Evangelical Ethiopian president helps end Orthodox schism

Ending 27 years of schism, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in their homeland and in America reunited the two feuding branches of one of the world’s oldest churches.

Ironically, the push came from the Horn of Africa nation’s new evangelical prime minister.

“It is impossible to think of Ethiopia without taking note of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is both great and sacred,” said Abiy Ahmed at the July 27 ceremony in Washington, reported the Fana state-run news agency.

A member of the World Council of Churches, the Tewahedo church split in 1991 due to political manipulations.

After the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) removed the Derg military junta from power, Patriarch Abune Merkorios was forced to abdicate.

He later fled to the United States, where dissidents and diaspora Ethiopians formed a rival patriarchate. According to church tradition, the position is held for life, they maintained.

Following the reconciliation, Patriarch Merkorios will return to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to serve alongside the incumbent Patriarch Mathias, who will maintain administrative authority.

Their honor will be equal, and the names of both will be lifted in prayer as long as both are alive, reported OCP News Service, an Orthodox media network.

All mutual excommunications will be lifted, and bishops appointed by the rival synods will continue in service.

Significantly, delegates unanimously requested forgiveness from the “heartbroken” children of the church.

“Division has no benefit,” Aba Efrem, head of Saint Marcos Church, told the Ethiopian Herald, a government-owned newspaper. “Unity can do more for the church to strengthen peace and love in Ethiopia.”

Peace and love have been a rallying cry for Prime Minister Ahmed, who in only four months in power has overturned the political status quo.

He has forged peace with neighboring Eritrea, ending a 20-year militarized border conflict. He has fired controversial generals and freed political prisoners.

And he has already survived an assassination attempt.

“We have a country that is endowed with great bounty and wealth,” said Ahmed at his first subsequent rally, “but is starving for love.”

The 42-year-old prime minister is Africa’s youngest head of state. The son of a Muslim father and Orthodox mother, he professes evangelical Protestantism, according to OPC News.

Possessing a PhD in Peace Studies, as a member of parliament Ahmed earlier fostered reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in his hometown of Beshasha.

And from his first days in office, he met with Patriarch Mathias to assure him of support in ending the schism. Negotiations had been cautiously ongoing for years, but perceptions of government opposition muted the effort, reported OPC News.

He also visited with delegates traveling to the United States, and made them pledge not to return to Ethiopia without Patriarch Merkorios, reported Borkena, a website focused on Ethiopian news.

CT has reported on improved relations between evangelicals and Orthodox in Ethiopia, though tensions remain.

Roughly 44% of the nation’s population are Orthodox, while 19% are evangelicals of different denominations. Muslims constitute roughly a third of the population.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church began in 330 AD, when the kingdom of Axum became the second state after Armenia to adopt Christianity.

Two kidnapped brother sailors from Syria, Frumentius and Aedesius, were taken as slaves to the king and taught the faith to royal family.

The word Tewahedo means “being made one,” in reference to the Oriental Orthodox belief in Jesus’ one, unified nature—both human and divine.

Rejected by the Chalcedonian Creed of 451 held by Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, the Ethiopian church was long under ecclesiastic jurisdiction of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt.

In 1959, it became independent and appointed its first patriarch.

And now, due to the purposeful intervention of an evangelical, its members are united again.

“The people of Ethiopia rejoiced, and I truly felt great joy,” said Patriarch Mathias, reported the Ethiopian Herald.

“By the will of God, the day has finally come with the unforgettable commitment of the Prime Minister.”

Ugandan intercessors repenting for ancestors’ role in slave trade

Uganda Jubilee Network members sound the shofar during an intercessory meeting at Namboole in 2012.

Originally published in UG Christian News

Intercessors for Uganda, a national intercessory ministry is organizing an annual National Prayer Conference, together with Uganda Jubilee Network, under the theme: “Remitting the Sins of Slavery” based on Deuteronomy 24:7 and Exodus 21:6.

This prayer conference will bring together individuals involved in the ministry of interceding for the nation from across the country to collectively hear God and pray for the Church and Nation to fit into God’s plan for our times.

This will happen from August 12 to 18 2018, from 8.30am to 5pm at Pece Stadium in Gulu Municipality, Northern Uganda.

The conference will focus on the legacy of the African slave trade and remitting its sins, the organisers said in a statement released yesterday.

“Despite gaining political independence, most African nations are still economic slaves to the rest of the world, with Africa only accounting for about 2% of world trade as African elites continue to loot the continent in cohort with the same foreign powers that superintended over the slave trade,” the statement said.

Uganda Jubilee Network explained there are historical facts that the ethnic tribal chiefs and other community leaderships engaged actively in the slave trade, thus orchestrating devastating effects on the population even in the subsequent generations.

“For this cause, we must take responsibility in repentance before God for the sin and legacy of the slave trade so that the cycle of slavery in our land is remitted and our people released to their destiny,” the statement said.

