OnSafari: First a Fall

OnSafari: First a Fall

The “Great Wall,” the rapturing at the Church of the Nativity, an intimate private lunch with a Palestinian family — so much, today, but one of the most telling was our visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Considered a sacred site in both Judaism and Islam for the same reason, the ability of believers to worship here is now “absurdly” controlled by Israel.

Israel has valid security concerns since at least 67 Jewish worshipers were gunned down here in 1929 on rumors that Jewish militias were going to take over the Temple Mount.
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Desmond Delivered

Desmond Delivered

There’s an intersection in the middle of Nairobi city which we used to call the Square of Churches years ago. There’s only one church there, the city’s main Catholic Cathedral, Holy Family Minor Basilica, and it’s a roundabout so I have no idea how the moniker developed.

Kitty-corner from the Basilica is Jomo Kenyatta’s Mausoleum. Between the two on the north end is the Intercontinental Hotel, and kitty-corner from that, City Park. If the new highway didn’t obscure my nostalgic memories I’d suggest that the name of the place be changed to the Desmond Tutu Plaza.
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Hell’s Hesitancy

Hell’s Hesitancy

So which would you choose as the best protection against Covid? (1) Surrounding yourself with a portable plexiglass outfit; or (2) getting the shot? The quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings proposes the former.

Vaccine hesitancy is worldwide and you might be surprised that the U.S.’ vaccine hesitancy rate is actually relatively low worldwide. African hesitancy is relatively low too, Mideast (excluding Israel) is the highest, Asian hesitancy (excluding China) is moderate, South American hesitancy (excluding Ecuador) is on the high side and European hesitancy is just a little bit greater than America’s.

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Reflect & Repair

Reflect & Repair

Should people, governments, companies pay large amounts of “reparations” for slavery and similar centuries-old torture? Does it matter if a government “apologizes” for long-forgotten atrocity? We can’t change the past.

Just in the last month, France, Germany and Angola have each separately announced either large restitution payments or policies of deep apology for atrocities, some of which were nearly as old as slavery in America. Why?

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Royal Weeping

Royal Weeping

It really is all about the economy. Serious safari cancellations noted last week – including that of Queen Máxima of the Netherlands – because of Tanzania’s announced crackdown on gays has caused a firestorm in East Africa. It’s still burning:

Over the weekend the government jailed a local overtly sexual popstar, the European Union recalled its principal Tanzanian diplomat, the Tanzanian government claimed that “the campaign… is a personal stance and not the State’s”, and the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania released a “security alert.” How should we read all this?

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Lordy Lordy

Lordy Lordy

‘Work hard with homage to our lord and your assured place in the kingdom is safe.’ So affirmed Uganda’s Supreme Court yesterday.

Yoweri Museveni is now President-for-Life. While untouchable dictators are not unusual in Africa, they had until recently been going out of fashion. But I wonder if that Middle Ages Oath of Homage I opened with is reemerging – all over the world, not just in Africa. Why are people yearning for unassailable lords?

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The Wall Grows

The Wall Grows

banlaptoponairlinesThe first bricks of the wall – not just facing Mexico but around all of America – were laid today and neither the courts nor Congress can stop it.

At 3 a.m. this morning Homeland Security banned personal electronics from the airline cabins of 9 Muslim airlines. Last weekend a conference in California for African investment petered out because every African who applied to attend was denied a visa.

Trump is the front man. The engine behind him is slipping into gear with the certainty and finesse of a Benz.

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Triumphant Tutu

Triumphant Tutu

tutuOne of the world’s gentlest, most thoughtful and consequential men is sick and dying but more importantly, suffering. After 85 years he has changed his mind: euthanasia is right.

Desmond Tutu, the revered Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Nobel Laureate and winner of countless other peace prizes including America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, is above all a deeply religious, non-violent man. His prolonged sickness broke his resolve against euthanasia two years ago when he wrote in an Op-Ed in the Guardian “I have been fortunate to spend my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying.”

Tutu’s arguments are not religious ones, and that is what has attracted me to his thinking. His arguments are practical, political.

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What To Do

What To Do

southafricanjewSouth Africa’s long, mystic relationship with Israel is severely tested today as Israel decides what to do with the all-women crew its Defense Forces captured yesterday off a private South African yacht headed to Gaza.

The South African/Israeli relationship is incredibly sensitive and complex, and I believe disturbing. It will be very interesting to see what Israel does, today.

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Snake Oil or Nukes?

Snake Oil or Nukes?

pastorbannedAmerica has never lacked of snake oil salesmen, but following South Africa’s banning of Steven Anderson it’s clear that we better start realizing they might be something dangerously more than just conmen.

The Tempe, Arizona, Baptist minister decided if Barack Obama won’t cleanse South Africa of “sodomites .. drinking booze .. and terrorizing God’s people,” he will. Well, guess what: South Africans are doing what we and our ratings-greedy journalists and weak-kneaded politicians won’t: Stopping American extremism.

