Tag Archives: Features

The growth of ‘money’ gospel in Africa and the fate of its blind followers

By Ilana van Wyk

The prosperity gospel is back in the news in South Africa, this time over the misdeeds of one of its prophets. The prosperity gospel is a religious movement that has exploded in popularity and prominence in South Africa over the last two decades but has stirred up controversy globally for more than 40 years.

Not many knew Prophet Shepherd Bushiri until three people died in a stampede at his Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Pretoria. Facebook
Not many knew Prophet Shepherd Bushiri until three people died in a stampede at his Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Pretoria. Facebook

The gospel first reached South Africa in the late 1970s through churches such as televangelist Ray McCauley’s Rhema Bible Church. Due to apartheid restrictions on the movements of black people, the prosperity gospel’s reach was limited. But since the start of democracy in 1994, preachers from across the continent have streamed into the country’s townships, converting large numbers to this new gospel.

Today it’s the fastest growing religious movement in South Africa. While precise statistics are lacking, scholars agree that prosperity gospel followers rival, if not exceed, the numbers of so-called mainline churches.

Not many South Africans had paid much attention to Prophet Shepherd Bushiri until the end of last year. But when three people died in a stampede at his Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Pretoria, the “self-proclaimed prophet” received wide media coverage.

In February 2019, he was again in the news when the police’s special crime investigative unit arrested him and his wife on suspicion of fraud, money laundering and for exchange control irregularities amounting to over US$ 1 million. His R20-million private Gulfstream jet was also attached.

Bushiri’s followers also attracted media attention when they gathered in great numbers waving placards outside court to pray for his release. Many prostrated themselves on the tarmac, tears streaming down their faces as they spoke in tongues or as they cried for their “daddy”, “Papa” or “Major One”.

Paseka Motsoeneng, better known as Prophet Mboro, who is a preacher from a similar church, lent emotional and spiritual support to Bushiri’s “children”, traumatised by the loss of their “spiritual mother and father”.

These scenes led many South Africans to ask questions about Bushiri’s supporters. Were they part of a cult? Or were they merely instruments in the hands of a man who manipulated their vulnerability for his own financial ends?

Christian commentators called for urgent government intervention to protect poor people duped by the improbable promises made by what they termed as “scam” churches and “fake prophets”.

As an anthropologist, I have been studying prosperity gospel churches in South Africa for nearly a decade. I have attended hundreds of daily services, watched scores of televised ones, analysed websites and chat forums and interviewed hundreds of prosperity gospel believers. And unlike theologians who argue about the legitimacy of Biblical interpretations and questions of doctrine, I have been interested in the kinds of people who swear undying support for men like Bushiri.

Tenets of the prosperity gospel

The prosperity gospel explains poverty and illness in terms of sins against God, specifically the withholding of tithes. It also ascribes such “bad luck” to the work of demons engaged in a spiritual war against God’s kingdom. Converts typically renounce their past lives and their old churches.

They embrace spiritual “technologies” – these include offerings in church, paying tithes, praying strongly and exorcising demons – that promise to secure miraculous health and wealth directly from God. They also follow preacher-prophets who they believe have special powers to fight against the “spirit of poverty”.

Many believers are strengthened in this faith through the persistent testimonies of those who had been “blessed” with jobs, houses, cars and healing in church. These testimonies are delivered from church pulpits and in person, and are endlessly repeated in church publications and on radio, television and the internet.

What I found

My research showed that prosperity gospel churches attract people from all walks of life and a variety of educational backgrounds. While the majority of congregants, like the majority of South Africans, are typically poor and dependent on social grants, these churches also count significant numbers of professionals, business people and increasingly, politicians, in their ranks.

I also found that Prosperity gospel believers are not captive victims of so-called cult leaders. In fact, they move constantly between churches as they search for more efficacious “technologies” and “stronger prophets”. Chances are that as Bushiri faces more legal troubles, more of his followers will desert him for prophets like Mboro.

I often struggle to convince people that those who subscribe to this gospel are not simply credulous dupes. Detractors often refer to the figure of the improbably rich prophet, men like Bushiri, as proof that the prosperity gospel is illegitimate and that its believers are fools.

God and money

There’s a long Western Christian belief that money is a force that corrupts proper spiritual intentions and corrodes sacred social bonds. Stemming from the 16th century Reformation, this tradition has been very suspicious of any coupling of God and money, holding that the material world poses dangerous distractions from proper spiritual belief.

But there are other Christian traditions such as the prosperity gospel that are much more materialist in their concerns. In these traditions, money does very different kinds of work. It is the proper medium through which their God “blesses” people, through which people petition God and through which believers come into social being and connect to others through their generosity.

Some of these traditions have a long history in South Africa, going back to the 1800s. The mission record for instance shows that scores of early converts- and missionaries- demanded material proof of their new God’s power. Various Revivalists used Christianity to inform more aggressive forms of millenarianism such as the “gospel of self-help” during the 1940s and the tent campaigns of the 1960s. The prosperity gospel is a continuation of this materialist Christian tradition. For its followers, it is not a con, just a different approach to their God.

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Bribery patterns in Uganda’s health care system

In September 2017 Uganda’s former Minister of Health, Dr Sarah Opendi, disguised herself in a hijab and travelled by boda boda (motorbike taxi) to Naguru Hospital in Kampala. The minister then asked for routine laboratory tests. They should have been given to her free of charge but instead the health workers asked for a bribe.