Slavery in Middle East
It was noted that thousands of Ugandan youth are flocking the Middle East for employment, and that several accounts coming from the region indicate that many end up working in slavish conditions and even being sold in modern day slave markets.

A recent report indicated that 50 Ugandan youths had committed suicide in the Middle East.

“It is almost unheard of for youths in Uganda to commit suicide despite the difficult impoverished conditions many live in. What sort of conditions would lead our youth to take their own lives in these foreign lands? They must be very dire,” the statement read.

Uganda Jubilee Network says the bible has much to say about the repercussions of kidnapping, mistreating and selling a fellow brother.

“Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, past and present evils can be remitted at the cross and a new day opened for individuals, families and nations,” the organisation said.

Christian ‘genocide’: naming Nigeria’s mass slaughter

A peaceful demonstration by Christians in April 2018, following the murder of two priests and their parishioners. (PHOTO: Aid to the Church in Need)

Originally published in BR Now

The mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria is calculated genocide abetted by the government in the nation that is Africa’s most Christian, cries a growing number of leaders calling on the United States to intervene.

Evangelical John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Centre for Christian Worldview, is among the latest to describe as genocide the killing of some 6 000 Christians this year alone in Nigeria by jihadist Fulani herdsmen aided by resurging Boko Haram terrorists.

“This is genocide,” Stonestreet has said. “And the government … there is abetting it. It is dismissing it as a land dispute.”

Stonestreet joins a growing list of Christian, political and social activists proclaiming the deaths genocide, pogrom or ethno-religious cleansing, including the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Jubilee Campaign for Religious Freedom, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), International Christian Concern (ICC) and the Lift Up Now grassroots foundation led by Southern Baptist Nigeria native Adeniyi Ojutiku.

Historical land dispute used as excuse
The killings are not a matter of a traditional land dispute that has separated Christians and nomadic Fulani Muslim herders for ages, according to Ojutiku, CAN, Stonestreet and others. Instead, the government and herdsmen have used the historical land dispute as an excuse, denying that a jihad is in progress.

“There is no doubt that Christians are the main target of the incessant human carnage being perpetrated by (Nigerian President Muhammadu) Buhari’s Fulani kinsmen,” Ojutiku told Baptist Press August 1, noting Buhari’s Fulani heritage. “What is happening is that the Islamist Jihadists have advanced a strong but false narrative to obscure the truth.”

Christian activists charge Buhari with complicity in killings concentrated in the nation’s Middle Belt where the majority Muslim north and the majority Christian south and east overlap with diversity.

According to figures from CSW and CAN, the Fulani jihadists have destroyed more than 500 churches in the Middle Belt’s Benue State alone since 2011, and internally displaced about 800 000 people in the state, with 180 000 of them living in camps and others living with relatives or as squatters.

In the most recent mass attack, Fulani killed by some estimates more than 200 Christians as they left the July funeral of a pastor’s relative in the Middle Belt’s Plateau State. Thousands were displaced over two days of attacks in 15 communities, according to press reports.

Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram gunmen “are prowling villages, shooting and killing innocent Christians,” CAN said as early as January.

CAN “has reviewed the catalogue of horrendous and inhuman attacks on several states and mostly Benue State from 2013 – 2018,” CAN said January 16. “The impression has now been firmly established that the Islamists of northern Nigeria have ‘legalised jihad’ in Nigeria.”

In the highest death tolls, International Christian Concern (ICC) accused Fulani militants and Boko Haram of killing 50 000 to 70 000 Christians in the last 20 years. In its 2018 special report on Nigeria, the ICC termed Nigeria the biggest killing ground for Christians today. Other tallies blame the groups for about 30 000 deaths.

Some contend the US government should use diplomatic force to pressure Buhari to end the systematic slaughter. Ojutiku also called for Buhari’s forced resignation.

US protest and advocacy
Ojutiku, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and serving as the US diaspora consultant to CAN, plans to help draw attention to Nigeria’s bloodshed, and the issues driving it, in a press rally from 10am – 2pm August 7 in front of the North Carolina State Capitol Building. Lift Up Now, Ojutiku’s organisation working to improve living conditions in his homeland, will be joined by joint rally organisers the Frederick Douglas Foundation of North Carolina and the Douglas Leadership Institute Inc.

Also participating in the rally is the Office of Diaspora Engagement of the Nigeria Working Group, a loose coalition of nongovernmental organisations in the US and Nigeria that Ojutiku helped organise with representatives of CAN, CSW, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and other organisations. Former US Rep Frank Wolf of Virginia is listed in organisational papers as a consultant.

Ojutiku termed the ongoing killings “an unfortunate pogrom” and “ethnic cleansing” when he spoke at the Global Coalition Working to Defeat Persecution and Violence in Nigeria, a multination summit hosted by the Baptist World Alliance at its Falls Church, Va, office in February.

