Category: Africa


AMDG

Cheap-FlightOne of the great paradoxes of our time is global travel.  For those of us in the wealthy world, hopping on a plane has become as easy as travelling by bus.  In the Uk with companies such as Ryan Air, and Easy Jet pioneering low cost travel, our expectations have been raised considerably. I remember the first flight I had when I was about 10 – our whole family dressed up as though it was a special occasion.  Now it is run of the mill.  As globalisation shrinks the world, many are being left behind.  So for those who can’t afford to be ‘hypermobile’ it seems as though the rich world are building bigger barriers to restrict their movement.  I was in Istanbul airport a day before the terrorist attacks…  an incredible modern hub, with Wifi everywhere, Starbucks, wealthy tourists, business travelers mingling in a bubble of luxury and affluence.  But these Staging Posts for the hypermobile are becoming targets for rage and anger of the excluded (not that terrorism can be  justified ) .

Elysium-wallpapers-141There was a brilliant film – released in 20013 called Elysium.  It is from the incredibly rich vein of dystopian scifi.  Imagining a future where Planet Earth has been plundered of resources by the wealthy Elite and left as an overpopulated desert for the poor majority.  The elite have created a space station in orbit which they have escaped to – where everything is beautiful green, fertile, the Elysium of the films title.  The Spaceships that shuttle between the two are looked at with envy and despair by the majority of humanity reduced to scrabbling around a parched earth like chickens.  Interestingly the church is represented by this wonderful nun who we discover in a back-story  has been the transformative teacher to our Hero (played by Matt Damon)  – who is an orphan.  So even though the rich have abandoned the earth – the church has not abandoned the poor.  Perhaps Neil Blomkampf, the writer, has had some Catholic influence?

_90030142_033584780-1Sadly however our age of hypermobility sharply contrasts with the fear of immigration that Farage and his cronies whipped up in the poisonous discourse before Brexit.  The rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders seemed to be very effective, but perhaps implausible in a Globalising Economy.  I thank God for my Irish grandparents so I can now apply for dual citizenship – again a luxury for the wealthy.    Having crossed a few borders in the last months it was notable in East Africa that there was a tightening of checks on the borders…  partly because of the yellow fever outbreak in Angola. We have to acknowledge our fears, but when it leads us to build barriers I think we are losing out.  In a choice between Donald Trumps wall building and Pope Francis’ bridge building, I know what future I want.

AMDG

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The Night Commuters in Gulu – escaping the evil of Joseph Kony & The LRA

It was very depressing to hear that the UK had voted to leave the EU …  it is one of those moments where you always remember ‘where I was when ‘ E.g Princess Diana dying….  So when we voted Brexit I am in Northern Uganda, in Gulu, where there is a great new Jesuit school which has already become famous countrywide for its excellent academic results. This is very impressive considering that just ten years ago Gulu was being terrorised by Joseph Kony and the LRA. Kids weren’t going to school – they were being forced into becoming child soldiers.  A beautiful part of the world, that is deeply traumatised, a generation of child soldiers who had the innocence of childhood ripped away from them. Many of the youngsters were called  ‘night commuters’ who would move into the city before sunfall so as to avoid the violent raids of the LRA.  It is a salutary reminder of what can happen when politics fails, and society descends into chaos.  The level of debate was at times wanting in the Brexit campaigning, but at least it was democratic – even if it was a very poor attempt of direct democracy , when representative democracy would have been more appropriate.  However the ability to hold such a referendum, with such a level of engagement we should not take for granted and shows a robust politics which is much more fragile here in East Africa, even if it has made great progress.

 

oppositionThe excellent weekly newspaper ‘The East African’ ran a disturbing report on the state of Opposition in East Africa in its latest weekly edition (June 18-24 2016). Published in Kenya, it also covers the news in the Great Lakes region (Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda). Under the headline Who would be an opposition politician in East Africa today? It highlights the plight of Kizza Besigwe (Uganda), Zitto Kabwe (Tanzania), Raila Odinga (Kenya) and Frank Habineza (Rwanda) all leaders of opposition parties in countries that have purportedly signed up to encouraging political pluralism. Many people in the UK have been bemoaning the lack of quality debate in the recent referendum, but no-one can doubt it was an act of direct democracy (even if it possibly would have been wiser to have been left to representation democracy as Frank Turner SJ points out in an excellent piece).