Experts fear that Uganda’s efforts to eliminate graft in its health care system are not sustainable.
Experts fear that Uganda’s efforts to eliminate graft in its health care system are not sustainable. Photo: Suuba Trust/Flickr

A camera crew was on hand to film the confrontation that followed. The police were close behind to arrest the two health workers. The drama captured national and international headlines.

Our fieldwork, which looked for surprising “success stories” in bribery reduction efforts in Kampala, began a day before this “investigation” took place. The minister’s involvement in the plot was exceptional but we learned that publicised anti-corruption raids in Uganda’s health sector are not unusual. Rather, they are emblematic of a high-profile strategy devised by the government to crack down on bribery and other sources of corruption in the sector.

Our research was done under the umbrella of the “Islands of Integrity” project which uses global data to identify sectors within a country that have experienced a significant – if surprising – reduction in bribery relative to other sectors.

We found that in Uganda, contrary to expectations given the sector’s history of corruption, bribery for health services reduced dramatically between 2011 and 2015.

This achievement has been widely applauded. But our research also showed that were serious downsides to the “naming and shaming” approach taken by the administration. This includes a disgruntled workforce and question marks over the long term sustainability of the approach.

Corruption in Uganda

Almost half of all people who made contact with the health sector in Uganda in 2010 paid a bribe. But by 2015 this rate was just 25% . This is an almost unprecedented reduction, especially in such a short time frame. And runs counter to the trend in other sectors where bribery remained at high levels.

Our research shows that the main factor was the introduction of the Health Monitoring Unit which was launched in 2009.

The unit is a highly visible institution with wide ranging powers to monitor and evaluate the performance of health facilities, investigate and arrest corrupt health workers and audit Uganda’s health procurement and supply system. It also works with the courts to prosecute health-care related crimes.

Its most high-profile work involves carrying out unannounced investigations in health facilities, which are either randomly selected or in response to specific complaints. These complaints often include bribery claims.

While the unit prides itself on getting the job done observers have criticised its investigations for being “militaristic”, based on a strategy of catching health workers “red handed” and then “naming and shaming” them in public.

It is true that unit arrests are often covered by the media. Its exploits usually receive front page coverage. Nevertheless, the fear of exposure has been a useful deterrent for potential bribe seekers.

Sustainability questions

We found that bribery patterns were indeed disrupted because health workers were afraid of being monitored, arrested and punished. All the health care workers we interviewed in Uganda’s Central, Eastern and Western provinces knew about the unit and its raids. All of them were of the opinion that the raids were the reason bribery in the health sector had decreased.

However, the case isn’t an uncomplicated success story.

The first big question is over sustainability. A disruptive strategy like this is expensive, time consuming, resource intensive and requires constant rebooting to keep people on their toes. As far as we can tell, there are no real plans for ongoing disruption or next steps.

The approach also doesn’t take into account the real-life “benefits” of bribery such as supplementing the meagre wages in the health sector. Because of this, we found some evidence in our interviews with front line health staff that bribery patterns are reemerging, a trend observed in research done by others looking at the role of social norms and “camouflaging” behaviour in bribery.

Rather than halting completely, it looks like the patterns may be changing. Bribery strategies are changing and could return in full force when the pressure comes off.

Ultimately, and of the utmost importance, is the fact that the approach doesn’t tackle corruption higher up the chain, which is where the problem begins.

Unintended consequences

Our research also uncovered evidence of some unintended consequences of the unit’s name and shame approach. As early as 2010, the unit’s work was said to be “humiliating” health workers and negatively affecting staff morale.

In December 2017, members of the Uganda Medical Association went on an unprecedented nationwide strike which lasted over a month and brought the already weak health system to its knees. The health workers cited the unit as one of the key causes of the strike.

In keeping with the sentiments of the strikers – and research done by others – our findings suggest that the unit’s ultimate impact on service delivery could be negative, with staff morale falling to an all-time low. Fearful, demoralised staff are not likely to provide the best care possible in the circumstances.

While Uganda’s health sector is a positive outlier on bribery, the evidence suggests the cost of controlling the vice might be too high. And the consequences of the present approach is likely to be become apparent in years to come.


Additional research was carried out by Pius Gumisiriza. Pius is a lecturer at the Uganda Management Institute.

SOURCE: The Conversation

Uganda’s brutal clampdown on MPs is caused by global indifference

MPs including the Afropop musician Bobi Wine are allegedly being tortured by the Museveni regime. The Magnitsky Act can curb this shocking abuse.

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In a country with such a complex and often conflict-prone history, acts of political violence and intimidation are common enough to be unremarkable. But this past week in Uganda has been exceptional, as outrage spills out into the streets over the government’s brutal arrests of four members of parliament and dozens of their supporters. Among those arrested was the rising political star Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, a widely loved 36-year-old former Afropop musician popularly known as Bobi Wine. The state’s treatment of Wine, including credible allegations of torture, has prompted days of massive protests in the capital, Kampala, which have been violently suppressed by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) with tear gas and live ammunition.

President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, has breezily dismissed the treatment of Wine, calling the whole affair “fake news”. How the international community responds to Uganda in this moment is crucial – and the ruling party is betting on short attention spans and crisis fatigue to move on to other concerns. But the next generation of Ugandans deserves a more serious international response, as Wine’s plight is quickly becoming a symbol of the deplorable state of human rights in the country.

Although Wine was originally arrested over “obstructing a motorcade”, after stones were thrown at the president’s car, more charges were slapped together, including illegal possession of a firearm (although no such firearm was ever found). Despite being a matter for the civil courts, he was put into military detention until, on Thursday, the state dropped the gun charges – only to have him re-arrested and charged with treason along with the other three MPs. Wine is in jail because of who he is, not anything he may have done.

