Archive - November, 2006

Urbanizing Senegal

Urbanzation is changing the city of Dakar
and the countryside of Senegal. A collection of photo essays on the Washington
Post by Michael Robinson Chavez captures some of the result of this

Sitting on the square in Dakar, Senegal many years ago I had a conversation with a young man who sat beside me to talk. He was a recent emigre’ from the countryside, his English was broken and his manner more subdued than the aggressive street sellers who can make a simple stroll in this city feel more like an assault.

He had come to Dakar to find work and live a better life. It wasn’t as easy as he’d imagined. Several thousand other rural Senegalese had similar dreams. They were in competition not only with each other but with university educated young people.

Due to lack of jobs It was said there were more educated bakers in Dakar than any other city in the world because many formed coops to bake and sell bread.

When I asked him what attracted him to the city, his response was simple and straightforward. City lights. As young people everywhere, the glow of the city at night beckoned. The lights symbolized excitement. The city was as exotic to these young people as if it were a foreign country. The lights of the city are a magnet.

Later, as I traveled north of Dakar into the remote countryside the result of this migration was clear. Due to drought, and to a lesser extent, HIV/AIDS, some villages had no young adults. Others had been completely abandoned.

I walked into one abandoned village and looked into a typical thatch hut. Leaning against one wall was a metal push plow. Opposite it was a garden hoe. In better times they were valuable tools. But not in the drought. Dependence on rain-fed cultivation was futile. The family had pulled up stakes and moved on, probably southward. Perhaps the youth stopped in Dakar.

Beyond natural threat, the incursion of packaged food products from outside Senegal had also affected local production. I recall, for example, talking with a young herder in the country who struggled to keep his herds healthy while also finding a market for the yogurt he produced. His competition at the high-end was yogurt imported from big producers in France. It was as if this small farmer were taking on Dannon and it was a mismatch.

Back in Dakar, the late afternoon sun added a tinge of melancholy to my conversation with the young man. As we parted, to my surprise he didn’t ask for money or other favors. He was truly lonely and disconnected in the city and at the moment I was a sympathetic, listening ear.

I thought of this experience as I happened upon Michael Robinson Chavez’s photo essays of Dakar in the Washington Post. They offer a glimpse into the urbanization happening across the world as economic and cultural changes uproot traditional communities and young people try to adjust to new realities in a globalized economy. They hear the siren song of city lights. But for some, the city’s promise is cruel and harsh. Those lights change the rhythm of life and for many the city offers none of the traditional supports that family and village provide. Finding one’s self in the city can be a struggle marked by loneliness fostered by wrenching dislocation.

If you look closely at Chavez’s photos, you can see the solitary figures around the edges. Young people for whom urbanization is a mixed blessing, a hopeful promise not yet realized.

Somalia Ignored

Somalia, long ignored by the international
community, can no longer be ignored according Stanley A. Weiss in the
International Herald Tribune.

Somalia has been ignored or treated as if it were of little strategic consequence. But that attitude cannot continue. If the suffering of the people of Somalia isn’t enough to justify international attention, the strategic location of Somalia should.

Stanley A. Weiss, founder and chairman of Business Executives for National Security writes in the International Herald Tribune :

“This time, there’s no ignoring Somalia. As a delegation of American executives learned on a recent visit to four of its neighbors, Somalia is more than a fight between rival clan-based militias. It’s now a proxy war for foreign powers waging old border and religious disputes that could quickly engulf the entire region.”

Ethiopia and Somalia are trading threats about border incursions. Eritrea and Ethiopia have fought openly and remain poised to resume open warfare. Chad is threatened by the janjaweed of Sudan. And Sudan continues to allow genocide against southern
Sudanese in Darfur.

It’s important to keep pressure on the U.S. and the U.N. to press Sudan to accept UN peacekeeping and control the janjaweed. Efforts by groups in the U.S. and Europe are even more urgent.

Information to Save Lives

A new report from the UN says thousands of
children die soon after birth, deaths that are preventable with inexpensive

Up to half
a million
African babies die
on the day
they are born
— most at home
and uncounted.

Where mothers have information and basic health care, the risk of losing their newborn in the first days after birth are significantly reduced, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization. Never the less, 1.6 million children in Africa die within 28 days of birth the report says.

Community-based health programs which train midwives and community health workers to deliver health information and provide basic services can make a substantial difference reducing these deaths, the report says.

The WHO cites Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Eritrea, Madasgascar and Burkina Faso as nations that have made maternal health care a priority and have reduced infant death as a result.

The report also emphasizes the disparities in access to health care. Liberia has the world’s highest newborn mortality rate at 66 deaths per 1,000 births compared to less than 2 deaths per 1,000 births in Japan.

