African evangelicals like Trump

Check out Dickens Olewe’s piece at BBC news about evangelical Christians in Africa. A taste:

President Trump has been a polarising figure the world over but he is popular in African countries like Nigeria and Kenya, according to a Pew Research poll released in January, where supporters do not appear to be bothered that he reportedly referred to African countries as “shitholes” in 2018.

Both Nigeria and Kenya are deeply religious countries. Mega churches proliferate in the Christian south of Nigeria – Africa’s most populous nation – and in Kenya many politicians go to church sermons to address their supporters, such is their popularity.

Many evangelical Christian groups in Africa, which are mostly anti-abortion, against gay rights and support Israel, were not keen on Mr Trump’s predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, despite his Kenyan heritage.

“The Obama administration had been pushing a liberal agenda here in Africa and that agenda was of concern to some of us Christian leaders. It was a relief that during Trump’s time he’s taken a bit of a back seat,” Richard Chogo, a pastor at the Deliverance Church in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, told the BBC.

Read the rest here.

W: “Bono is the real deal”

Bush and Bono

U2 singer Bono stopped by Crawford, Texas to see George W. Bush.

ABC News reports:

Lead U2 singer Bono made a pit stop Friday at former President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, a few hours before his band’s sold-out concert in nearby Richardson.

“Bono is the real deal,” Bush wrote on Instagram, along with a photo of himself with Bono at the Prairie Chapel Ranch. “He has a huge heart and a selfless soul, not to mention a decent voice. @laurawbush and I are grateful he came to the ranch to talk about the work of @thebushcenter, @onecampaign, @PEPFAR, and our shared commitment to saving lives in Africa.”

Both men have been active in efforts to end the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Bush created PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, while Bono co-founded ONE, a global campaign and advocacy organization that rallies around AIDS awareness and anti-poverty initiatives.

“More than 11 million people are alive today thanks to this man’s creation of PEPFAR, the U.S. AIDS program that has been saving lives and preventing new HIV infections for over 10 years, with strong support from political leaders right, left, and center,” Bono wrote on ONE’s Instagram account, alongside the photo of the two men. “That progress is all at risk now with President Trump‘s budget cuts, which will mean needless infections and lives lost. – Bono.”

Bush wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last month urging lawmakers to keep PEPFAR fully-funded because approximately “12 million lives have been saved … Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease.”

The Author’s Corner with Benjamin N. Lawrance

Benjamin Lawrance holds the Barber B. Conable Jr. Endowed Chair in International Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This interview is based on his new book Amistad’s Orphans: An Atlantic Story of Children, Slavery, and Smuggling (Yale University Press, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write Amistad’s Orphans?

BL:I first started thinking about Amistad’s Orphans when a colleague showed me a letter from a former child slave, Ka’le, to President John Quincy Adams. I was struck by the language used and the appeals to justice. At the time I was working on a project on contemporary child trafficking in Africa. Many NGO reports use free child slave stories to catch the attention of the reader. So I began to wonder what other letters existed from child slaves, written as children. And the answer appeared to be, very few. So I returned to the very family story of the trial of the survivors of La Amistad. And I decided that a children’s story needed to be told. As an African historian, it piqued my interest to try to retell a classic 19th century American tale with the insights of African and Atlantic history. And, to my surprise, no one had tried to do that.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Amistad’s Orphans?

BL: Amistad’s Orphans argues that the role of African child slaves in the illegal slave trade has been significantly underestimated and their experiences misunderstood because all too often the 19th century is framed as an “Age of Abolition.” Not only were children a critical and highly desirable constituency of nineteenth-century Atlantic slave-trading networks, but a reappraisal of their participation also compels us to recognize that the inception of abolitionism in the Atlantic marked the beginning of an age of child enslavement.

JF: Why do we need to read Amistad’s Orphans?

BL: Amistad’s Orphans is a deeply personal story of six childhoods and how the largest forced migration in human history had profound consequences for the lives of children. I follow the journeys of six African children to illustrate the broader experience of African child enslavement and mobility during the early to mid-nineteenth century. These six lives, although single threads, are woven into a collective narrative, and via their pain, suffering, and survival, we begin to understand the African child slave experience. Reading Amistad’s Orphans will make you realize the centrality of children to the massive illegal trafficking enterprise undergirding the trans-Atlantic trade.