Over the course of his detention, Wine has allegedly been subjected to horrific abuse. According to accounts by his family, his face, torso, legs and genitals have been subjected to repeated heavy punches and kicks by UPDF soldiers. He has informed his wife that he has been given so many injections of unknown drugs by unknown people that he lost count, and consciousness, awakening only when he was wheeled into his arraignment hearing on 16 August – disoriented and unable to stand or speak.

Even Wine’s military doctors are said to have told him that it is likely he has suffered significant kidney damage, while the judge at that hearing ordered that he be granted his constitutionally guaranteed right to medical care. Many of his injuries may have a lifelong impact. But despite this evidence of abuse, the government continues to insist that he is in rude health, not a scratch or bruise on him.

Wine is in many ways an unlikely figure to become a symbol of opposition. He is new to politics, only winning his seat as an independent last year, and is not tied to one of the major opposition parties. There are many other longtime challengers in the opposition who have suffered similarly for years. Kizza Besigye, of the Forum for Democratic Change, has been attacked, threatened, physically abused and sent before military courts many times – in fact, he was arrested again hours after Wine was charged with treason.

His also may not be the worst case. Francis Zaake, the Mityana MP, was arrested on the same day, and UPDF agents allegedly tied a rope around his neck and beat him unconscious. He’s been unable to leave his hospital bedbecause of dislocated discs in his back and a severely injured neck. In September last year, the MP Betty Nambooze had her spine snapped in an attack by state agents – and that happened inside parliament. The stories go on and on.

Nevertheless, Wine’s case has captivated national attention in a unique way. As the “ghetto president”, Wine has unprecedented appeal among young people, allowing many disenchanted Ugandans to identify with him and participate in the political sphere. If he is dragged off, beaten, and tortured by UPDF thugs, his supporters feel it – and they will not back down.

It is the responsibility of the international community to take action to halt the human rights abuses in Uganda. Uganda is in clear violation of the international covenant on civil and political rights, the UN convention against torture, the African Charter of Human Rights of the African Union, and a number of other international treaties. It is an important moment to demand the immediate release of these political prisoners, the dropping of all false charges, and the reinstatement of their basic political rights to free association and freedom of expression. Our law firm, acting on behalf of Wine, is calling for the application of the Global Magnitsky Act against state officials responsible for these human rights violations.

The Magnitsky Act, passed by the US Congress in 2016, in the wake of the murder of the Russian whistleblower-lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, allows for visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world responsible for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption. These types of individualised sanctions are a very effective deterrent against future attacks on human rights, while limiting the collateral damage to innocent citizens.

In recent years Uganda has avoided consequences for its repressive conduct – partly because the country is seen as a reliable security partner (contributing thousands of troops to Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere), and partly because of its stability as an investment destination. But the viability of these relationships is in jeopardy when rule of law is so brazenly discarded. The cause is just – we just need to summon the political will to bring positive change to Uganda.


  • Robert Amsterdam is the founding partner of Amsterdam & Partners LLP, which represents Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (aka Bobi Wine). For information about the case, go to CrowdJustice

Cover photo: ‘But the next generation of Ugandans deserves a more serious international response.’ Ugandans living in Kenya protest at Bobi Wine’s detention Photo: Daniel Irungu/EPA

Cambodia’s prime minister rigged an election: here is how he did it

 


Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a recent landslide victory in the Southeast Asian country.

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Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Cambodia’s People Party (CPP), the party of Prime Minister Hun Sen (photo), 32 years in government, has won all the seats.

After outlawing the main opposition party that challenged the ruling CPP, Hun Sen secured more than 80 per cent of the popular vote and well over 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly. Despite calls to boycott the election, voter turnout was around 82 per cent, or about 6.88 million people.

The response from the international community has been split.

Australia, Canada, the European Union and the United States have expressed “profound disappointment” with the lack of opposition participation. Regional countries and populist European leaders, on the other hand, have endorsed the result.

The re-election of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his CPP contributes to the growing global democratic crisis. The government has taken advantage of the retreat of leading democracies to use blatant repression to suppress opponents, stifle media freedom and compromise rules-based institutions.

With the advent of digital technology and increased social media use in Cambodia, the government has also turned to “sharp power” to manipulate information, target crucial democratic institutions to exert control and change public opinion.

What went wrong this election?

Pulled out all the stops

In the last competitive elections in 2013, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) gained significant ground with 44 per cent of the popular vote, shaving the CPP’s vote share to 48 per cent. In this election, Hun Sen and the CPP were determined to pull out all the stops to prevent a replay of 2013’s humiliating results.

In 2016, a prominent political commentator and activist Kem Ley was assassinated.

Kem Ley is seen in this 2016 photo.

The following year, the main opposition party, the CNRP, was dissolved and banned from contesting the election. The CNRP’s leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested on trumped-up charges of “treason.” This move followed weeks of tensions involving the expulsion of the National Democratic Institute from the country and the shuttering of 32 radio stations critical of the government, including the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.

A key assault on independent media included the imposition of back taxes on the leading newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, resulting in its bankruptcy. Meantime, the Phnom Penh Post was sold to a Malaysian businessman from a public relations company that worked for the Cambodian government.

