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Letter to Pope Francis from African Youth

A group of young people living in Nairobi who regularly meets at Shalom House has written a letter to Pope Francis on the occasion of the Synod to be held in Rome next October, during which hundreds of bishops will discuss on the theme “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”. The letter has been sent to the Synod Secretariat and wants to be a respectful contribution to the discussion from an African perspective.

Un gruppo di giovani che vivono a Nairobi e si radunano regolarmente alla Shalom House ha scritto una lettera a Papa Francesco in occasione del Sinodo dei Vescovi che si terrà a Roma in ottobre sul tema “I giovani, la fede a il discernimento vocazionale”. E’ stata inviata alle Segreteria del Sinodo e vuole essere un rispettoso contributo alla discussione da una prospettiva Africana.

Letter to Pope Francis from Africa

Holy Father Francis,

we are a group of African youth, aged from 20 to 30 years. We would like to deepen the way we live our faith, and two years ago we have started sharing the Gospel together calling ourselves “Youth’s Missionaries”, maybe being too visionaries. Though we belong to different Christians Churches all of us recognize in you a servant leader, a shepherd who can lead us with example and wisdom. On the occasion of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the youth we have decided to write to You directly on how we live our faith. We hope this Synod will give us more motivations and instruments to become missionaries to our fellow youth.

Jesus and the Churches

We feel that Jesus should be the most important person in our life. Instead, speaking for us African, we feel there are too many mediators between us and Jesus. We read the Gospel, feel inspired by the Beatitudes and wish to live a life of commitment to Jesus that would be fully African and fully Christian. Sometime it seems that to be Christian we have to shed our culture and follow traditions and rules laid down centuries ago, in another place and another culture. Traditions and rules that even the youth in the countries of their origin do not understand, as we know from our contact with them. We do not reject the Tradition of the Church, we would just like to remove the unnecessary stains so that the face of Jesus would shine with more splendor upon us. We are sure that a more direct dialogue between Jesus and us will bring an abundant harvest and fruits of holiness, expressed in an African way. We dream of an African Saint Francis!

Sometimes we are intimidated in front of the structures of the church, we feel that more than a community of followers of Jesus the church is an organization with a structure that rejects you if you do not conform. It looks like an international corporation with mission and vision expressed with Gospel term, but often the internal rules show a mundane spirit. The church should condemn our mistakes, but also comfort us in our failures and show us how to forgive our-selves and forgive the others.

We would like from time to time listen to our leaders (bishops and priests) face to face, and have them listening to us. We love what you do, celebrating Mass every morning with a small community. It would be so much easier for our bishops to do this, their flock is much smaller, yet we have the chance to see our bishops only during big celebrations.

The prevalent attitude of our faith leaders is that of instructing us, very rarely that of sharing the joy of the Gospel with us. In this way the leaders risk to become only teachers and judges. We would need strong and loving fathers instead! We need guidance on how to confront the continuously new challenges that the modern world sends to us. So much of the modern culture reaching us through the powerful mass and digital media undermines in a subtle way the Gospel values. Without the loving guidance and the example of our shepherds we cannot grow in the ability to discern what is good from what is bad.

An African expression for our faith

Our traditional cultures and religions were often too closed in themselves, unable of change and lacking a long term vision. They were wonderfully all-inclusive for the members of the same human group, but often excluding the others. The Gospel has opened up our horizons. Yet we cannot renounce our roots, they are part of us and the Spirit of Jesus wants us to grow from where we are. They connect us with the mystery of life and the mystery of God.

We sometime feel that we do not have a direct contact with the Gospel. Yes, we can read it, we can hear very learned explanations, but it seems to be a food already cooked by someone else’ mother! To be really nutritious for us it must be cultivated and harvested and cooked by our own mothers and fathers, our leaders. If they do so they will feed us with a faith with a deeper African flavor, and we shall carry on from their example and words.

We like to celebrate our faith in a community, with songs and dances, with all our being. We see the love of God around us, and every day is a joyful celebration of life. This is part of our African spirituality.