Buhari has failed to charge perpetrators with a crime, has dismissed evidence that the herdsmen are armed with sophisticated weapons such as AK-47s and chemicals, and has deceptively abetted the killing, many activists say.

CAN has called on Buhari to prosecute for genocide the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN), a group supporting the herdsmen.

“The Miyetti Allah organisation should be tagged a terrorist organisation,” CAN said in an official resolution Jan. 16. “Its leaders should be arrested and prosecuted for the genocide against the Christian minorities in the Middle Belt.”

Buhari has it within his power to stop the killings, Ojutiku told BP, and “is by implication complicit in the wanton killings.

“Despite several thousand people killed from last December to date, only a handful of people have been arrested for the crime,” Ojutiku said. “Even then, the chief inspector of police who masterminded the arrest of some culprits in the most recent killing in Plateau State was immediately forced out of office by the government.”

In addition to Buhari’s forced resignation, Ojutiku suggests the U.S. government conduct a hearing on Nigerian atrocities with testimonies from Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and others concerned. The escalating violence increases the need for a US special envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad Area, Ojutiku said, as others have encouraged, including the Global Coalition Working to Defeat Persecution and Violence in Nigeria.

Buhari has denied charges of abetting the killings, and has largely ignored assertions of genocide. In an April meeting at the White House, President Trump encouraged Buhari to enact widespread, peaceful solutions to the violence and to protect all people, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

After election violence, Zimbabwe churches urge party leaders to talk peace

Zimbabwean army soldiers patrolled the streets after yesterday’s violence. (PHOTO: Reuters via Christian Today).

Originally published in Christian Today

The general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches has called for calm after violence yesterday claimed the lives of at least three people in the aftermath of a disputed election.

Soldiers patrolled the streets of Harare today after the clashes that dashed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s hopes of ending Zimbabwe’s reputation for political repression. Many shops were closed and the pavements quiet. Several streets were still strewn with rocks and the charred remains of fires. Soldiers loitered at intersections.

Speaking on Zimbabwean television, Rev Dr Kenneth Mtata urged the leaders of the ruling Zanu-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change to ‘create a space in which all Zimbabweans can come together for meaningful dialogue’.

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa has attacked the result of the parliamentary vote, which gave Zanu-PF a clear majority, in a series of tweets alleging vote-rigging and fraud. He tweeted yesterday: ‘We have won the popular vote. You voted for total change in this past election! We have won this one together. No amount of results manipulation will alter your will.’

Mtata said: ‘If you are a politician what you work with is the euphoria of your followers and you try to drum up support, and I think this is what we saw.’

He continued: ‘When you give the impression that you are automatically going to win, then when the results seem to be coming in a different way, especially when there’s a government where there is mistrust of the process, then you are likely to see an explosion like we saw yesterday.’

He said the ZCC was ‘trying to engage Mr Chamisa behind the scenes, for him also to contribute to the positive message in public towards peace’.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted this morning that he was calling for an independent investigation into the events of last night. He said: ‘It is also more important than ever that we are united, and commit to settling our differences peacefully and respectfully, and within the confines of the law.’

Mnangagwa said: ‘We have been in communication with Nelson Chamisa to discuss how to immediately diffuse the situation, and we must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear.’

Mtata urged the importance of prayer, saying: ‘We are a church, so our starting point is that we constantly pray for peace and we believe that peace is a gift from God. Peace is when we are able to co-exist with difference and we think that this prayer must continue.

‘But we need to address some fundamental issues that easily act as a trigger of violence.’

He said: ‘We believe that political maturity will require that all political leaders will mobilise their followers for this agenda for peace.’

The deployment of soldiers and their shooting and beating of unarmed protesters is likely to set back efforts to end Zimbabwe’s pariah status in the wake of the army’s removal of longtime leader Robert Mugabe in a coup last November.

Amnesty International called on the government to launch a prompt investigation into the army’s actions.

‘It is unfortunate that this election has descended into bloodshed, which could have been avoided if security forces had exercised restraint against protesters,’ the London-based human rights organisation said.

It said that by using live ammunition against unarmed protesters, ‘the army has broken the very same rule of law that they should protect’.

Rwanda closes 8 000 churches in ongoing crackdown

Photo credit: Andrew Gombert-Pool/Getty Image

Originally published in Faith Wire

Rwandan authorities have continued to carry out a government directive which called for the forced closure of thousands of churches.
A new set of strict requirements was laid out at the beginning of the year, which the government claimed included basic requirements in terms of “safety, hygiene, infrastructure and legality.”

According to the pro-government KT Press, some 8,000 congregations have been shut down since the start of the year. “On checking which churches were included, we learned that all churches are suffering the same fate and that even churches considered luxurious for local standards have had to close,” a local analyst told Christian persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor (WWM).

