Category Archives: Religion

In S. Sudan, churches struggle to keep role as trusted peacemakers

Wearing an immaculate white cassock, Catholic Bishop Paride Taban strides through the mud and tents of the Jebel displaced persons camp in South Sudan’s capital Juba on a recent Sunday.

The camp is hardly sacred ground: thousands of ethnic Nuer live here under United Nations peacekeeper protection in fear of Dinka soldiers outside. But Bishop Taban is here to conduct mass anyway.

“The church is to be with the suffering people, wherever in the world,” the 78-year-old bishop says. Read more…

Photo: Catholic Archbishop Bishop Paride Taban leads mass on November 9 in an airplane hangar at the UN’s Jebel displaced person’s camp outside Juba where thousands of ethnic Nuer have taken shelter from the war. By Jason Patinkin

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In Kenya, islanders on heritage site count cost of $25 billion mega-project

Lamu Island on Kenya’s northeast coast was established some 700 years ago as part of a thriving Indian Ocean trade network that eventually stretched to Oman, India, Portugal, and China.

The mixing of those cultures produced the Swahili people and language, as well as an Islamic renaissance of architecture, poetry, and cuisine.

Lamu is regarded as the best preserved Swahili settlement in existence. The history, the remote white beaches, the carved wooden doorways, and the winding alleys, all make it a top Kenya tourist destination.

But change is coming – more drastic than any in Lamu’s history – that could irreversibly transform this ancient place. Read more…

Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Lamu after dark

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It was near nine o’clock in Shela, the sleepy village on the northeast beach of Lamu Island, when we ran out of soda for our brandies. Continue reading Lamu after dark

US sanctions tread lightly on Uganda’s ‘odious’ anti-gay laws

 

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni gestures after signing a new anti-gay bill in Entebbe, Uganda, Feb. 24, 2014. Rebecca Vassie/AP/File

A loud cry rose from the West early this year when Uganda passed an anti-homosexuality law that would put “repeat offenders” in prison for life.

European countries slashed aid to Uganda and gay rights activists loudly condemned the legislation, which came at the same time that Nigeria also cracked down on homosexuals with similarly draconian laws.

The “odious law,” as US President Barack Obama called Uganda’s initiative, would “complicate” the US partnership with Kampala. He ordered a review of the largely military US-Uganda relationship, with the intent of imposing sanctions.

Those sanctions got announced last week. They are the toughest actions taken against anti-gay laws overseas by the Obama administration, and include the redirecting of US aid to Uganda to its NGOs, the cancelling of a planned hospital, the cancelling of a military exercise, and the dropping of some police funding.

In the US, Vice President Joseph Biden and US Secretary of State John Kerry touted the sanctions as significant during June Pride Month.

But the sanctions also represent a conundrum for the US as it tries to affirm some of its own values and viewpoints abroad at a time when its leverage is lower.

Many human rights activists say the Uganda sanctions are too little, too late – even as some foreign affairs specialists say a US single-issue focus on gay rights actually strengthens a new “anti-West” narrative in parts of Africa and an attendant crackdown on civil society.  Read more…

Welcome to Little Mogadishu

A Somalia refugee named Mohamed drinks tea outside an Eastleigh cafe at dusk. Jason Patinkin

Nicknamed ‘Little Mogadishu,’ Eastleigh is a refugee haven for Somalis, Ethiopians, and some dozen other African nationalities. In recent years it has also become a unique import-export commercial hub, one now in jeopardy as Kenya conducts crackdowns and deportations on foreigners to root-out tackle suspected Al Shabab radicals.

Picture slideshow.

How Kenya’s ‘war on terror’ is disrupting a thriving Nairobi district.

Somalis in Kenya face mistrust.

Somalis in Kenya face mistrust

 

A Nairobi police officer speaks with a Somali woman in Eastleigh during a crackdown on immigrants in the spring of 2014, following attacks in Kenya by the Somalia-based Al Shabab terror group. Jason Patinkin

One side effect of Kenya’s new war against the Somalia-based terror of Al Shabab is the new level of aggressive behavior against ethnic Somalis who are Kenyan citizens.

Somali-Kenyans make up a minority of 2.3 million people, or 6 percent of the Kenyan population, and they can boast that the current foreign minister and chief speaker of Kenya’s parliament are Somali.

Yet the group is also the target of rising fear and bias. Somalis have been pulled off buses, subjected to police checks, and crudely depicted in Kenyan news media in ways that hark back to ugly practices in the 1980s. Since April in its war on Al Shabab, Kenyan police have rounded up thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees from Somalia. But they’ve detained hundreds of Somali-Kenyans, too, despite claims that they don’t engage in ethnic profiling.  Read more…

How Kenya’s ‘war on terror’ disrupts a thriving Nairobi district

 

Shoppers stroll First Avenue in Eastleigh, a neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, also known as ‘Little Mogadishu’ because it is home to immigrants from Somalia. Jason Patinkin

Eastleigh, a mass of crowds and color in the heart of Kenya’s capital, is like no other neighborhood in Nairobi.

Nicknamed “Little Mogadishu,” it has bloomed in the past decade into one of East Africa’s most vibrant commercial centers, built mostly by refugees from Somalia who came here after that country collapsed in the 1990s.

While Eastleigh is jammed with refugees from the Horn of Africa, it is no Nairobi ghetto: Bulk imports of textiles, car parts, electronics, and veterinary supplies – often tax free – come here from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and are sold to merchants who trek in from all over East and Central Africa.
Moreover, at the muezzin’s dusk call to prayer, people don’t retreat to homes behind razor-wire-topped walls, the way much of Nairobi’s population does each evening.

Instead, the place bustles. Eastleigh residents shop at night markets or sip camel-milk tea in sidewalk cafes, where one is more likely to hear Somali or Arabic than Swahili or English, Kenya’s national languages.

Yet in recent months, this sometime paradise for refugees has become hostile to outsiders. As Kenya cracks down on Al Shabab terrorists from Somalia following a devastating attack on the posh Nairobi Westgate mall last fall, Eastleigh residents are caught in the middle. Just as Little Mogadishu and its new glass-and-concrete high-rises are gaining a reputation as a story of progress and success, a cosmopolitan haven on the Horn, many refugees and immigrants are suddenly leaving.  Read more…