Now our faith is not sustained and fed with African models. We know of the Uganda Martyrs and of the “martyrs of brotherhood” of Buta, Burundi, who with their life and death have witnessed to Christ and overcome division and tribalism. They are an example of how the Gospel can assume and take at an higher level our African traditions. In every African town there should be a church dedicated to them! And in the history of African church other figures should be identified who can be inspiring for young African people, so that we can feel they are companions in our life journey.

Our Churches

We know that our Churches have come to Africa already divided, sometime in competition. This is another bitter heritage of the European history transferred to Africa. But we know also that some African Christians in time of danger were able to overcome the divisions, work together. and to witness Christ together, like in the case of the Uganda Martyrs. And we feel that we have to strengthen communion with all Christian Churches. With those who have come divided and also with the many that were born on our African soil mixing the Bible with our traditions. They have weaknesses, yet they provide answers to the quest for African spirituality.

We dare to suggest that in the ordinary calendar of our local churches, at least once per year there is a special celebration for all Christians. It could be not only a time when we pray for the others, like what it is done during the celebration of the Week for the Unity of Christians, but a time when we pray with the others and with them we celebrate our common faith in Jesus our Savior. We have in the Church a multiplications of celebration where we stress our own faith and our own tradition. Aren’t we strong and relevant enough to share our faith with the others, especially with our Christian brothers?

The relationship with our Muslim brothers needs to grow, so that we can work together at the service of humanity and of God in all secular matters. This is already happening in our daily lives and it should be assumed and promoted by the churches. To cultivate friendship and common action with our Muslim brother should be a daily concern for our Christian leaders.

Youth pastors should approach the issue of the divided churches without fear, the sooner they will face it, the stronger the faith and the aspiration to unity of their flock will be.

Sport properly practiced is a good preparation for cooperation, discipline and unity of intent. Many sports see Africans excel on the world stage, and most of them are sports that can be practiced with no or minimal equipment, like athletics, especially running, and football. Every parish should have a sport program accessible to all youth of every faith.

Our world

We love the world in which we were born. We look at it with awe, and we want to embrace it, to improve it. Respecting the wonderful nature around us and improving the bonds of communion in the human family.

We like your prodding the church to go out in the street, to meet the challenges of daily life and not to stay close in the safety of our homes and communities. Some of us have lived in the streets, we have experienced abandon and rejection and we know how difficult and cruel life in the street can be. We have also known war and refugee camps. The street, the most difficult places, are the places where life happens, you meet the others, you create bonds, you learn the dynamics of meeting and dialogue. In the street the unexpected comes to you and in it there is the voice of God.

Most of us are Kenyans and we have seen you in Nairobi. We remember what you said about corruption. Corruption is like diabetes, corruption is like craving for sugar, and wanting more and more of it. We are ready to accept and forgive the weaknesses of our political leaders, of some of our priests and bishops who are sick with this disease. We ask them to be servant leaders, powerless and poor, close to us. The church will be more credible and they would be able to speak with real authority at times of social and economic crisis.

In recent years the credibility of all Christian Churches in Kenya and South Sudan has been undermined precisely because some church leaders have been perceived as unable to distance themselves from corruption, party politics and tribalism. How can they promote peace, service, unity and love when trapped in nets of power and money?

We love peace. We want to build up a culture of peace and brotherhood. Blessed are the peacemakers! The Church of Jesus is there where people build bonds of community and peace. That is the heart of our mission at the service of the world. Could we suggest that for some time – let’s say the next ten year – our leaders would not worry building churches and institutions of stones but concentrate in building the church as a community of the follower of Jesus, the Teacher who opened to us the vision of the Beatitudes ?

Poor political leadership is one of our problem. In Africa we had the shining example of Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere, and a few others. The majority of African leaders have been blinded by power and greed. We who write this text are poor, and living a life rooted in the Gospel of Jesus is a difficult challenge for us, always stimulated and incited to become rich fast, and by any mean, by the bad example of our leaders.