WWM also reported that one church had been shut down while a wedding ceremony was underway. “The couple and all the guests were simply told to leave the church during the service, and the church was closed,” according to a report.

Other churches have been closed down for minor cosmetic reasons, such as the roof being a tiny bit too low, or the window frames being wooden instead of metal.

“It seems that the local authorities in the different districts initially had some freedom about the degree to which they could enforce the new requirements,” the local analyst continued. “However, it now seems that those who were more lenient have been rebuked and have become stricter. In one district authorities banned all meetings of a closed church, and congregants are not even allowed to meet in home groups.”

The ramifications of the harsh new restrictions have been severe. Many churches have been forced to close up for good, with others relocating to premises miles away from their original place of worship. One congregation is now forced to walk 20km to attend church in a neighboring community after falling victim to the government crackdown.

Earlier this year, when commenting on the exceedingly large number of churches currently functioning in the African nation, Rwandan President Paul Kagame argued that Rwandans “do not have the luxury and means to sustain such churches,” according to the East African.

WWM detailed some of the new requirements:

  • Toilets being a certain distance from the church entrance. In one instance local authorities entered the church halfway through the service and ordered the people to leave because the church would be closed. This church has fulfilled 80% of the requirements and was not aware of this new requirement.
  • Congregations have been told they also need to install a certain kind of canvas ceiling, even though that material carries a considerable fire hazard.
  • One church was told it needed to change its roof and rebuild one of the brick walls. This will be hard for them to do as they have already been forced to make loans and depend on the goodwill of businessmen to meet the initial requirements.
  • Church access roads, as well as church compounds, need to be paved.
  • The inside walls and ceilings in the church must be plastered and painted. Exposed brick is not allowed anymore.
  • All churches must have lightning-conductors.
  • All pastors now need to have a theological degree. This was already communicated as a requirement, but now the degree needs to be from an accredited institute.
  • Another new law states that only institutions that also teach science and technology can teach theology, meaning that few of the many (often highly regarded) theological institutions or Bible schools are regarded as valid.

Incredibly, churches are given just 15 days to make the necessary changes, which is almost impossible to achieve.

The Rwandan government, led by Paul Kagame, has become increasingly secular over past years. The government no longer allows prayer meetings within its institutions, and any words referring to Christianity in the constitution have been deleted.

During the commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, in which Kagame played a key role, priests are no longer allowed to preach or speak publicly.

Many of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party’s activities are scheduled for Sunday. Some of the political events, led by Kagame’s government authorities, are compulsory to attend.

Kagame has been in office since 2000 following several constitutional amendments that have allowed him to legally extend his presidency. Under the latest amendment, voted through by a 2015 referendum, Kagame could hold the presidency until the year 2034.

Zimbabwe opposition looks to heaven as it tries to topple Zanu PF


Blessing Chiza and Nelson Chamisa pray during a church service in Bulawayo on 22 July 2018

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance has declared a week of prayer and fasting as it searches for a miracle to topple Zanu PF from power.

The alliance‚ according to Nelson Chamisa‚ will also on election eve hold an all-night prayer vigil. It will mark a grand finale to the weeks of fasting done by the MDC’s women’s league every Friday for him to win the election.

“This whole week‚ from Monday to Saturday‚ there is need for fasting. To all those who can fast‚ please do so and fast for your country. Then on Sunday‚ it should be a national day of prayer. We want to ensure a smooth cross-over‚” said Chamisa.

Given the large numbers of potential voters in churches‚ political observers said the church was “fertile hunting ground” for the presidential hopefuls. Zimbabwe is widely regarded a Christian nation and a national population census in 2012 indicated that at least 85 percent of its nearly 14-million population was Christian.

Eldred Masunungure‚ a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe‚ said the church had a “decisive role” to play in the elections and this would likely come into sharper focus after voting day.

“The church has a role to play in convincing losers take to the courts rather than to the streets. For a long time it has played a secondary role and a marginal role in past elections‚ but it has a very critical role to play‚ possibly even a decisive role in helping to create a conducive election environment. Equally important will be its role after the election‚ either in July 30 poll or in the September 8 run-off‚” Masunungure said.

The closely contested election race entered its final stretch this week ahead of the July 30 polls. The final plans come in the backdrop of a survey released last week by Afrobarometer‚ which suggested that voting may go into a second round of polling.

The ruling Zanu PF is likely to secure 40% and the MDC Alliance 37% of the 5.6-million votes‚ according to the poll’s findings.

But this still has not stopped either of the two leading contestants‚ President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Chamisa‚ from canvassing for more votes.

Both leaders in recent weeks have turned to worshippers in the church for votes.

Mnangagwa’s most recent address to worshippers was to members of the Johane Marange apostolic church in Marange‚ led by Noah Taguta. The leader of the apostolic church predicted his win.