Journalists were also constrained by a list of arbitrary, controversial rulesregarding how they cover elections. They were prohibited from having their “own ideas to make conclusions,” asking detailed questions about the election result or from “interfering” at the voting booths by talking to voters. Cambodian journalists also routinely deal with phone-tapping and death threats, and are forced to self-censor.

Other drastic measures to tilt the level playing field included opposition harassment, voter intimidation and vote-buying. While small parties were allowed to contest, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) reported the anti-regime parties faced harassment from government officials, creating “a noxious pre-election environment characterized by impunity, threats and intimidation.”

What’s more, high-ranking members of the armed and police forces campaigned for the CPP prior to the election, while others threatened to take away public services to residents in certain provinces unless they voted. The government also threatened people who wanted to boycott elections. Additionally, vote-buying was reported in which envelopes filled with 20,000 riel (approximately US$5) were handed out to voters at campaign rallies.

Fake news and online censorship

Aside from stifling the mainstream media, the government also cracked down on digital media to prevent the opposition from making any headway. To prevent digital technology from becoming a liberalizing or mobilizing tool, the government ramped up its surveillance of online activities.

In 2015, the controversial Law on Telecommunications was passed to authorize the government’s eavesdropping on all telecommunications. Every phone conversation, text message, email or post on Facebook, if deemed to have violated “national security” clauses, could result in a 15-year prison sentence.

Weary of the spread of online “fake news” — also known as negative media coverage — staff from three government ministries were tasked to control news content, writing, audio, pictures, videos and any other media with “the intention to cause instability” prior to the July 29 election.

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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen waves to supporters just before the July 29 election. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Internet service providers were also required to have software and equipment to filter or block websites, accounts or social media pages that “broadcast in violation of the law.”

The government is now drafting “fake news” legislation similar to Malaysia’s “Anti-Fake News Act” to punish those found guilty of creating or distributing supposedly false information with up to two years imprisonment and fines of up to US$1,000.

Many of Cambodia’s government-approved media outlets, with their links to China, are looking more like China’s authoritarian model, which should be cause for concern for proponents of democracy.

While internet penetration has increased in Cambodia, internet freedom has declined. Cambodia was ranked as having the worst environment for clean elections and for freedom of political parties from 2000 to 2015 in Southeast Asia. Once a thriving and open media hub, Cambodia now sits at 142 in the World Press Freedom Index.

Divided international community

The international community’s response to Cambodia’s sham election is divided. The U.S. and the EU, who provided aid to Cambodia after its first UN-administered election in 1993, cut electoral assistance and suspended funding prior to the vote. On the other hand, Russia, South Korea, Japan and China have remained loyal donors.

While Russia provided election monitors, China and Japan supplied election ballot boxes and booths. China also promised US$100 million in military aid to boost ties with Cambodia prior to the election.

Despite calls from local election watchdogs not to send observers, Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) reported there were more than 50,000 observers, including some from China, Myanmar and Singapore, who participated in election monitoring. And a group of European populist and nationalist politicians from the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Czech Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, the Austrian Freedom Party and other right-wing party leaders also descended on Cambodia to observe and endorse the national election.

The CPP’s victory does not bode well for Cambodian democracy. Given the failure of international sanctions to have any effect, it is likely Cambodia will slide further into electoral authoritarianism in the coming years.


Disclosure statement

Netina Tan receives funding from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and International Development of Research Centre (IDRC).

Cassandra Preece receives funding from McMaster University.


 

OAU’s Department of Adult Education organizes skills fair for university community


By Olamide Samson Olalekan


The Department of Adult Education and Life Long Learning, in the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, organizes first of its kind Skills Fair in the history of Obafemi Awolowo University.

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The skills fair, which serves as a continuous assessment for the students offering DCE 403 with course title, “Organizations and Administration of Adult Education”, was held on the 3rd of August, 2018 at the Faculty of Education basement.

It encompasses various vocational trainings which includes tie and dye, soap making, bead making, bow tie, lapel, make up and gele, barbing, wig making etc

The skills fair was not only attended by students from the faculty of education, but also had in attendance lecturers in the faculty, students from other faculties and even persons from outside the University.

The newly elected Dean of Faculty of Education, Prof. M. A. Adeleke, also witnessed the Skills fair. He commended the efforts of the lecturers in charge of the course, Dr. Mrs. Babalola and Mr Paul Akpomuje, for being the brains behind the innovation.

He also congratulated the students offering the course for participating in the fair and advised them not to see it as a mere continuous assessment, but to see it also as a skill acquisition program.

In order to get more details about the real driving force behind this first of its kind Skill Fair in the University community, bloomgist’s Olamide Samson Olalekan had an interview with one of the Lecturers in charge of the course, Mr. Paul Akpomuje.

During the interview, Mr. Paul Akpomuje shed more lights on the reason(s) for the skill fair. He said: “We in the Department of Adult Education and Life-long Learning believe that education should be practical; we believe that when people come to the Faculty of Education, they should not just be trained to become classroom teachers only.”

“They may choose to be classroom teachers and do other things or do other things but classroom, so when we train people and do all these things; we believe we should bring education to reality.

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“Most importantly, there are three domains of learning; we have the cognitive, the affective and the psychomotor. In our universities in Nigeria, I stand corrected, I’m sorry to say, I think we have missed it in the sense that, I don’t know of other universities but to the best of my knowledge, emphasis is only on the cognitive, that is why you see people cramming, going to write exams, cram to write tests and all.

“We believe that the other domains, affective and psychomotor, are tested. So what we are doing now is called “Skills Fair”, the skills fair is to test both the affective and the psychomotor domain of learning so that we will be able to test people’s character, behavior, attitude, emotional intelligence not only intellectual intelligence quotient.