Our corrupt politician and members of the ruling class have often looted our countries, and embarked on wars on behalf of the foreign interests to which they have sold themselves out. They are the main responsible for the miseries and death suffered by the youth who die in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe. We appreciate your calls for openness and justice.

Open to life, generating life

Modern imported models of life have made us more individualistic and selfish. Friendship, tolerance, hospitality, community living, reaching decisions by consensus are values that have become almost impossible to live in our modern competitive society. Exclusion is the norm. “Be first!” is the dehumanizing imperative.

We believe in life and in the God of life, and Jesus has come to teach us to live a full life. We are not discouraged by the difficulties. We see around us the good seeds and the new life that is growing. We want to care for it, and nourish its growth in us. We know that God loves us and he wants joy and happiness for us, and for everyone. We are not naives, we have experienced that suffering and death indeed play a big part in our human journey, but we have also experienced that love and life are stronger, and we can live a full life even in the midst of material wants.. We are heirs of the joy of the Resurrection and we need to communicate this joy to the people around us and to the next generation.

As we are getting ready to sign this letter, we become aware of one of our weaknesses. We are all males! It is now to0 late to remedy, but we assure you that we work to improve inclusiveness and respect for the genius and role of women in our society.

Holy Father, continue to guide us so that we can become the prophets of a better future.

Nairobi, 18 July 2018

Signed by
Amos Maresi, Kenyan Anglican, 26, Chef and footballer, Daniel Mayen, South Sudanese Catholic,24, student in Project Management, Duncan Njoroge (Besh), Kenyan Catholic, 25, student in Social Work, Edward Yama Kambole, Zambian Catholic, 27, Social Worker, Erick Silvano Ochieng, Kenyan Catholic, 23, student in Project Management, Fredrerick Onyango, Kenyan Catholic, 25, student in Community Development, George Njuguna, Kenyan Catholic. 29, Accountant, Lorenzo Amos, South Sudanese Catholic, 23, student in Human Res. Management, Ken Nyangweso, Kenyan Catholic, 28, professional footballer, Peter Simiyu, Kenyan Baptist, 29, Social Worker and footballer, Pius Omondi, Kenyan Catholic, 24, Chef and footballer, Samuel Juma, South Sudanese Catholic, 25, student in Human Resource Management, Wilson Ambwo, Kenyan Catholic, 25, Nutritionist and acrobatic instructor, Yassin Hassan, Sudanese (Nuba Mountains) Catholic 31, videographer and journalist.

Frammenti di vita Nuba (3)

Di primo mattino a Kauda mi avvio verso il mercato. Poche persone in strada, solo due motociclette di marca cinese che fanno spola trasportando i più frettolosi.

Il mercato è piccolo, forse una cinquantina di box costruiti in mattoni cotti, tetto in lamiera, infissi di recupero, e banco di esposizione in legno e metallo riciclato dai contenitori di olio donati dal “popolo americano”. In alcuni piccoli “bar” che servono caffè tostato al momento e speziato con zenzero ci si può sedere sulle sedie rimovibili che si usano sugli aerei cargo. Provengono dai due aerei che si sono schiantati sulla pista poco lontana anni fa, prima del 2005 quando qui si arrivava solo con voli clandestini. Pochi altri espongono le mercanzie su stuoie in terra, al riparo dei grandi alberi o di tettoie improvvisate in legno e paglia. I prodotti alimentari locali esposti sono pochi. Siamo in quel periodo che nel gergo delle ONG viene chiamato “hunger gap”, il tempo della fame, perché il raccolto dello scorso anno sta per finire e l’abbondanza di verdura, frutta, durra, mais, noccioline eccetera tornerà solo alla fine di questa stagione delle piogge, a metà ottobre. Nonostante questo dall’inizio del viaggio non ho viso nessuno che appaia soffrire la fame.