Mnangagwa‚ clad in white robes and holding a shepherd’s staff‚ said the church had “a role to play” in nation building.

The sight of a Zanu PF leader visiting the apostolic sect is common. In the run-up to the 2013 elections‚ former president Robert Mugabe also addressed a similar gathering and was told by Taguta that he would win the election.

In Bulawayo at the weekend‚ Chamisa —who is also a pastor at AFM —made an appearance at Eagle Life church led by “prophet” Blessing Chiza in the country’s second largest city‚ a day after he addressed a rally at White City stadium.

Chamisa‚ in a brief address to congregants‚ said if elected into office next week his task “would be to turn the heart of the nation back to God”.

“When the grace of God has come upon a person and he then says we will build bullet trains and spaghetti roads‚ people say he is mad‚” Chamisa said in his sermon‚ quoting a passage of scripture from the Bible to illustrate his foresight in turning around the country’s dilapidated infrastructural systems.

The 40-year-old leader gained notoriety on the campaign trail for his election promise to modernise the country’s railway and road systems.

Of the 55 political parties contesting for power next week‚ his MDC Alliance has been the most aggrieved. It said it would not boycott the poll‚ but would not allow it to take place.

On Tuesday‚ the alliance suffered yet another double-blow. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) at a multi-party stakeholders meeting in the capital refused to accede to its last-minute demands over the ballot paper. Police also banned its plans to demonstrate at the commission’s offices from Wednesday until voting day.

Douglas Mwonzora‚ the MDC-T’s secretary general‚ said the refusal by the electoral commission to also allow its party agents to accompany the ballot papers to and from the polling stations was “suspicious”.

The police said the MDC had‚ over the last few weeks‚ been granted permission to protest against the ZEC at its offices twice and the latest request for another demonstration was not different.

The chief superintendent for Harare Central District‚ Albert Ncube‚ in a letter to Mwonzora said the alliance had “already applied for a star rally scheduled for the 28th which we have already sanctioned. We have also notified the Regulating Authority of the intended rally….the district is currently organising manpower for the rally”.

The police said they would invoke the Public Order and Security Act if the alliance violated its ban.

Eritrea, Ethiopia peace pact sees Eritrean Christians released from prisons

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, left, and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, center, hold hands as they wave at the crowds in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 15 2018. (PHOTO: Mulugeta Ayene)

Originally published in Religion News Service

Eritrean Christians and human rights advocates are cheering the release of 35 Christian prisoners as a new peace pact between Eritrea and Ethiopia takes hold this month. But hundreds remain imprisoned in Eritrea under harsh conditions stemming from a war in which members of Christian sects were targeted for mass incarceration.

For the last two decades, Eritrean authorities have persecuted religious groups, frequently arresting church leaders and detaining them in small shipping container prisons where advocates say they’re routinely deprived of water, food, proper sanitation and medicines. The roundup traces to a 2002 law that permits the operation of only a handful of religious groups: Orthodox Christian, Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, along with Sunni Islam.

Since then, the government has cracked down on Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which are seen as foreign-influenced threats to security and Eritrean autonomy. Seen as relative newcomers to the religious landscape, they’re accused of using aggressive evangelistic tactics and causing social divisions.

Call for all detained prisoners to be released
At least 10 prisons around the country are holding hundreds of prisoners who have been detained for anywhere from a few months to 20 years, according to Release Eritrea, a UK charity that highlights Christian persecution in the country. Among them is the former Patriarch of Eritrea Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, who is in his 80s and has been under house arrest and incommunicado since 2007. He was deposed after complaining about the government’s interference with the church.

“We call for them all to be released,” said Berhane Asmelash, the director of Release Eritrea, in a statement in which he thanked God for the release of the prisoners.

The released prisoners — 11 women and 24 men — are not leaders of their respective groups and fellowships and were released on unclear bail terms. They pledged not to take part in worship practices of banned religious sects.

The release has drawn some praise, but it has been seen as a drop in the ocean of the crisis. Hundreds of Christians are locked up in both military detentions and ordinary prisons. According to Open Doors, an international anti-persecution organisation, the country is believed to be holding between 1 200 and 3 000 people on religious grounds. Some human rights activists say it is difficult to establish the exact number because every army unit has its own prison.

On July 9, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace agreement, bringing to an end one of Africa’s long-running conflicts. Afwerki had used the situation to justify his regime’s crackdown, which has continued to view members of some Christian sects as foreign spies.

Eritrea, a Horn of Africa country with a population of about 5 million, gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a two-decade war. However, disputes over the border sparked a full-blown war from 1998-2000 that killed an estimated 80 000 people. A UN deal in 2000 ended the fighting and in 2002 a border commission gave the disputed land to Eritrea. Ethiopia rejected the verdict, which led to 16 years of tension, including periods of open conflict, until this month, when Ethiopia said it would accept the UN deal.