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Vicious Volunteerism

Vicious Volunteerism

molestationChild predators in the guise of foreign volunteers to Africa are at last facing prosecution when they return home.

I’ve often written how volunteerism in Africa by (mostly western) foreigners is usually a bad idea. Child predation is an extreme matter although it’s increasingly used in Kenya as a reason social organizations should be less welcoming of foreign volunteers.

In a detailed investigation by Nairobi’s Destination Magazine (DM), a 20-year old American Christian volunteer repeatedly molests children in a Kenyan orphanage over a period of several years until new American legislation results in him being arrested at his Oklahoma home and ultimately imprisoned.

The young American was finally convicted this summer after a lengthy defense mounted in Oklahoma courts by a star-studded legal team that included the lawyer who defended Timothy McVeigh and Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE).

According to DM: “In Africa …people serving with the church …are bestowed with a great deal of respect… So much so that individuals in these capacities …can carry on a double life for years without detection.”

DM published an excellent and detailed report of the story of the Oklahoman teen who traveled multiple times to Kenya from the United States, ostensibly for Christian missionary work.

He was considered by both the community he came from in Oklahoma and the religious African community that welcomed him into their orphanage as reliable. In fact after several visits to the orphanage to volunteer he requested to live with the children rather than in volunteer dorms.

“Even though his request was peculiar, it was nevertheless granted.” An African manager on a routine check of the orphanage’s dorms then caught him having sex with the orphans.

Kenyan child activist, Kevin Wasike, also asks, “How could a volunteer be left alone with children at night, without any kind of supervision whatsoever?”

Wasike’s indictment of an organization for not properly vetting its volunteers extends well beyond the heinous social crime of child molestation.

I estimate that most – more than half – of African organizations that receive charity from abroad end up regretting it.

Most volunteers come on a lark: They volunteer in part to get a better deal for the cost of traveling. They are untrained or poorly trained for whatever they ultimately try to do. They rarely make long-term commitments, which should be an essential requirement of any employee of a social organization.

So the organization ends up dedicating more resources to “taking care of the volunteers” than the volunteers give back.

Finally, most volunteers are not certified.

Since 2003 British citizens may not volunteer anywhere abroad for any child organization without first obtaining an International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC).

The certificate is a police check on the individual intending to volunteer abroad. The Certificate is currently required by 73 countries worldwide, but not yet by Kenya.

The 2006 U.S. law that was used to convict the American teen also provides for sharing of child molester databases with countries abroad, including Kenya.

But the American legal process is weighted not just to the defendant, but in this category of cases against foreign allegations.

Though there was a video made in Kenya accompanying the defendant’s 10-page confession, together with medical exams of some of the kids shortly after sex with the defendant, the legal team delayed the trial for more than a year.

The team claimed that the video was by children who were not mentally fit, that the confession was coerced, and that the team was unable to visit Kenya, alluding to Kenya’s terrorism incidents.

Americans ascribe a near divine right to volunteering. Certainly this example is extreme, but it is often in the extremities of things wrong that we come to see the light.

Papal Productivity

Papal Productivity

popewithblackcardinalsPersons who consider themselves religious are declining in the world and Africa. But did you know that for the first time there are now more Catholics in East Africa than Protestants. Why do you think?

Catholics now make up approximately 18.0% of East Africa’s 194 million people, while Protestants have declined to 16.4%. This is the first survey ever where East African Protestants numbered fewer than Catholics.

Otherwise, there isn’t much good news for Christianity in Africa. Christianity continent-wide is declining significantly relative to Islam.

(The raw numbers of Catholics, Protestants and of course Muslims is all on the increase, and that’s usually what you hear from them. But relative to an even faster growing overall population, only Muslims are increasing.)

I think Pope Francis helps us understand why Catholics are now ‘outpercentaging’ Protestants: He’s an Hispanic of Italian immigrants, progressive politically, and socially and scientifically aware; and this mirrors many young Africans.

A increasingly large portion of Africans are not born where there parents and grandparents were. The massive dislocations of African populations are due mostly to a huge migration into urban areas from rural ones, although a small yet significant portion is a growing number of political refugees.

Young Africans are politically progressive, as demonstrated by the growingly powerful youth political movements in places like Kenya and South Africa, and they likely understand and embrace climate change, evolution, and even such arcane science as stem cell research.

This positions them as a society much like Pope Francis. Of course this begs the larger question, why? As a nonreligious person, I feel confident in suggesting an objective answer:
Redistribution of wealth, stability, and a sense of pride (which I concede is not generally considered religious) I think are the three driving factors. Catholics do much better than Protestants with these, and Muslims do much better than Christians.

I’m not suggesting these are the banner ideals for a perfect society. Indeed, freedom vies constantly with stability in Africa, and freedom does not seem to be a religious virtue but it is definitely one of mine. But in societies so terribly ravaged by war and strife for so long, stability often trumps freedom.

The modern Christian religions of Africa were determined in the mid 19th Century when European leaders eked out the continent not just for political control, but also religious control.