“We don’t believe only in IQ in Adult Education, we believe in IQ- Intelligence Quotient, EQ- Emotional Quotient and SQ- Spiritual Quotient, so we believe in all the quotients of a person, meaning that we believe in the roundedness of a person i.e. a person must be rounded.

“Learning should be a rounding process; it should be able to go round a person’s whole skills. So what we are doing here is a test of the psychomotor and affective skills. While we are testing the affective skill, the behavior, mannerism and emotions, of students; we are also testing their ability to put their hands to work, that is, the psychomotor skill.

“For instance, one of the students in one of the groups, the tie & dye and soap making group, is visually challenged, taking this course (DCE 403) , and was the person who taught soap making.

“Ordinarily, she may write exams and not do well because you are testing the cognitive domain but here she is using other skills very effectively which is the psychomotor skill and different groups.

“Some people were taught how to make wigs, barb, do make up, finger foods etc., these are the things that may not be taught in the classroom. So, the essence is to practice training or teaching and also to test all other domains of learning”, he added.

 

Spread of Ebola in Congo has been halted – what did we do right?

With the recent outbreak declared over in little more than two months, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s health minister explains how a major crisis was avoided.

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Nurses working with the World Health Organization prepare to start vaccinating in Mbandaka. Photo: Junior D Kannah/AFP/Getty Images

The ninth and latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is now over. I did not think I would be able to utter these words so soon after it all started on 8 May. This outbreak, the most challenging the country has ever faced, had all the makings of a major crisis.

Ebola surfaced simultaneously in two remote rural zones, with health workers among the confirmed cases. The virus quickly spread to Mbandaka, a city of more than 1.2 million inhabitants on the Congo, a heavily used transportation corridor. It could have spread to other major cities including Kinshasa, our capital, where more than 12 million Congolese live, and neighbouring countries, but it did not.

So what went right? The global community’s ability to contain the spread of the Ebola virus has greatly improved since the 2014 west Africa Ebola epidemic. With our partners, we applied many of the lessons learned from our experiences in both west Africa and DRC.

Local ownership remains the cornerstone of a successful response. The Ministry of Health stepped up to lead the efforts on the ground. By the time international support arrived in DRC, the major elements of a full-blown response were already in place and functioning.

Swift mobilisation of finances is anotherkey factor. The government’s $56.8m (£43.3m) three-month action plan was fully financed within 48 hours of it being released, starting with the DRC government putting forward $4m. International partners including donor governments and the World Bank also stepped up – the latter triggered its newly operational pandemic emergency financing facility for the first time and swiftly repurposed funds through its existing health programme in DRC to support the effort. This is in stark contrast with west Africa, where it took months to raise the necessary funds, while the death toll kept rising and finally reached 11,000.

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Health minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga addresses residents of Mbandaka during the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign in May. Photograph: Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images

The use of the Ebola vaccine, which proved highly effective in a clinical trial in Guinea in 2015, was one of the most innovative components of this response. The new vaccine has not just proved safe and effective against Ebola; it also changed community perceptions of the disease, which is now seen as treatable. Throughout the outbreak, more than 3,300 people were vaccinated. I was vaccinated myself to show the vaccine’s safety and break the stigma around it.

I learned that working with the community, especially on public health information campaigns, will get you a long way. Church and traditional leaders are your best allies to carry public health messages that require communities to change age-old habits and challenge their traditions. In Mbandaka, our strongest health advocates became the 4,000 motorcycle taxi drivers, whose daily work put them at risk of transporting infectious people. They started promoting vaccination and hygiene messages on local radio.

The pan-African nature of this response was quite exceptional. Epidemics do not stop at national borders. The importance of regional cooperation for outbreak prevention and management cannot be overstated. Health responders from Guinea participated in the vaccination efforts, epidemiologists from the newly created Africa Centres for Disease Control and the African Field Epidemiology Network worked with our experts on surveillance. This regional collaboration sends a strong signal that Africa is willing to take the driver’s seat in solving its problems.

While Ebola remains a formidable challenge for DRC and the rest of the world, we raised the bar on our own ability as a country to detect and respond effectively to outbreaks despite highly challenging circumstances. We must continue to improve our capacity to contain diseases and prepare for Ebola outbreak number 10, which we know will happen.

This ninth Ebola outbreak in DRC was unlike any other, but the lessons learned here can be applied anywhere in the world. With increased levels of global trade and travel, there is a higher risk of outbreaks increasing in frequency and spread. In this respect, all countries are equally vulnerable, and it is in our common interest to achieve global health security. The first step is to learn from each other and take responsibility by improving our capacity to detect and respond to any outbreak that starts within our national borders.


 Oly Ilunga Kalenga is minister of health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Rwanda and Arsenal FC: when the poor sponsor the rich

Rwanda keeps surprising. Recently the Rwandan Development Board signed a sleeve sponsoring deal with London Premier League club, Arsenal. Over a three-year period, the 200 sq centimetre ad “Visit Rwanda” will cost the country USD$39 million.

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Arsenal FC’s new sponsor is Rwanda. Photo: Twitter/@Arsenal

President Paul Kagame is known to be a committed Arsenal fan. Recently, he even tweeted that the club needed a new coach after Arsenal’s once invincible league and cup winning manager Arsene Wenger’s poor record over the past number of seasons. One may suppose that it is a coincidence that the deal was struck just after Wenger’s retirement at the end of the 2017/18 season.