Eritrea, highlighted in red, is a small coastal nation north of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa. Click here to see an enlarged image.

Agreement brings hope
Church leaders have been happy about the agreement, which they hope will free the church in Eritrea, end the top leader’s security fears and open up the country again to the world.

“This peace agreement is a gift from God,” said the Rev Mussie Zerai, an Eritrea Roman Catholic priest who runs a hotline for distressed Eritrean migrants as they flee to Europe via boat in the Mediterranean Sea. When migrant vessels encounter trouble, he calls in GPS coordinates for European rescue vessels.

“Peace comes with freedom, rights, development, justice and democracy,” he said.

In Eritrea, Afwerki’s government has closed borders, forced out foreign missionaries and nongovernmental organisations and shut down churches. According to the Rev Abraham Hailu, an Ethiopian Roman Catholic priest who hails from near the Eritrean border and now serves in Sudan, Eritrea’s ban on foreign missionaries has made it difficult for the world to follow events in the country, despite mounting allegations of widespread human rights abuses.

At the same time, Hailu said, there are signs the situation is changing for the better.

“We see hope. With the agreement, we hope Eritrea will follow the steps of Ethiopia and release more of its prisoners,” he said.

UK archbishop raises profile of Nigeria attacks as new humanitarian crisis looms

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, met with Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, at Nigeria’s High Commission in London on 11 April 2018 (PHOTO: Facebook).

Originally published in World Watch Monitor

The Archbishop Canterbury, Justin Welby, has challenged the British government on how much it is doing to help end violent attacks on Christians in Nigeria.

His comments, made in a House of Lords debate on Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram on Tuesday (17 July), follow the publication of a report that found that more than 230 people were killed during a spate of attacks in Plateau state late last month – a figure almost three times what was stated in early news reports.

The archbishop voiced his “deep concern” about the attacks, adding that the compound of the Archbishop of Jos was recently attacked and one of his friends was killed. The attack, three weeks ago, has been blamed on Fulani herdsmen, according to the Anglican Communion News Service.

Welby, who is also the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has made frequent trips to the country, and asked about “what assistance the UK Government can give in the short term to strengthen the Government of Nigeria in their role of enforcing security and local mediation; in the medium term, to ensure reconciliation, which will enable the lives and economies of farmers and herders to be protected; and, in the long term, actively and tangibly to support regional efforts to combat the effects of climate change – the development of desertification, which is exacerbating ancient rivalries?”

Responding, Baroness Goldie said the British government is ready to support Nigerian-led initiatives, has encouraged the EU and the U N Office for West Africa and the Sahel to extend their influence and develop sustainable solutions to the conflict, including through support to community conflict resolution initiatives, and is considering how the UK can support reconciliation at local levels.

She added: “We cannot ignore the fundamental causes of the violence, so we are reviewing HM Government’s support for Nigeria in, for example, as the most reverend Primate identifies, tackling the effects of climate change.”

The debate took place days after the publication of a report by the Nigeria-based Stefanos Foundation that claims the death toll from the attacks in Plateau was almost three times higher than was reported in initial coverage.

Early reports suggested that 86 people were killed in the attacks (over the weekend 23/4 June), but according to the Stefanos Foundation, that carried out a fact-finding mission to the area, 233 people have been confirmed dead and 15 communities were affected.

The attacks forced more 11,500 to seek refuge in 13 locations across the state, while an undetermined number of people were injured and hospitalized in various medical centers in Jos, the capital of Plateau state.

Some 3,026 people were sheltering in one church compound alone, in Heipang (PHOTO: Stefanos Foundation).

The violence, one of the deadliest episodes in recent years, was the latest in a series of attacks carried out by Fulani militants against Christian communities across the Middle Belt and the north-east state of Adamawa – also one of the three states most affected by the Boko Haram crisis.

The violence there is often described as communal clashes between the predominantly Christian farmers, and Fulani herdsmen, who are mainly Muslims, and President Muhammadu Buhari refers to it in terms of a struggle for natural resources such as water and fertile land. However, many Nigerian Christian leaders in the area argue there is a religious dimension to the attacks, and without acknowledging it, politicians will not be able to properly address it.

The NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) on 29 June noted that “During the first quarter of 2018 CSW documented 1061 deaths in 106 attacks by the Fulani militia on communities in Adamawa, Benue, southern Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states. CSW also documented seven instances of violence targeting Fulani herders or communities in which 61 people lost their lives; two of these attacks occurred in the south of the country.

The recent deaths in Plateau state bring the number of casualties recorded so far in herder militia attacks in central Nigeria in the second quarter of 2018 to 440”.