At that time Protestants got the biggest piece of the pie, particularly in East Africa where august men like David Livingstone gained not just the respect of the world, but of the local populations.

When independence came to Africa, many cities, towns and street names were changed back to African names from Leopoldville, Elizabeth Lane, Kaiserstrasse. But not changed were streets and towns named “Livingstone.”

Things began to shift shortly after independence swept the continent in the 1960s.

Protestantism is distinctly conservative relative to Catholicism, and even without any tenants associated to the meaning of “independence,” European Protestants warned against awarding independence to the colonies while European Catholics welcomed it.

That rather set the stage, and the Cold War accelerated protestants’ decline even more. The end of the Cold War also was another significant point, when western nations in a moment withdrew their support for much of Africa. Alas, Muslims stepped in and have never stepped out.

From my point of view, Catholic and Muslim charity does more good than protestant charity. This is simply because Catholic and Muslim charity is centrally organized while most protestant charity is composed of a multitude of small, independent projects from independent church communities abroad.

As readers of this blog know, I find it hard to embrace most charity in Africa, believing very strongly that only government-to-government assistance will ever succeed.

And that’s also why Muslim and Catholic charities are better viewed in Africa than protestant ones. Nearly two-thirds of the funds distributed by Catholic charities come from government grants. Protestant charities are reluctant, often adamantly opposed to government funding.

Government funding is much larger and comes with many more strings attached than individual church donations, and as a result, is coordinated throughout the entire spectrum of foreign aid. That makes Catholic charity far more efficacious than Protestant.

Even countries that are exceptionally protestant, like South Africa, have followed the current pope’s progressive actions with admiration. There is no single protestant leader in the world, nor really any single Muslim leader.

Personally I remain worried and skeptical of organized religion. But like many Africans, I follow Pope Francis with enormous admiration.

Terrorists Are Not Religious

Terrorists Are Not Religious

TerrorismNoReligionThe terrorist attack on a remote Kenyan university last Thursday that massacred more than 150 students is a terrible blow to what had been Kenya’s much improved security.

About a quarter of the university population was killed or injured mostly by suicide bombers who overpowered four front gate guards, then ran into the dorms and libraries where students were congregated, then pulled their bomb triggers.

Like the kamikazes of World War II, this unbelievable desperation is hardly an act of war. It reeks of the vengeance of those who expect to lose.

Kenyan security agencies had advised universities across the country a week ago that they suspected al-Shabaab would launch just such an attack on a university.

There are now a couple dozen substantial universities in the country and all of them went onto high alert. Garissa is among the newest, most remote, and nearest to Somali. It’s quite a distance from Nairobi or other populated areas of the country.

Clearly al-Shabaab – or whatever might be claiming to be al-Shabaab – was incapable of anything closer to the heart of Kenya.

As horrible as this is, it remains notable that terrorist attacks in places like Nairobi or even Mombasa have not occurred now for nearly two years. I still believe Kenyan security is better than ever.

As was Boston for the marathon. Bad stuff happens.

American media reaction was not healthy or rational: “The gunmen who attacked Garissa University College on Thursday singled out Christians for killing,” Fox News lied.

There was no attempt to determine the religion of those who were killed. After the massacre other al-Shabaab hoodlums entered the university and tried to kidnap non-Muslims, according to a report put out by al-Shabaab after the attack. News agencies have been unable to confirm the claim, although several dozen students remain unaccounted for. Those who gave interviews to the press said it was too chaotic for anyone to know if anyone else was a Muslim or not.

The bulk of the Garrisa student population, in fact, is likely secular. There are also many Sikhs, Hindus and even old fashioned animists. It was not a religious attack.

If America and others feeling besieged by terrorists continue to frame this struggle as a religious one, it will grow not diminish.

“I got an email from Anne Thompson, a journalist working with NBC News,” respected journalist and college dean, Luis Franceschi said.

“Ms Thompson’s questions reflect…most of the western world: ‘We are working on a story about today’s attack at Garissa University and are trying to understand what appears to be the religious roots of this incident… Are Christians safe in Kenya?’

“I would tell Anne Thompson a thousand times that the matter is not religious. The terrorists may say so and they are lying. If the matter were religious they would have been attacking us since independence, but they didn’t.”

The Muslim population in Kenya may be nearly a third of the avowed religious population. Muslim leaders hold prominent positions in the government and have since Independence.

Franchesci explained in an article for Nairobi’s main newspaper that the attack is linked to Kenya’s occupation of Somali, to corruption and to organized crime.

It was not a religious attack.

“I can confidently say that some of my very best friends and most impressive colleagues and students are pious and dedicated Muslims. In them I have always seen a wonderful example of virtue, humanity, sincerity and dedication, which I wish many of us Christians could imitate.”

Terrorism succeeds when it strikes irrational fears in those it challenges.

Fox News has been terrorized, and Fox News is losing. Let us hope the sane world knows better.

Jim posted this blog from Arusha, Tanzania.