Rwanda is the 19th poorest country in the world with a per capita income of around USD$700. Arsenal is one of the richest football clubs in the world. It’s not surprising therefore that the nearly USD$40 million has upset quite a few people.

Dutch lawmakers, including some from the governing coalition, immediately reacted angrily to the news that such a poor country receiving a great deal of aid from The Netherlands would sponsor one of the world’s richest soccer clubs. Similar reactions could be heard in the UK, Rwanda’s second largest bilateral donor. An MP described the deal as “an own goal for foreign aid”.

In addition, those concerned with democracy and human rights think the deal is sending the wrong message about a country that has a strong authoritarian streak running through it.

The question is: Is Kagame entering into a deal with his favourite club to promote tourism or has he done it to enhance his image and shield him from criticism? He appears to have made the decision off his own bat: the contract appears not to have been discussed in the cabinet and the money does not figure in the budget approved by parliament.

Rwanda’s rationale

For the Rwandan government, the deal is part of a broader strategy to develop tourism, which in 2017 accounted for about 12.7% of GDP and USD$400 million of revenue. The country sees upmarket leisure and convention tourism as an important growth sector. It has a lot going for it: lush green landscapes, the mountain gorillas of the Virunga volcanos, the Akagera wildlife park, the tropical Nyungwe forest, idyllic Lake Kivu, and even genocide memorials – all compressed into a space of just 26,000 sq kms.

This strategy is integrated and makes sense on paper. The state has invested heavily in its national airline RwandAir and built the Kigali Convention Centre and high-end hotels. And the development of the new Bugesera International Airport, designed to become a major regional hub, is underway.

But there are doubts about the profitability of these ventures. For instance, RwandAir has yet to break even 14 years after it was launched. The government keeps it afloat with an annual grant of USD$50 million just for operations.

Investments in a constantly expanding fleet to cater for an ever growing network of continental and intercontinental destinations require considerable borrowing at a high cost. The fiscal risk involved in the government’s strategy is high, and economists wonder how sustainable these outlays will be in the medium term.

Calculations like these are for the Rwandan government to consider. But has Arsenal considered the signal it’s giving in light of Kagame’s human rights and democracy records?

Risks for Arsenal

Canadian investigative journalist Judi Rever recently recorded in a book, “In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front”, that the Rwandan regime has massacred tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, particularly in the 1990s.

And last year Human Rights Watch issued worrying reports about human rights abuses. These included the rounding up and arbitrary detention of poor people in “transit centres” across the country, widespread repression in land cases, extrajudicial killings and unlawful detention and torture in military facilities.

In October 2017 the United Nations subcommittee on Prevention of Torture suspended its visit to Rwanda because of “a series of obstructions imposed by the authorities”. It was only the third time in 10 years the subcommittee has done this.

On top of this there has been widespread analysis and commentary on the state of democracy in Rwanda. The country is a de facto one-party state with no meaningful political opposition, no press freedom and no independent civil society.

Kagame’s grip on power is absolute and in August last year he was reelected with over 98% of the vote. A referendum on a constitutional amendment in 2015 gave him the right to stay office until 2034.

Realising that battles are fought in the media as much, if not more than on the ground, Kagame’s party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has developed a formidable information and communication strategystretching back to the civil war it launched in October 1990.

Kagame once said:

We used communication and information warfare better than anyone. We have found a new way of doing things.

This has involved paying those who can help promote the right image, including public relations firms.

Political ethics and sport

True, political ethics and sports don’t match well. Until recently FC Barcelona agreed to a Qatar sponsorship that saw the country featured on the team’s jerseys. Qatar has a very chequered political record. Due to host the 2022 World Cup, it’s known for its notorious human rights abuse, especially when it comes to the rights of migrant workers and women.

Another example is Atlético Madrid which was controversially sponsored by Azerbaijan, where the Euro 2020 football tournament will take place. This east European country has been flagged by Amnesty Internationalfor its “crackdown on the right to freedom of expression, particularly following revelations of large-scale political corruption”.

Not that it should make any difference, but these two countries are very rich, while Rwanda is very poor.

And I nearly forgot: Many Arsenal fans were opposed to the deal, not because of Rwanda’s human rights and democracy records, but because they didn’t like the design of the sleeve print.


Disclosure statement

Filip Reyntjens does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The Tunisian who bakes bread for France’s president

A French-Tunisian baker, who has won the right to supply the French presidential palace with baguettes for a year, says kneading is the secret behind his prize-winning loaves.

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A jury of around 15 people taste dozens of baguettes before choosing a winner. Photo: AFP


“A lot of people go too quickly with the kneading,” Mahmoud M’seddi told the BBC.

He is the latest winner of the annual best baguette in Paris competition.

Mr M’seddi makes his first visit to the Elysée Palace on Friday and will now start hand-delivering his baguettes.

He is the fourth North African in the last six years to win the award.

But Mr M’seddi said this was either coincidence, or maybe because a lot of the traditional bakeries in the Paris region are owned by North Africans.

He says he gets up early to ensure his loaves are properly fermented, which he believes is a vital part of the process of making baguettes. “A lot of people don’t leave the time for the dough to ferment,” he said.

“You have to give it the time, so the fermentation happens naturally. I either get up really early, or sometimes I leave it overnight.”

The 27-year-old will also receive a cash prize of nearly £5,000 from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo during a bread festival in May.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a rare novelist to become a public intellectual

A special feature for one of the most prominent women in Africa and one of the most celebrated novelist in the world. 