Details of the June 23/4 attacks provided by survivors quoted by the Stefanos Foundation suggest Fulani militas carried out a well-planned attack in a “coordinated military style”.According to the 7 July report, the assailants were dressed in black robes, and identified as Fulani herdsmen (they were speaking Fulfulde, the Fulani language). They stormed the communities in great number, in broad daylight, chanting “Allahu akbar”.The report also highlighted the violent nature of the attacks. It said that some victims were hacked to death by machete, others were shot dead, and others were burned alive in their properties.

The report concluded that the assailants had prior knowledge of the neighbourhood, because only Christians and their properties were targeted while their Muslim neighbours were spared.

“They burnt our houses, burnt our church alongside the houses belonging to the Pastor and Reverend of the church”, said a survivor from the village of Kakuruk, adding: “They took our goats and chickens away and shot our pigs.”

Another survivor cited in the report suggested the assailants worked with local accomplices. He said: “It’s clear to me now that people from our community connived with the Fulanis, who came from outside to attack us, since it was only Christians and their property that were attacked and burnt. The Hausa/Fulani inhabitants in our community are still living in the village.” The same survivor said his nephew, who practises Islam, was also one of the attackers..

Jerry Dalyop, a father of four, a farmer and a native of Exland Village in Gashish district of Barkin Ladi LGA, was badly injured and left to die, when the assailants stormed his village on Saturday, 23 June.“We were in the room with my family when we heard gunshots everywhere. I immediately hide my children under the mattress; my wife and I hide in the ceiling.“Suddenly, about five Fulani men dressed in black entered our room, broke our door and brought us out from the ceiling where we were hiding. Two of the men had guns, while the other three had sticks. They kept communicating with each other in their language.“And as we were helplessly listening to them, they suddenly dragged us outside our room and struck us with machetes. They macheted my hand, head and back, while they hit me with sticks. My wife was also macheted on two different places on her head, her ears were affected, and also her thigh.“One of the attackers suggested that they shoot me, but another one among them suggested that they leave me to die slowly.”

Such allegations were corroborated by a BBC journalist who visited the affected areas two weeks after the attacks.

“In Gana alone about fifty houses were razed down and 35 people killed. Most of the homes belong to Berom Christians. Churches were burnt down and the pastors killed” wrote Abu Dooshima in a series of tweets.

She continued: “Gana is home to both Muslims and Christians and even there are some Igbos [ethnic group from southern Nigeria, mostly Christian] there who are doing legit businesses. Their homes and shops were destroyed. Meanwhile the houses of Muslims were not touched.”

Ms Dooshima also rejected the claims that the assailants might be foreigners. On various occasions, President Buhari has pointed the responsibility of the killings to foreign fighters. While addressing state leaders in Jos, in the aftermath of the Plateau massacre (on 26 June) he reiterated his previous claims that herdsmen only carry sticks and/or machetes to clear the bush. He made such claims during his meeting with US President Donald Trump).

“If they are [foreign] terrorists, how were they able to identify homes of only Beroms and Igbos to attack and not even the house of a Muslim touched” asked Dooshima. “They burnt all the churches and the mosque was left standing”.

‘Failure to prevent, despite advance warnings’
The report also points a number of failures from security forces to act promptly, in order to prevent the massacre.

The Stefanos Foundation notes that prior to the attacks, it was alerted by various communities about the imminence of attacks by Fulani herdsmen. It passed that information on to the appropriate agencies of government. The report added: “But despite the information given to the security agencies, the Fulani Militia still carried out attacks on the communities.”

Moreover security forces in some of the affected areas withdrew “because the attackers outnumbered them and were well armed”.

In the aftermath of the massacre, the governor of Plateau state, Simon Lalong, imposed a dusk to dawn curfew in the three most affected local government areas (LGAs), Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South, in an attempt to curb the violence.

President Buhari announced an unprecedented deployment of security forces in the region, including two police surveillance helicopters, five armoured personnel carriers, three Police Mobile Force (PMF) units, two Counter-Terrorism Units (CTU) and Police Intelligence Units, as well as conventional police personnel from other states.

But the Stefanos team observed that the affected areas were still vulnerable and insecure, with “only skeletal presence of security personnel in locations where the IDPs [internally displaced persons] are situated, and attacks on villages are still silently on-going”.

The Stefanos investigators also said that some of the villages attacked in the past have now been occupied by Fulani herdsmen, and over 40 villages have now been deserted in Barkin Ladi and Riyom as a result of the continuous attacks.

“The locals, who are the inhabitants of these communities, have no hope of returning to their homes, rather, new houses belonging to the Fulanis are now sighted to be springing up in the deserted communities,” read the report.

The displaced are desperately in need of food, shelter, clothing, beddings and psycho-social support. (Photo: Stefanos Foundation)

Looming humanitarian crisis
The report also warned that the June attacks in Plateau have created a humanitarian crisis, said Stefanos. The 11,515 survivors are spread across 13 locations and sheltering in buildings such as schools and churches. Some 3,026 people were sheltering in one church compound alone, in Heipang, while in Anguldi, 3,061 people have sought refuge in a school premises. Many of the IDPs are still sleeping on the floor, the report notes.