Mi accorgo che uno dei motociclista sta confabulando con un gruppetto, lanciandomi occhiate. Poi mi si avvicina molto circospetto, mi chiede “Come ti chiami?” Quando dico il mio nome, mi tende la mano, ancora esitante, quasi temesse di toccare uno spettro, e chiama gli altri. Finalmente tutto il gruppetto mi saluta con ampi sorrisi e strette di mano. Sono ragazzi e ragazze che frequentavano la scuola di Kujur Shabia, a 20 chilometri da qui, e mi dicono con franchezza giovanile “Abuna (padre), pensavamo tu fossi morto!” Rievocano quella volta in cui erano venuti alla pista a prendere un cargo di libri, quaderni e penne che avevo portato con un vetusto C130, e si erano fatti oltre quindici chilometri per tornare alla scuola, ciascuno portando sulla testa una decina o ventina di chili di materiale, a seconda delle forze. Mi chiedono speranzosi “Hai portato libri anche oggi?”. Devo dire che purtroppo no, non è facile trovare donazioni di questi tempi. E che in Italia c’è un governo che non fa ben sperare… ma come faccio a spiegar loro chi sono Di Maio e Salvini? Mentre parlo rifletto su quanto sia normale che questi ragazzi abbiano pensato che io fossi morto. Mi vedevano arrivare 15 anni fa già coi capelli banchi e loro avevano forse dieci anni. Per loro è passata una vita. Hanno visto bombardamenti, morte, distruzioni, poi pace, poi di nuovo guerra. Tutti hanno perso i familiari più anziani, qui l’aspettativa di vita non va oltre i 50 o 55 anni.

Proseguo la visita al mercato con questo codazzo. Vedo su una stuoia tre mucchi di biscotti, apparentemente la stessa confezione ma a prezzi diversi. Ne compero qualche pacchetto a caso e ci mettiamo sotto un albero a chiacchierare. Il mio pacco di biscotti ha un gusto strano. Ridono quando vedono la mia espressione, e Heri, che fa la maestra, mi spiega: “la vecchia Fatuma vende da mesi una scorta di biscotti contrabbandati a spalla dalla zona governativa. Alcuni li vende a prezzo più basso perché erano nei sacchi insieme a noccioline rancide, ed hanno preso quel sapore. Altri ancora erano insieme a pesce secco…” A me evidentemente è capitato un pacchettino che ha viaggiato insieme al pesce secco.

Intanto qualcun altro ha saputo che sono arrivato. e mi si avvicina un ragazzo che si presenta: “Abuna, sono Abdul di Kau Nyaru”. Kau e Nyaru sono due piccole colline all’estremo sud-est dei monti Nuba, poi c’è grande fascia disabitata e si arriva sulle sponde del Nilo, dove vivono gli Shilluk. La famosa fotografa tedesca Leni Riefensthal vi aveva realizzato delle fotografie famosissime sia nel mondo dei fotografi che in quello degli antropologi. Avevo provato a raggiungerli a piedi nel 1996, da sud, ma avevo fallito. Nel 2003, durante il cessate il fuoco, era venuto a Kauda un gruppo mandato dal mek (il re) chiedendomi di inviare maestri per iniziare una scuola primaria. Quando sono riuscito ad organizzami per avere un’auto, mi avevano detto che ci sarei arrivato in sei ore di viaggio. Ce ne vollero 15, e arrivai a notte fonda con i due accompagnatori Nuba, e un po preoccupati perché il diesel stava per finire. Non sapevano del nostro arrivo. Il mek ci ricevette in signorile povertà, e il mattino dopo visitammo la struttura che avevano costruito con pietre e cemento faticosamente ottenuto da Khartoum che doveva essere la scuola. Le condizioni erano radicalmente cambiate dai tempi della Riefenstahl, il piccolo popolo dei Kau Nyaru era stato forzatamente e completamente arabizzato. C’era però voglia di aprirsi al mondo, di capire cosa stava succedendo al di la dell’isolamento a cui li aveva costretti la natura e la storia. Avevo promesso al mek che Koinonia avrebbe mandato quattro maestri nuba ogni anno, dato che ormai le nostre scuole formavano in loco maestri che potevano gestire una scuola almeno fino alla classe quinta. Poi la caduta delle donazioni dall’Italia ci aveva costretti a sospendere il programma ed avevo perso i contatti.