NOT LONG AGO, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stood in front of a small class of literature students at Cardozo high school in Washington, D.C. Over the last few years, Adichie’s books have appeared on thousands of required-reading lists — more or less every American student between 14 and 22 has been assigned her work.

While introducing her, Dr. Frazier O’Leary, the class’s soft-spoken teacher, mentioned that Adichie had visited at the school a few years before, and that between that visit and this one, Adichie had had a daughter, now 23 months old. Then he ceded the floor to Adichie. She stood before the 20-odd students, her fingertips on the podium, and swept her almond eyes around the room.

“So, what should we talk about?” she asked. In front of an audience, Adichie speaks with great precision, measuring every word, her Nigerian-British accent sounding to American ears both opulent and daunting.

No one raised their hand.

Adichie was wearing a T-shirt that read, in glittering letters, “We Should All Be Feminists,” and she carried a Christian Dior bag that bore the same message, both inspired by her 2012 TEDx Talk, which has been viewed over four million times. The students had been assigned to read Adichie’s essay based on the talk, and thus it was dispiriting when the first question came from a young man, originally from Ghana, who very politely asked how Adichie was balancing her work with the responsibilities of motherhood.

She looked down and smiled. She took her time, and then, with her chin still lowered, she raised her eyes to look kindly at the student.

“I’m going to answer your question,” she said, “but you have to promise me that the next time you meet a new father, you ask him how he’s balancing his work and the responsibilities of fatherhood.”

The young man shrugged. Adichie, who is 40, smiled warmly at him, but thereafter, the class, already intimidated and shy, grew only more so.

“Why don’t I read a bit?” she said finally, and she did.

AFTERWARD, ADICHIE and I sat at a restaurant in Columbia Heights. “He was quite sanguine, wasn’t he?” she said about the young man she’d carefully corrected. “Maybe he’s young enough that he hasn’t been indoctrinated into the cult of how and when to take offense. He can still look at the merits of an argument. Either that, or he was looking pleasantly at me and thinking, ‘Bitch, go away.’ ”

Adichie looks with a gimlet eye at American liberal doctrine, preferring open and frank debate to the narrow constraints of approved messaging. Though she is considered a global icon of feminism, she has, on occasion, displeased progressive sects when she’s expressed her beliefs about gender with candor and without using the latest terminology.

“It’s a cannibalistic ethos,” she says about the American left. “It swiftly, gleefully, brutally eats its own. There is such a quick assumption of ill will and an increasing sanctimony and humorlessness that can often seem inhumane. It’s almost as if the humanity of people gets lost and what matters is that you abide to every single rule in the handbook of American liberal orthodoxy.”

The day was not warm, but we ordered lemonade. Moments later, the waiter said they needed our table for a large party. We moved into a corner and the waiter forgot about us completely. Which seemed improbable, with Adichie’s glittering bag on the table serving as a kind of tabletop lighthouse.

“I’ll have you know,” she said, “that this bag was designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri, the first woman creative director at Dior. A very interesting person. When she proposed the T-shirt, she sent me a handwritten note.”

I asked if Dior planned to make merchandise for every one of her books. Maybe a necklace that said “The Thing Around Your Neck”? A sconce that said “Half of a Yellow Sun”? Adichie laughed her distinctive laugh, which overtakes her whole torso but sounds like the giggle of a teenager. I should note here that I’ve known Adichie for about 10 years now, and she has always been startlingly easy to make laugh, and one of her very favorite subjects for ridicule is the exalted reputation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

She grew up in an upper-middle-class home, the fifth of six children. Her father was a professor at the University of Nigeria, her mother was the university’s registrar — the first woman to hold that post. Her parents expected Chimamanda to be a doctor, and for a year she studied medicine at university, but her heart wasn’t in it.

“When I said I wanted to write, they were very supportive, which was very unusual,” she said. “Nobody just leaves medical school, especially given it’s fiercely competitive to get in. But I had a sister who was a doctor, another who was a pharmacist, a brother who was an engineer. So my parents already had sensible children who would be able to make an actual living, and I think they felt comfortable sacrificing their one strange child.”

Adichie was just 26 when she published her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” in 2003. It won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Her second, 2006’s “Half of a Yellow Sun,” was a shimmering work of historical fiction that reminded the world of the Biafran War and made it deeply personal; it won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (now called the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction) and garnered comparisons to one of her heroes, Chinua Achebe. The next year, she won a MacArthur grant and found time to finish a master’s degree in African studies at Yale. “The Thing Around Your Neck,” her first collection of stories, was published in 2009, followed by 2013’s “Americanah,” an intimate and accessible multigenerational story about family and immigration set in Nigeria and New Jersey. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award and has become an enduring best seller. While the majority of her previous work had been tightly controlled and gravely serious, “Americanah” was loose and irreverent.

“I decided with that book that I was going to have fun, and if nobody read it, that would be fine,” she said. “I was free of the burden of research necessary for the other books. I was no longer the dutiful daughter of literature.”

In “Americanah,” the protagonist, a Nigerian woman named Ifemelu, moves to New Jersey and is first confused and then amused by the cultural differences between African-Americans and Africans living in America. Ifemelu decides to explore the subject in a blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. Through the blog, Adichie was able to speak with disarming forthrightness about life as an African living in America: “I was tired of everyone saying that when you write about race in America, it has to be nuanced, it has to be subtle, it has to be this and that.”

The directness of the blog, I suggested, seemed to provide a bridge to her TEDx Talk, which became a book, which became a T-shirt and a bag.