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Certainly here in East Africa there seems to be various crackdowns on ways of expressing opposition. We had just arrived in Arusha last Tuesday when we heard that someone called Emilly Isaac was handed down a three year sentence for a comment made on Facebook about the supporters of President Magafuli. His comment was mild to say the least, but he still had to pay a $3ooo fine or six months in jail. Magafuli is still wildy popular due to his anti-corruption stance, but some of the sheen is coming off with alarming evidence of a lack of thick skin. Kenya is presided over by Uhuru Kenyatta whose legacy has been seriously marred by the terrible violence that marked the elections of 2007 which claimed 1300 lives. In 2014 Kenyatta made history by becoming the first sitting head of state to come before the International Criminal Court to answer for ‘crimes against humanity’. The charges were withdrawn later that year, but the prosecution claimed that this was due to the Kenyan Governments noncompliance claiming they had evidence of witness intimidation and bribery. The conclusion was unsatisfactory to say the least with Kenyatta claiming to be vindicated, but really the ICC was shown to have an alarming lack of teeth. Finally in Uganda, President Musevini has just won a dubious election, decried by many independent observers as as being rigged, with undue pressure put on the opposition, his main rival Basingye is in prison.

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downloadThere is now an excellent way of monitoring governance in Africa – provided by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Ibrahim is a Sudanese/British Billionaire, telecommunications magnate – the founder of Cel Tel , set up the foundation when he sold the company in 2005. It awards scholarships and offers a prize for achievement in African Leadership. The Prize at $5m and $200k a year for life it is the biggest in the world, comfortably outstripping the Nobels $1.3m, and is an annual prize but not always awarded if the high standards are not met. Perhaps even more impressive is the Index that has provided an annual assessment on each countries governance. It assesses progress for each country on Safety and the Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. The East African Countries discussed here have never made it in the top ten of the 52 countries measured, with Tanzania 17th, Uganda 18th and Kenya 21st in 2013. What is brilliant about it is that you can spot trends in various areas of governance such as corruption, violence, participation, gender, infrastructure, education, health etc.

AMDG
cannonizationIt with a sad heart I leave Dodoma – but never before have I seen a city grow so fast. When the great independence president, Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzania, designated Dodoma as the capital rather than the sprawling port of Dar Es Salaam, it raised a few eyebrows. Back then in 1973, it was a small town that the Germans had developed along with the railway. Right in the centre of the country, it was at times a semi-arid dust bowl…. you can see the previous Prime Minister Pinda remembering the whirlwinds when we interviewed him in 2011. However visiting on and off over the last 9 years it has grown beyond recognition.

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Bunge2Nyerere, who became a Catholic at the age of 21, said that he was always a ‘schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident’. He stands out amongst the ‘Fathers of Africa’ (that post-independence generation of African leaders) in two ways, the peaceful way he relinquished power after 20 years and the simplicity and asceticism with which he lived. He was a daily mass goer and fasted regularly and in 2005 the Catholic Diocese of Musoma opened his cause for beatification. His economic legacy, however, is controversial, but his legacy in social development and leaving behind a peaceful country is impressive. With regards to Dodoma, Nyerere wanted the capital city to be in the centre of the country so that it could have a unifying effect, being equally accessible to all, bringing the tribes together – rather than becoming a bubble for the political elite in Dar. The ‘Bunge’, the national assembly or parliament has been sitting in Dodoma since 1996. Although many offices remain in Dar, the politicians decamp every year to live in Dodoma, the ministers have built houses, and along with them comes the usual entourage of advisors, lobbyists, business people. We had a lovely dinner with one of the entrepreneurial families in the parish who have opened a hotel – and much of their business is reliant on this custom.

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slider-11It is wonderful to visit as a Jesuit as you are inserted into the heart of the community, even though you are a mzungu.  The impressive Jesuit Parish with 1600 at mass is warm and welcoming, with amazing choirs.
The Jewel in the crown for our visits to Dodoma is St Ignatius Prep & Primary school. It is a very special place, and a lot of that is down to Sister Euphrasia, who has thrown her whole heart into building up the community. Some of the best teachers in Dodoma have followed her, even taking pay cuts – because they prefer working in the loving atmosphere of the school than many other schools which are run more like a business, and they are micromanaged. I suppose the great challenge for Euphrasia is one that I have been pondering on myself recently, how do you set up something that doesn’t totally rely on your personality, i.e. that is apostolically resilient, and doesn’t fizzle out when you are gone.