A goal of United Methodist Communications, for which I work, is to provide the communications training, equipment and other tools to organize communities to deliver information to improve quality of life. Communication is the foundation for providing better health information and community organization. Trained communicators who can assist community health workers to develop messages and methods to deliver better health information have been coupled with relatively inexpensive equipment for communications centers in various countries in Africa.

We are also exploring funding for community radio stations that can deliver information to wider audiences. Small footprint radio stations assist communities to participate in a dialogue with themselves for better health, economic development, agricultural practices and other important information. Training has been completed and equipment purchased to launch a station in Liberia, the country noted in the report leading in newborn deaths.

A Science and Religion Free for All–George Johnson report in NY Times

Writer George Johnson profiles a
a forum this month at the Salk
Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. as a free for all between
science and religion.

…the world
needs to
wake up
from its
long night-
mare of
Steven Weinberg
NY Times

A forum discussing science and religion at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies this month became a free for all, according to an article by George Johnson, reported in the New York Times.

The remarks of Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate marked the peak of discussion about the negative effects of religion, according to Johnson, but there was plenty of sharp criticism of religion and religious belief.

Comments by Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist and author of “The God Delusion” were widely quoted in the media. His book is on the bestseller list. Dawkins claims religious belief is delusion and he equates religion with a virus. This has made Dawkins the object of considerable derision among some religious groups, a position in which he seems to take delight. An interview of Dawkins by Gordy Slack appears on

The substantive issues raised in this debate, however, cut to the core of religious belief and the value of faith. Dawkins claims that a system of belief based on lack of verifiable evidence is leading to a “theocratic Dark Age” in the United States.

We who are Christian and follow the teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul, however, recall Paul writing that the essence of faith is to believe even in the absence of evidence. “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible,” Paul writes. (Hebrews 11:1,3)

This is exactly what Dawkins finds untenable. He makes a full frontal attack on the beliefs of most, if not all, religions. But, it’s my opinion that this argument is based on an incomplete definition of religion. It rests on belief which can too easily be compacted into doctrine.

What if, for example, Christian faith were defined as the way those who follow Jesus practice acts of compassion and justice? And what if those who are disciples of Jesus express faith as the action of healing a divided and broken world, rather than a set of doctrines that divide? And what if religion were seen as a motivation to understand the creation–the physical sciences, astronomy, biology, and a host of other specialized areas of knowledge–and not as a refuge from them?

If religious folks are not defensive about this frontal assault but instead go about living morally and ethically consistent lives, doing no harm, doing all the good they can and attending to those acts that inform and strengthen them, such as worship, prayer, Bible study, partaking of the Holy Communion and fasting and abstinence, this debate might take on a different character.

These are the general rules John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught his followers as the marks by which they were to live. I don’t know if this would change the debate because it’s based on a conception of faith that creation is purposeful and faith is discovering one’s place in this purposeful creation of God. Dawkins rejects design as an adequate way to understand the universe because it still doesn’t explain the designer.

But Dawkins tells Slack, “It (the world) would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them, rather than religion’s morbid obsession with private sin and the evils of sexual enjoyment.”

These practices neither deny nor negate the value of science, but instead, uphold an understanding of life as a sacred journey lived with meaning and purpose by those who believe in God and who, as a result, also believe they are called to transform the world by making it more compassionate and just , especially in partnership with the poor and vulnerable.

As I’ve just been involved in a conversation about these rules and their relevance in our time, they are fresh to me, and they lead me to ask another question: If Christians were to practice these things, what is wrong with that?

Chad and the Revenge of Genocide

Nicholas Kristof presents a chilling and
disturbing conversation he had with a wounded 15-year-old Sudanese boy in

A wounded 15-year-old youth in Chad told Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, he wishes to kill all Arabs. The boy was wounded by merciless Janjaweed militia. They murdered his father and shot him. They continue to conduct genocide upon Black Africans in the Darfur region of Sudan and now threaten to topple the governments of Chad and the Central African Republic, according to Kristof.

The reaction of the boy is understandable. As the nations of the world debate how to deal with the janjaweed, or ignore their genocidal behavior altogether, the people whom they brutalize and terrorize suffer unspeakable abuse.

The international community has had years to deal with this problem. It’s not new. In fact, conflict between lighter skin Arabs and darker Sudanese has been going on for more than 20 years.

It’s also complicated by differences of culture and religion. Some in the south are animists and many are Christian. Some are sedentary planting peoples while others are herders. Kristof writes of the janjaweed killing animals, for example. This too, has been happening for years. I recall speaking with displaced herders in this region who told me of animals hobbled by the severing of tendons in disputes about access to grazing land and water. This was years ago.

As Kristof notes, the situation has changed by arming the janjaweed with automatic weapons from China. The southerners carry bows and arrows.