Moreover, those who are badly injured have been left to struggle with the hospital bills. The displaced are desperately in need of food, shelter, clothing, beddings and psycho-social support for their immediate needs, Stefanos warned.

So far, [two weeks after the main attacks] no support has been received either from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) or from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Meanwhile recent reports suggest that attacks attributed to Fulani militants have continued unabated in Plateau state and elsewhere.

On 8 July, over 60 people were reported killed in attacks targeting several communities bordering Adamawa and Taraba States.

“My church is asking members to make contributions to help the displaced people. Their houses have been destroyed, food destroyed and everything they owned…The attackers are doing their best to conquer our ancestral homes. I want the world to know that the government of Nigeria has failed the citizens, especially the Middle Belt Region. The government does not want us to talk. Fulani and their cows are more precious than the lives of other Nigerians” – Rev. Gwom Davou Gyang, in Heipang.”

Church promoting peace with event featuring all Zimbabwe presidential candidates

Originally published in Daily News Zimbabwe

The Church is convening an interface meeting of all presidential candidates aimed at fostering peace ahead of  the crunch July 30 elections in Zimbabwe.

The meeting is scheduled for the Jesuit-run Arrupe College in Mt Pleasant tomorrow.

Running under the theme “Promoting Peace and Mutual Respect in a Multi-party Zimbabwe”, each presidential candidate — including the front-runners President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance head Nelson Chamisa — are set to address the audience and sell their manifestos.

The same will be expected of other candidates including Joice Mujuru, Thokozani Khupe, Nkosana Moyo, Daniel Shumba, Lovemore Madhuku, Noah Manyika, and others.

Speaking at a media briefing organised by the Catholic-run peace-building and leadership training institute, Silveira House, in conjunction with the citizens, multiparty and the business community in Harare yesterday, Father Frederick Chiromba, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, told reporters at least 80 percent of the candidates had confirmed their participation by the time of holding the presser yesterday.

“…each of the presidential candidates in the 2018 election will get a chance to address an audience of about 3 000 people drawn from different political parties and churches. The objectives of this multi-party Interface is to inculcate in people a sense of multi-party democracy and a spirit of mutual respect in a context of differing political opinions,” he said.

“The overall aim of this endeavour is the promotion of long lasting peace and a broader socio-political imaginary, thereby laying a firmer foundation for meaningful development in the process. The presence of the presidential candidates in a single space, with each of them addressing the same audience, will be of actual and symbolic significance, one that will imprint itself on the political psyche of those present and those following the event on national television.”

He said it will be symbolical because it will teach the multi-party society dictates of tolerance for different political views but helping people to live peacefully.

“The presence of the presidential candidates next to each other will serve to remind citizens of the value of peaceful coexistence irrespective of political affiliation. We all share the same aspirations of peace and prosperity for our country, even if we may differ on how these ought to be achieved,” Father Chiromba said.

“The presidential candidates will get an opportunity to share their party manifestos with the audience as well as commit to a peaceful electoral process. They will also get a chance to respond to two pre-selected questions (they will be given these before the event, no ambush).”

The church and the business community will also share a word of peace during the event.

He said the political space has opened up, allowing people to express their opinions more freely than before.

Jerry Gana joins Nigerian presidential race

Prof Jerry Gana (PHOTO: Thisdaylive.com).

Professor Jerry Gana has joined the presidential race by picking the formal expression of interest form to seek nomination to run in the February 2019 general election.

Prof Gana, 72, has held several cabinet positions as Minister of Information, Minister of Integration and Cooperation in Africa as well Minister of Information and Communication.

He said on Thursday at the national secretariat of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), that there was a real danger of Nigeria imploding unless the party intervened with “God-fearing, dynamic, untainted and credible leadership.”

“Every patriotic Nigerian, everyone with a sense of compassion and love for people will know that Nigeria needs to be rescued because “the nation is going through difficult times,” Gana said.

Given the 40 odd years of his involvement in politics in Nigeria, Gana believes he has what it takes to keep the country from sliding further.

The level of insecurity in the country is unprecedented. Some have alleged ethnic and religious cleansing as Fulani herdsmen attack vulnerable populations in unbridled terror acts.

Gana is viewed as a man of integrity across the ethnic and religious divide. Many Nigerians are looking forward to casting their votes in the February general elections. While Christians across denominational lines are praying, there is growing awareness in the populace of the need to register to vote.

One gentleman in particular, Oluwasegun Adeniyi-James, has been encouraging people to go a step farther by becoming registered card-carrying members of political parties.

“It is good to get the PVC. Just being able to vote may not be enough to effect the change we all desire.

“Real change happens when you are in a position to determine who gets thrown up as a candidate,” Adeniyi-James said.