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The Sacred Forests of Church

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

France 24 has an interesting news report on the role of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church in preserving the biodiversity of the East African country of Ethiopia, “a mostly arid expanse of grassy savannah” whose fertile land has been largely cleared to make way for small holdings.

Interestingly, many of the estimated 35,000 church forests that circle Ethiopia’s Orthodox churches are found in the north of the country, in particular in the area around Lake Tana, where ancient monasteries house the remains of Ethiopian Emperors, and where according to tradition — the Virgin Mary rested on her way back from Egypt.

Lake Tana also supports a viable fishing industry according to the Ethiopian Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, with about 1,500 tonnes of fish landed each year, a figure that is estimated to be only 15% of the sustainable level.

The original report can be found here.

Categories: Africa, Religion

Justice and Migration

August 22, 2010 9 comments

Refugee camp and African dusk

It is too easy to sensationalize the terrible human tragedy of irregular immigration which, according to international convention is still, sadly, illegal.

To sensationalize also, is to put at risk the slow but steady rapprochement between the European and African Unions – the secular media seems to be very aware of this but still presents an overly pessimistic view of the forces that drive such dramatic population shifts.

Human lives do not readily convert into economic values.

Nevertheless, back in 2008 the Daily Telegraph reported the following:

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has apologised to Libya for 30 years of colonial rule and agreed to pay £2.5 billion in reparations.

As part of the deal Italy will also help build a 1,500 mile pan Libyan motorway across the north of the country linking it with neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

In return Libyan leader colonel Muammar Gaddafi has promised to crack down on thousands of illegal immigrants who leave his country every year and cross the Mediterranean to Italy.

The compensation deal, which was signed by both leaders in the Libyan city of Benghazi, is to be spread over 25 years and also involves train, technology and other infrastructure projects.

Berlusconi said: ‘”This payment goes towards the tragic and dramatic moments of Italian occupation and for the deep wounds that have affected many Libyan families.

“It is a complete and moral compensation for the damage inflicted on Libya by Italian during the colonial occupation and we can now look forward to working together.”

1st September 2008

This may be the end of Italian reparations in post-colonial Libya, but it is not the end of the European legacy in Africa.

Of course, not all immigrants who flee villages and towns do so out of fear of persecution. Some are simply seeking better lives, but often after having witnessed or experienced at first hand, the sporadic violence, ethnic or religious that breaks out so easily across the African continent. I have befriended a good number of these, all of whom I count as a kind of extended family and some of their stories are almost beyond belief.

The Royal African Society points to the deep roots of prejudice that permeate European psyches. African heads have long figured in European heraldry, but not always for the right reasons.

Interestingly, the coat of arms of the present Pope, Benedict XVI, displays a prominent African king on its right side. Catholic World News sees a symbol that somehow got past the censors of the Renaissance:

Even after that time [… of the “secularization” of the Church’s estates in 1802-1803] all the archbishops of Munich and Freising [… included] the Caput Aethiopum, the head of an Ethiopian, in their episcopal coat of arms.

Cardinal Ratzinger logo

Sadly, notwithstanding this noble gesture, the divisions of race have still not been consigned to the dustbin of history.

In his paper titles Violence in Contemporary Africa Reassessed (2005) the anthropologist Dr. Mark Leopold points to a familiar patchwork of near invisible interests, each intermeshed in a violent struggle for hegemony:

In my own work in Uganda in the later 1990s, by the borders with Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was obvious that each of the three countries was using “rebel groups” in the others as surrogates for national forces.

And later, quoting Abbink and Van Kessel, he cites another familiar problem:

Being young in Africa is widely and consistently perceived as problematic in essence. Social analysts, policy makers NGOs, governments and international organizations all reiterate that African youth is in deep trouble and enmeshed in violence. While understandable, this view is overburdening and prejudges the issues before understanding them…Both theoretically and empirically one needs to avoid positing youth and generational tension in Africa as an inherently destructive or exceptional factor in the social order. This reveals a kind of Hobbesian worldview applied to Africa.

The idea then, according to Leopold is not to submit to the “counsels of despair” which collectively see African problems as being rooted in some “inexplicable” and therefore “intractable” evil but rather as the inevitable product of “the sharp end of a long political process”.

Katherine Marshall, who co-chairs the Social Science Research Council’s Advisory Committee on Religion and International Affairs speaks of the celebration of best practice in working with “faith inspired organizations” such as World Vision, Catholic Relief Service, and Islamic Relief, as well as other less visible but still important groups.

Who could argue with that?