Adesso Abdul mi racconta che era fra i bambini che la notte del nostro arrivo erano stati svegliati per preparare l’acqua calda da offrire agli ospiti per lavarsi. Si ricorda, anche se allora non capiva perché, che poi eravamo andati alla ricerca del vecchio mulino a motore che non era più operativo da molti anni. Noi cercavamo, e trovammo con grande sollievo, del diesel sufficiente per riportarci a Kauda. Ma ci tiene ad aggiungere: “Qui a Kauda frequento il centro di formazione maestri con altri tre studenti di Kau Nyaru. Altri sette studenti della nostra comunità sono in un campo profughi in Sud Sudan per studiare da maestri. Abbiamo avuto dal mek la responsabilità di tornare a casa per riaprire la scuola”. Indomabili Nuba.

Una giornata intera al mercato, mille incontri. Una ragazza che vende oggetti vari di plastica made in China, quando mi avvicino al suo banco mi dice che siamo amici in fb, anche se riesce a connettersi molto raramente. E’ dispiaciuta quando non mi ricordo il suo nome, e le devo spiegare che in fb ho quasi cinquemila amici.

Fino al 2005 qui ci si muoveva solo a piedi e oltre alle poche cose essenziali che le ONG riuscivano a portare con gli aerei cargo – medicine, sementi, zappe, libri e quaderni di scuola – non si trovava nulla che non fosse stato ricavato dalla natura circostante. Allora la quasi totalità delle magliette indossate dai giovani portavano l’insegna di Koinonia. Oggi invece impongono “Fly Emirates”. Chissà come arrivano qui, dove credo le compagnie aeree abbiano ben pochi clienti.

Frammenti di vita nuba (2)

Il viaggio continua. E diventa sempre più un viaggio nella memoria degli incontri, delle persone che ho avuto su queste montane. Ogni volta che la vegetazione si dirada, che la pista si apre, che si sale un po in quota e lo sguardo può andare lontano ci sono immagini che ritornano a vivere.

Ecco il mercato che era stato bombardato e incendiato nel 2012 dove Enzo Nucci, il giornalista RAI di Nairobi, ha fatte delle lunghe riprese. Quel mucchio di pietre era una capanna centrata da una bomba, e una donna anziana, unica sopravvissuta della famiglia che vi abitava perché era nei campi a lavorare, aveva voluto portarci poco lontano a visitare le tombe dei figli. Un ragazzino che per la paura e per proteggersi si era abbracciato al tronco di un grande albero ci aveva mostrato i due moncherini che gli erano rimasti, entrambe le mani intrecciate sul tronco portate via da una scheggia di bomba. Anche lui aveva voluto mostrarci una cosa nascosta poco lontano, una bomba inesplosa, a metà conficcata in terra. Oggi non c’è traccia di quel bombardamento, se non qua e la poche pietre sovrapposte che indicano dove c’erano negozietti e capanne. Sei anni di alternanza di caldo secco e piogge violente hanno permesso alla natura di cancellare i segni di quel dolore. L’architettura nuba, tutta fatta con materiali reperibili in loco – pietre a secco per le mura, tronchi e erba secca sapientemente modellati per i tetti – non resiste al tempo.