The title of this book, Amistad’s Orphans, is provocation to rethink the relationships, strategies, and experiences of slave children whose identities are too often determined primarily by their status as slaves. In order to uncover the lived experience of children more broadly, six lives are united into one imagined slave ship family. The six children shared many experiences, first and foremost the process of being bereft of family by their enslavement as children. As an analytical term—a dynamic definition, if you like—“orphan” emerges from actively and intentionally bringing into conversation the experiential insights bequeathed by six remarkable historical survivors: Mar’gru, Kag’ne, Te’me, Ka’le, Covey, and Antonio. 

My book is an experiment in what Rebecca Scott and Jean Hébrard have described as “micro-history in motion,” insofar as a carefully chosen event, or set of personalities viewed at the ground level, reveals broader regional dimensions. At its most expansive, Amistad’s Orphans demonstrates that when our attention is directed away from adults and toward the qualitatively different experiences of African slave children, a prevailing wisdom about the nineteenth century begins to lose its luster. The details of the children’s lives, contextualized with a wide spectrum of diverse evidence from the epoch, support two general, mutually situated, observations. Not only did slave traders actively seek children in increasing numbers during this period, but also child enslavement provided both slave producers and consumers with specific capacities not afforded by adult slaves to avoid detection and continue their illicit economies. Dispensing with the misidentification of the epoch as an age of abolition reveals the early nineteenth century as the beginning of an age of child enslavement.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

BL: I fell in love with history in high school in Australia. I had two amazing teachers who brought the worlds of Thucydides and Herodotus and the trench warfare of WWI to life, and I realized how important it is story study, understand, and reflect on the past. I first became enmeshed the history of US slavery as an undergraduate, and perhaps the most influential book for me at that time was CLR James’ Black Jacobins. First and foremost though I consider myself a legal historian and anthropologist. I learned the value of legal studies from several superb graduate mentors.

JF: What is your next project?
BL: I’m working on several new projects that reside at the intersection of history, anthropology, and sociology. I’m examining the historical experience of forced marriage in Africa and beyond, and I am looking at the lives of people who can’t prove their identity or citizenship, or who face the threat of deportation throughout the globe. Perhaps the most famous example in US history is the story of Wong Ark Kim, which, like the Amistad case, also went to the Supreme Court.
JF: Can’t wait to read about it, thanks Benjamin.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Wallis: Obama Needs to Follow Bush on HIV/AIDS

Over at the CNN Religion Blog, Jim Wallis calls upon Barack Obama to follow the example of George W. Bush and do something about the growing problem of HIV/AIDS in Africa. He writes:

It was not that long ago faith leaders and millions of activists organized across the globe to press President George W. Bush to respond to the AIDS pandemic and fund solutions to end extreme global poverty.

The result of bold American leadership led to nothing short of a historic wave of success. Today, nearly four million Africans are on life saving HIV/AIDS medicines, up from 50,000 in 2002. President Bush’s legacy in the fight against global AIDS is strong, but much more needs to be done.

Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to continue that leadership. But today, his promise has yet to be kept. Fortunately, it’s not too late for him to do so…

Maybe Obama can learn a thing or two from the so-called “compassionate conservatives.”

Does Africa Need God?

I was struck today by a piece in the London Times by columnist and self-professed atheist Matthew Parris. Parris believes that God may be the answer to the host of problems facing Africa. “Missionaries, not aid money,” Parris writes, “are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem–the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset.”

For Parris, religion, particularly Protestantism, liberates. He writes:

We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

Parris challenges the notion, apparently popular among “Western academic sociologists,” that the African tribal situation is generally “good” for the African people. Here is his dissent:

I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Once again, Protestantism is the way to counter such tribalism:

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

As a student of religion in the United States I am often critical of the so-called “liberating” power of American Protestantism. The Protestant emphasis on individualism, liberty, and freedom has always been connected to political and cultural values that we might call “American,” but they can also be taken to unhealthy extremes that lead to materialism, self-interest, and the undermining of authentic community. In this context, as I argued indirectly in The Way of Improvement Leads Home, tribalism or local attachment or “place” may offer an alternative moral vision to the Protestant, cosmopolitan, universal, individualistic, ambitious idea of “America.”

I am no expert on Africa or its tribal system, and I am probably going out on a limb here, but I am inclined to say that when it comes to Africa I would withdraw this harsh critique of Protestant individualism If Parris is correct, tribalism in Africa has led to tyranny. In this sense, the liberating power of the message of Protestant missionaries may be the answer in Africa in the same way that John Paul II’s Catholicism, a brand of Catholicism that was also critical of American individualism and consumer capitalism, was partly responsible for the fall of communist tyranny in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.