As I read Kristof’s column I remembered the “lost boys” who were displaced young men, separated (or orphaned) from their families, wandering from country to country, finding temporary refuge but always forced to move on, often at gunpoint. At one time it was estimated 10,000 young Sudanese were straggling from place to place. They became a community of support to each other and eventually some were assisted by international agencies to migrate to other nations. A few came to the United States.

The continuing inhumanity in this part of the Horn of Africa should compel international peacekeeping, but it hasn’t gotten the decisive action required. Kristof assesses the potential for wider instability in the region and what can happen if it spreads.

Kristof says concerned people can write their representatives in the House and Senate. He also suggests writing the embassies of France and Egypt which could play important roles.

The world cannot claim, as it did when genocide occurred in Rwanda, that we didn’t know. We do know. We have known. We have yet to act. And with each passing day the suffering spreads, the hatred grows, and the desire for revenge festers.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus and the Nobel Peace Prize

Dr. Muhammad Yunus told an audience tonight
in Washington, D.C. that peace is inextricably connected with
(I attended a dinner to honor Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Laureate. Dr. Yunus spoke about the role of micro-lending enabling people to emerge from poverty.)

Peace is inextricably connected to poverty, according to Dr. Muhammad Yunus. “Where there is poverty sooner or later there will be frustration and possibly terrorism. Terrorism won’t be halted by force,” he told a crowd of supporters and guests of the United Nations Foundation.

“Peace will only come with justice and empowerment of people who feel they are left out of the society,” he said.

Dr. Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank a micro-lender to the poor, was named a Nobel Laureate by the Norwegian Nobel Committee on October 13, 2006.

Dr. Yunus said the Nobel Committee through the nomination made the connection between poverty and peace. His remarks, which can be found on the Grameen website, reveal the respect he holds for the poor with whom he works. He told the group, “Grameencredit is based on the premise that the poor have skills which remain unutilised or under-utilised. It is definitely not the lack of skills which make poor people poor. Grameen believes that the poverty is not created by the poor, it is created by the institutions and policies which surround them. In order to eliminate poverty all we need to do is to make appropriate changes in the institutions and policies, and/or create new ones. Grameen believes that charity is not an answer to poverty. It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual’s initiative to break through the wall of poverty. Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty.”

Mild of speech and disposition, Dr. Yunus said “poverty is not a natural extension of human beings, it is an artificial condition imposed upon people. I would celebrate if only one person left begging to become an entrepreneur because those who leave the begging life see the value of education for their children and they become empowered.”
He said he would be joyful if only eight people moved from poverty to self-support. But, in fact, through the work of Grameen Bank “thousands have left begging and have become self-sufficient.”

When he started Grameen Bank, he said he had no idea how the first $27.00 loan would be repaid, nor how much good it would do. But he learned quickly that a small loan can lead to big payoff. At the start he had “no idea it would reach hundreds of thousands of people. But today we’re reaching 5 million,” he said.

He will receive his award on December 10 in Oslo for his work to empower poor people, especially women, by providing small loans.

Global Media–The Landscape Has Changed

The proliferation of media
outlets has changed the lenses through which audiences view the world,
especially U.S. policy and the words and deeds of leaders, according to Lawrence
Pintak, director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American
University in Cairo.

There used
to be a
time when
the U.S.
media wrote
the global
The world
saw itself
a largely
camera lens.
No more.

Lawrence Pintak
quoted in The
Herald Tribune

The U.S. media bubble has burst. Hundreds of new channels now deliver information around the globe.
The singular “narrative” once provided by U.S. media faces competition as never before.

That’s the view of Lawrence Pintak, director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo. He writes in the International Herald Tribune this morning.

Pintak says viewers in the Middle East can watch more than 300 channels, each with its own perspective. Turkey, Singapore, India, Russia, China, France and Latin America have 24/7 news channels, not to mention the Internet, giving instant updates.

Pintak says a statement by an official in the U.S. can be around the world and have impact, for good or ill, within minutes. This means people not only have the information to put a story in their perspective, they also can also judge the authenticity of a statement by comparing it to actions in their region of the world.

U.S. officials can no longer say one thing and do another, according to Pintak.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Pintak writes, and, in his view, some U.S. officials “don’t get it.”

Nothing But Nets

A new partnership between
“sacred” and “secular” designed to save lives has been

Malaria kills. Send a net. Save a life.

Acting on this simple message can save the lives of millions of children who are infected with malaria. A child dies every thirty seconds from the disease which is preventable and can be treated with early intervention.

A global, grassroots campaign to prevent death by malaria was announced today in New York by Bishop Thomas Bickerton, resident bishop of the Western Pennsylvania Area of The United Methodist Church and Mr. Michael Madnick, executive vice president of the United Nations Foundation.