Ecco Teberi, il villaggio del catechista Jibril Tutu, dove per la prima volta ero arrivato nel 1995 sui monti Nuba, atterrando con un piccolo, piccolissimo aereo dove c’eravamo stretti stretti, oltre al pilota, solo Davide De Michelis, Gian Marco Elia, Albert Mori ed io. Albert, keniano e compagno dell’avventura di iniziare New People, aveva compiuto da poco i vent’anni. Jibril era un uomo straordinario che poi mi prese sotto la sua protezione quando qualcuno voleva impedirmi di visitare i Nuba. Magro, dalla camminata veloce e con una voce straodinaria per autorevolezza e dolcezza, era il padre, il parroco e il vescovo della comunità cristiana che aveva fondato, della quale aveva battezzato tutti i membri, che guidava nella preghiera domenicale. Quando Jibril mori, pochi anni fa, padre Boutrus, un prete nuba che era stato istruito e battezzato nella fede da lui, mi scrisse “abbiamo perso un grande Padre della Chiesa Nuba”. Usando giustamente le lettere maiuscole.

Ecco il villaggio dove per un paio d’anni ha vissuto Musa Arat, il catechista di Heiban che i militari governativi avrebbero voluto catturare per infliggergli una punizione esemplare. Aveva osato resistere alle lusinghe di un lavoro retribuito nelle file governative pur di non rinunciare alla sua fede. Un uomo piccolo, rotondo e mite, già gravemente malato di cuore. Lo avevo conosciuto a Kujur Shabia, il villaggio poco lontano da Heiban da dove aveva dovuto fuggire. Quando sono arrivato a Kurci in una notte di giugno del 1996 con Albert Mori e la nostra guida nuba Josep Aloga, ero distrutto dalla stanchezza di una camminata interminabile alla quale eravamo stati costretti per allontanarci da una battaglia. I ribelli non volevano assolutamente che corressimo il pericolo di essere coinvolti in uno scontro, se fossimo stati catturati sarebbe stata una vittoria propagandistica importante per i governativi. Musa quella notte aveva mobilitato tutta la famiglia per prepararci un te addolcito con miele selvatico e l’hassida – polenta di farina di durra. Non c’era altro nella sua casa ma ci sembrò una cena sontuosa. .

Ecco la collina di Regifi. Si eleva per forse trenta meti sulla fertile piana circostante, un mucchio di enormi pietre lisce che sembrano posizionate dalla mano di un gigante, tenute insieme da un po di terra. L’abilità dei nuba di costruire con le pietre a secco l’aveva trasformata in una specie di castello fortificato, adornato con piante sevatiche che alla fine della stagione delle piogge si coprono di fiori rosa e rossi. E’ rimasto solo il grande pennacchio dell’albero di neem quasi in cima, e due o tre case. Oggi la gente si è ridistribuita su tutta l’area. Qui crescono palme che producono una grande noce dalla polpa rossa, dolce e nutriente. Le mandrie di mucche, capre e pecore stanno lentamente tornando nei recinti per la notte.

Scende la notte, e incominciano scrosci di pioggia. Attraversando un wadi, un fiume ancora secco che potrebbe improvvisamente essere invaso da una valanga d’acqua, affondiamo nella sabbia. Non sarebbe piacevole fermarci qui nell’attesa di improbabili soccorsi, Qualche minuto di preoccupazione, e il bravissimo autista riesce a ripartire. Ma è ormai impossibile riconoscere i posti che attraversiamo.

E’ quasi mezzanotte quando improvvisamente, a meno di venti metri di distanza, riconosco il piccolo, elegantissimo minareto di Kauda. Una freccia bianca con decorazioni verdi, gialle e rosse puntata verso il cielo. Per oggi siamo arrivati.

Frammenti di vita nuba (1)

Sono rientrato a Nairobi settimana scorsa da un viaggio di una decina di giorni sui Monti Nuba, in Sudan. Ho tentato di scrivere alcune note ogni giorno, con scarso successo. Registro qui alcune sensazioni e ricordi.

