lightly and, when he was sure he already got my attention, told me firmly: “My name is Njira. I’d like to go and stay at Mthunzi, your home, like them” as he pointed to the two boys accompanying me. I thought: “Who on earth has fed him with this idea, who told him about Mthunzi; maybe his mother or a relative who wants to get rid of him and dump him on us? And why only him among the whole gang?” But then Njira lifted up his eyes and looked at me in a direct and disarming way, with a shy smile at first, but then his face became more serious as he sensed my hesitation. Whatever was his reason for approaching me in that way, one thing was clear: he needed an alternative solution to his terrible street life. I make a quick calculation: yes, it is true, together with the Mthunzi educators, we had decided to accept other guests only at the beginning of the next school year, but is it possible that we cannot add a place at table for this child who trustingly looks at me and who, possibly, will eat only like a bird? This evening there will be time to listen to his story, and tomorrow the social workers will try to contact his family, if ever he has one, and thus verify the truthfulness of his unsolicited introduction and, eventually, ask that he be legally entrusted to our home. But there is no time for all that now.    He is my neighbor Tomorrow or next week or next month, who will be able to find Njira in the confusion of the Lusaka market? He is my neighbor, whom God wants me to meet here and now, a neighbor whose smell obviously tells that he has not bathed for many days. There is no doubt that we will easily find dozens of street children for our home for the next school year. But Njira is here now with a definite request. Njira looks at me worriedly. But a nod is enough to make him understand that he has been accepted. He runs to take his place inside the van, among its colorful load: fragrant bananas, cabbages, carrots, “soya meat,” dry fish and half-a-ton of maize flower for porridge. And off we rush on the rough road

The Role Of The Church

As it has been underlined by many commentators, the theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for the Second African Synod, “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace,” is extremely relevant. It focuses on the main issues of the African public life today, issues on which the Catholic Church has the moral authority and the competence to speak and act, especially when considering the dramatic failure of the modern African states and governments, born out of the colonial time, to address them. Before the Synod started, I heard African Catholic friends express some concerns. First concern was the total lack of interest by the “international” media. This lack of interest has persisted during and after the Synod but, personally, I do not believe we should be worried by it. We know the agenda of this mass media; press people are not interested in the real independence of Africa, or in any serious religious event. They can write a long article on the possibility of an African being a pope, because it is a “curiosity item,” but they do not care about the myriad of African Christians who live their faith with humble conviction, and would never publish an article on the fact that the Church alone takes care of almost half of the African HIV/AIDS sufferers. On the other side, Church synods are not held to attract or please the media; they are, first and foremost, meetings to deepen communion and self-awareness, and also a service to Church governance. Second important concern, at least from some observers, was the fact that, in the Church, there appeared to be a number of “lobbies” who wanted, at all cost, to put forward their concerns. This is somehow normal, since in the African Church, as everywhere else, people have their own agenda and their own very legitimate and positive issues and, often, they spend their lives for them. They could be concerned with public health, HIV/AIDS, education, development, organic farming, environment conservation, mass media…, you name it. It is not surprising, therefore, that they see a synod as a chance to put a particular agenda in the limelight. It is an expression of the richness of Christian commitment. It could become a problem only if pushed too far and fragmentation and thus, confusion is created.   The need of new structures If one reads all the interventions available and the final proposition presented to the Holy Father, it appears that the Synod fathers were able to avoid the trap of diluting their interest over many issues. The final propositions are well and strongly focused on the themes of reconciliation, justice and peace.  In fact, the propositions are much more elaborated than the proposition presented at the end of the first African Synod to Pope John Paul II in 1994. The 2009 African Synod propositions present a serious analysis and a beginning of theological reflection on the main social and political situations of the continent. Moreover, they even go down to

True Education

A desperate dad asks me: “Help me to find my son. It is already a week that I haven’t seen him; hopefully your street social operators or the street children themselves may recognize him. This is his photo.” I look at the photo of a 17 year-old boy, dressed fashionably, while I allow the father to calm down and tell his story. He, the father, came from a poor childhood and adolescence. He first attended the mission in his rural area and now, in the city parish here at Nairobi. He grew up with the solid values of the African tradition that he, eventually, corrected and improved with the values he learned at the mission. When he was 20, he started a small vegetables and fruits trading business. Because of his hard work and self-sacrifices, he is now managing two shops in well-to-do areas.  He got married and has moved to a small house with a garden, almost a villa. But he never had time for his son who, in a week’s time, had robbed him of all the money he could find in the house, and then took off leaving a note saying not to look for him because he has decided to go his own way. “Now,” the father tells me, “I realize that I do not know my son. I don’t know his friends, I don’t know whom he spends his free time with. Because of this, I have no idea where to look for him. I had put him in a good boarding school; when he asked for money, I used to give him what I thought was reasonable. But when I did some accounting, I realized that, in the last month alone, I had given him more than the salary of one of my shop assistants… Maybe I was buying his affection with money; even then, he ran away from home…”   The need of role models The father in question looks like a dad of a rich country in the Western society, giving vent to his frustration. These things, however, are now happening also in Nairobi. The education and formation, according to the traditional culture in order to face life’s responsibilities, are no longer put into practice. The adults, especially the well-to-do’s, are losing contact with their children. They now leave their children’s education and formation to schools, thinking that, in this way, they will be problem-free – not realizing that a sound parents-children relationship of respect and affection is irreplaceable. The dad in question has done a very clear, lucid analysis of why his son has gone away. Other parents, however, in moments of crisis, choose to put all the blame on the children or on society when they become unteachable; on the mass media, on television and its pervasive presence every moment of our life. Few are those who reflect about their own educational responsibilities. Boys need role models and if they do not find them in the family, they will look

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