“Yes and no,” she said. “But I’ll allow your thesis.” She laughed her laugh.

Now there is a follow-up called “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.” Asked by a friend, a new mother, for advice in making her daughter Chizalum a feminist, Adichie wrote another very (direct, lucid) work. Suggestion No. 1 reads, “Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood.” No. 8: “Teach her to reject likability. Her job is not to make herself likable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.” And No. 15: “Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference.”

The reaction to these manifestoes among a reading public longing for probity and directness has been profound. In a San Francisco auditorium last year, I witnessed Adichie step onto the stage in front of almost 3,000 people — the average age of the audience was about 20. She wore ankara-patterned pants and a white blouse and stood on four-inch heels, and the audience response was euphoric.

“It’s not that I told people something they don’t know, it’s just that I did it in language that was more accessible.” She looked around the restaurant. “But I don’t think we’re ever going to get our lemonade.”

ADICHIE AND HER HUSBAND, a physician, spend half of each year in Maryland, and the other half in Lagos, where they have a home and where her extended family lives.

In Nigeria, Adichie is considered a national icon, not only because her books have garnered such acclaim, but because quickly after her success she founded the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop, a program where aspiring Nigerian writers spend a few weeks every year workshopping with Adichie and a coterie of international writers she brings to Lagos. She invited me to teach there in 2009, and I got the chance to meet her family and friends, all of whom were supportive, kind, funny, devoted — it was all sickeningly perfect.

One night, it became the obsession of one of the guest lecturers, the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, to bring Adichie to one of Lagos’s seamier nightspots. He asked her where that would be. She had no idea. “I’m a nice middle-class girl,” she said, laughing. “I don’t know about such places.” She was serious, though. She did not know.

So we called Adichie’s childhood friend Chuma. He suggested Obalende, a district of Lagos known for its nightclubs and strip clubs. Chuma picked us up and drove us to a neighborhood where fish and plantains were fried on the street, where the air was swampy with weed. He chose a club with a slanted roof of corrugated steel and Fela bursting from the sound system. We sat outside on a humid night, Adichie game but wide-eyed. We were visited by a street musician who would not leave. Adichie requested Fela’s “Unknown Soldier” and he played it, and we stayed late, and most of us got tipsy — even Adichie; she had one drink — and at the end of the night, I was the only one fit to drive, which I did, which everyone thought very funny, especially when we were pulled over by a traffic cop, who wanted a bribe. I did what I always do in that situation, which was to act like the world’s dumbest tourist, and it worked. He let us go, and Adichie, in the back seat, laughed all the way home.

A FEW MONTHS after her appearance at Cardozo high school, Adichie was on a rooftop in downtown D.C. It was breezy and the sky threatened rain. She had agreed to attend a book release party celebrating a collection of essays called “Having to Tell Your Mother Is the Hardest Part,” written by D.C. public school students, with guidance from tutors from 826DC, a nonprofit youth writing organization with which I’m affiliated.

A tent had been set up, and cocktails were served, and a young African-American man stepped to the podium. He was delicately built for 15, wearing a mustard-colored button-down, a tie and thick-framed glasses.

“When I was 2 years old, my mom and dad passed away,” the boy, whose name was Edwyn, read. “I was in and out of foster homes and was never in really good care. The way I used to grieve was by not eating or by fighting, and I always got in trouble. I would get angry whenever someone said, ‘Yo mama.’ I felt like I wanted to hurt someone. I have gotten past that, and now, I want to take my meds so I can grow emotionally and become a better me. I decided to try group vigils where I can talk about my loss, but it has never helped. I refused to share until, one time, I broke down and shared everything.”

The audience on the rooftop stood spellbound. I looked over to Adichie. Her eyes were wet. Edwyn continued. In a group home, he said, he almost stabbed another boy. He almost flunked out of school. Finally, he was adopted by a loving family who moved him to Washington. “I was starting to mature,” he read. “I started to change. Now I’m in the 10th grade, writing about how I used to grieve, but I am happy with the family I am with.”

His essay ended like that, and he sat down with the unaffected attitude of a student who had just read a paper about meiosis or the Louisiana Purchase. Afterward, we approached Edwyn, who was now surrounded by admirers. He shook Adichie’s hand like a cocktail party veteran, telling her he’d heard a lot about her and was happy she was there.

“I thought you were very brave,” Adichie said evenly.

Word of Adichie’s presence on the roof began making its way through the attendees. Another student, a gregarious young woman named Monae, approached. “I didn’t know you were here!” she said. “You were the one in Beyoncé’s song!” (A few years ago, Beyoncé sampled parts of Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” talk in her 2013 song “Flawless.”)

“You have to read what I wrote!” Monae said, and gave Adichie a copy of “Having to Tell Your Mother Is the Hardest Part,” opened to a spread bearing her smiling face and her essay, titled “Queen.”

We made our way to a quiet part of the rooftop and watched the adults swarm the student-writers, getting their books signed.

“That is lovely,” Adichie said. “Just lovely.”

After the party, we said goodbye on the corner of Pennsylvania and 17th. Adichie’s parents were in town, visiting from Nigeria, and she had to get back to Maryland.

“That boy,” she said, and sighed. She was still thinking about Edwyn. “There was something so clean and pure and true about his writing, don’t you think? Increasingly I find that that’s the kind of thing I want to read.”

This story was first Published on NYT and is one of the seven covers of T Magazine’s Greats issue, on newsstands Oct. 22.