Nella prima fase della resistenza nuba, iniziata nel 1988, si poteva accedere questo territorio solo arrivandoci clandestinamente da Loki, nel nord del Kenya. Da li si sorvolava per circa 1,200 km il Sudan del sud, dove ribelli e governo controllavano il territorio a chiazza d leopardo, atterrando in una delle piste in terra battuta preparate dai ribelli. Dopo l’accordo di pace del 2005 fino al 2011 è stato possibile arrivare ai Monti Nuba anche dal nord, passando da Khartoum e viaggiando via terra, cosa che ho fatto un paio di volte. L’indipendenza del Sud Sudan – che ha visto i Nuba forzatamente collocati in Sudan -e il riesplodere della guerra fra Nuba e il governo di Khartoul a metà del 2011, ha di nuovo negato la possibilità di entrarci legalmente. Il governo di Khartoum ha tentato di sigillare l’area e ancor oggi vieta l’accesso anche gli aiuti umanitari. Così due settimane fa ci sono arrivato prendendo un regolare volo di linea da Nairobi a Juba, dal 2011 capitale dello stato indipendente del Sud Sudan (trascinato in una una insensata guerra incivile da un gruppo di criminali), poi da Juba sono andato con un volo umanitario delle Nazione Unite (pagandolo) fino a Yida, nell’estremo nord del Sud Sudan, a pochi km dal confine con il Sudan, e sede di un campo profughi di circa 50,000 persone. Il confine fra Sud Sudan e Sudan per diverse decine di km è controllato dai Nuba e si può entrare nella loro regione, grande come la valle del Po, via terra. Da Yida a Kauda, che funge da capitale dell’area liberata sono circa 180 km di pista.

Fra Yida e Kauda si passa non lontano dal quartier generale dei ribelli. Basta lasciare la pista principale e in pochi chilometri si arriva in una località protetta da colline rocciose. Qui ho incontrato Abdel Aziz Adam Al Hilu, il loro capo. Mi spiega come si sia evoluta la crisi politica interna dello scorso anno e come lui sia stato rieletto. Racconta come i colloqui di pace col governo di Khartoum siano in fase di stallo. “Siamo in una situazione di no peace, no war”. Non c’è pace e non c’è guerra, ciascuno sulle sue posizioni, senza scontri. Da oltre due anni l’esercito governativo non tenta di penetrare nel territorio nuba controllato da ribelli, quasi la totalità, ed non effettua più bombardamenti che fino a fine 2015 devastavano sopratutto le aree più fertili, creando uno stato di carestia perché i contadini non potevano lavorare i campi. Come mai? “Hanno troppi fronti aperti – commenta – oltre a Darfur e Ingessena Hills c’è la Libia, e il loro impegno maggiore che è in Yemen, a sostegno dell’Arabia Saudita, dove combattono molti militari sudanesi, evitando ai sauditi di correre rischi. In cambio ricevono aiuti economici e militari e consolidano la loro alleanza servile con Riad”. Il colloquio è lungo, anche perché mi accorgo solo in ritardo che pure lui sta diventando un po sordo, e dobbiamo ripeterci.

Riprendendo il viaggio verso Kauda dobbiamo fare un lungo giro per evitare 20 km di strada che la prime piogge della stagione, a metà giugno, hanno reso impraticabile. La pista si snoda ai piedi delle colline, solo ogni tanto si arrampica un po sulla costa per evitare fango e acque ristagnanti. Passiamo Lado, che prima dell’accordo di pace del 2005 era sempre stato in mano governativa, un villaggio trasformato in guarigione militare. Poi dopo neanche cinque minuti di strada mi ritrovo in un posto che avevo visitato oltre vent’anni fa, indimenticabile. Un villaggio a mezza costa sulla collina. di forse 100 capanne coniche, tetto spiovente, vicinissime una all’altra, come per proteggersi. Appena più a valle c’è un bosco di 30 o 40 enormi piante di mango. Sembra un’illustrazione per un libro di favole nuba. Qui avevo passato una notte, credo nel 1999, con due amici italiani. Siamo arrivati stremati dalla stanchezza, (allora ci si muoveva solo a piedi), salutato stringendo mille mani (ma quanta gente vive in queste poche case?), mangiato alla luce di un fuocherello ciò che la gente ci aveva portato e il mattino successivo nel bosco di manghi avevo celebrato Messa e battezzato alcun bambini i cui genitori erano stati preparati da un catechista locale. Una gioia incontenibile. Una mamma che mi porge un bebè da battezzare mormorando qualcosa fra le le lacrime che il catechista mi traduce “lo chiamo John Fenzi, come il comboniano che ci visitava quando io ero piccola”. Adesso il villaggio è vuoto, tutti sono a lavorare i campi nella speranza che le piogge continuino e portino un abbondante raccolto.