Nothing But Nets is a fundraising and distribution program for mosquito nets that will protect sleeping children from malaria-carrying insects. Nightfall is the prime time for these mosquitoes to feed. Children and pregnant women are more susceptible to the parasite born by the mosquitos, according to United Nations Foundation staff person, Elizabeth McKee, who briefed media in New York.
Scroll cursor over photo to

The initiative was inspired by an article written by columnist Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated. He challenged “anyone who has ever cut down a net, jumped over a net, watched the New Jersey Nets, worn a hair net, or thought of Angelina Jolie in fishnets” to donate $10 to purchase insecticide-treated nets. Reilly’s readers, most of whom are males between 18 and 30, contributed $1.2 million.

The UN Foundation picked up on this interest and sought major partners whom they felt could anchor a wider appeal. Agencies of The United Methodist Church, joined the partnership.

Reilly delivered a podcast thanking the people of The United Methodist Church for their support of the initiative. A crew from United Methodist Communications traveled with Reilly to Nigeria last week to document a net distribution program. This visit will be reported in a variety of media in coming days.

Press Briefing
Gen. Sec. Randy Day, General Board of Global Ministries and Bishop Bickerton at Nothing But Nets press briefing.

In several interviews during a busy morning of media appearances, Bishop Bickerton said the partnership “is a natural. The church has extensive service ministries to prevent and treat malaria and other diseases of poverty and has long supported the humanitarian outreach of the United Nations.”

Bishop Bickerton is president of United Methodist Communications which is one of the general agencies of the church engaged in the partnership. Before the launch he presented the initiative to the United Methodist Association of Communicators, the Connectional Table, a coordinating body of the church, and the Council of Bishops, receiving affirmation from all three. General Secretary Randy Day of the General Board of Global Ministries also participated in the launch.

In addition to United Methodist Communications, the General Boards of Global Ministries, Church and Society and Youth Division of the Board of Discipleship are supporting the global health effort.

Additional partners have joined the initiative including: AOL Black Voices, Rotarians’ Action Group on Malaria (RAM), and Unwired Appeal.

Invisible Children

Nightly children in northern
Uganda leave home to commute to a safe sleeping place in the center of nearby
city neighborhoods to avoid forced conscription into the Lord’s Resistance Army
or sex slavery.
(Updated 2:55 P.M. November 12, 2006)

Jan Egeland, Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the United Nations was unsuccessful today in securing release of women and children held as slaves by the Lord’s Resistance Army, according to a report by the Associated Press this afternoon. Joseph Koney, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army denied holding children, saying the LRA is holding only combatants.

Every night an internal migration occurs in northern Uganda. Children in villages and urban neighborhoods commute at dusk to safe places where they sleep en masse to avoid abduction into the Lord’s Resistance Army or sex slavery. It’s a tragic reality that has been going on in this war-torn region for years.

Three young U.S. filmmakers documented the night commute in 2003 and with friends organized Invisible Children, a movement advocating for peace in northern Uganda and offering hope to children caught up in this terrible exploitation.

This holiday season Invisible Children is releasing a book about the project and is also looking for sites to present the film documentary.

Several videos about children in war zones in Africa are housed on YouTube.

I Got Soul is a moving music video showing public demonstrations in the U.S. for Invisible Children.

Give Rise to Blind Eyes is a music video calling for advocacy for the children.

A Million Voices is a touching video about the children of Rwanda, some of whom were conscripted during the genocide there.

Thanks to Ken Sloane for pointing me to the Invisible Chlidren link.

Faith and the Middle Ground of Social Policy

Moderate voices have been

People really care
about right and
wrong more than
right and left,
and their antennae
were up about
corruption and the
war in Iraq and
kitchen-table moral
issues — health care
and poverty
— Alexia Kelley

Religious moderates are awakening and finding their voice. Alan Cooperman examines the influence of the religious middle in the midterm elections in an article this morning in the Washington Post.

Cooperman quotes Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, who says “kitchen-table moral issues” such as poverty, health care and the war in Iraq are key to the votes of moderates. I think it’s telling that health and poverty are among four of the major emphases being advanced by the General Secretaries of The United Methodist Church (of which I am one) and similar concerns raised by the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church. This denomination is among those identified as the mainline and its agenda for ministry is finding common ground with social policy endorsed by mainstream voters.

Cooperman notes that evangelicals turned out in numbers equal to 2004. This weakens the claim by some evangelical leaders who told him the religious right stayed home because it was fed up with corruption and big spending. He also notes that despite passage of marriage amendments in 7 states, by a smaller majorities than in past elections, stem cell research passed in Missouri, an abortion ban was overturned in South Dakota and a marriage amendment that would have banned gay marriage was rejected in Arizona.

I believe there is a stirring of renewal in the mainline and it’s not about politics, its about a return to living the faith in daily practice that is comprehensive, true to tradition and supported by Christian community (a description of this group by Diana Butler Bass).

And it happens to be compatible with an emerging consensus toward moderation in the wider society.

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