Yunan, l’accompagnatore nuba di vent’anni fa, ci aveva raccomandato di non fare un fuoco troppo grande la notte e di non lasciare che la gente facesse canti a voce troppo alta durante i battesimi, perché i governativi non erano lontani e avrebbero potuto vederci o sentirci. Erano ormai quattro anni che ogni due o tre mesi andavo a fare passeggiate sui monti Nuba ed avevo penato che Yunan stesse esagerando perché i due giornalisti italiani potessero aggiungere pathos al loro reportage
Adesso, mentre la vetusta 4 ruote riparte, mi rendo conto che davvero avevamo corso un gran rischio. Lado in linea d’aria è e meno di due chilometri. Se solo un informatore avesse riportato la nostra presenza saremmo stati fatti prigionieri con un’azione di pochi minuti.

Kenya’s “Street Children”, between extreme poverty and desire for a new life

Vatican Insider, La Stampa
Luca Attanasio, Nairobi

In Nairobi, there are 150,000. 300,000 in the whole Country: a disturbing phenomenon. A conversation with the Combonian Father, Kizito, founder of the “Koinonia” Community, and some former street children

You can see them moving in very tight groups around the central areas of the capital begging for some spare change and then hide right around a corner to sniff glue or fuel for planes. Barely dressed, they meet late in the evening in the slums of Nairobi. They pay a scant ticket to enter improvised shacks adapted to cinemas and watch action films or something worse: not so much to exalt and emulate the acrobatic abilities of the actors, rather to secure at least a couple of hours indoors. These are the Street Children of Kenya, children who, forced by extreme poverty, domestic violence or simply hunger, throw themselves onto the streets and risk remaining there until adulthood. T he older ones are teenagers, the younger ones you can count their age on the fingers of one hand.

According to UNICEF there are 300,000, half of whom live in Nairobi. Kenya is making progress and can be considered one of the best African countries in terms of development. Its social phenomena, however, are still massive. In the capital stands Kebira, Africa’s largest slum: a million people, mostly children, stacked in tens of thousands of shacks of a few square meters. Without a sewage system worthy of the name, the population literally lives on stratified piles of rubbish that will never be removed. The streets in the rain turn into marshes while the fumes, sometimes nauseating, mix with smells of fried or boiled food, a commodity sold in mini-shops on the sides of alleys that intersect making an inextricable maze.

In Nairobi, there is Dandora, the largest landfill in East Africa. It is an incredibly large area, which has grown over the decades on top of piles of rubbish of all kinds and receives about 900 tons of solid waste per day. Over 4 thousand people “work” there: watched over by huge marabou that stand on the hills of rubbish, they separate and collect the garbage, and deliver it to the guardian. They get 15 schillings ($0.15) per kg. In the meantime, they inhale or come into contact with hazardous materials such as lead, mercury or cadmium.

“In Kenya – Father Kizito – (born Renato Sesana, in Africa since the 70’s he has chosen the name of one of the martyrs of Uganda), Combonian, journalist and founder of the Koinonia Community explains – there is a huge issue on childhood. From the beginning, our community has chosen to take care of children and young people and, among these, it has privileged the poorest among the poor. Street Children have their own code, they are very united with each other and, especially if they have been living on the street for years, they form a sort of identity of their own.

Koinonia took its first steps in Kenya in 1989. Since then, it has had two primary care centers, three residential centers, a medical dispensary and a physiotherapy service which, at the moment, cares for over two hundred street children, and runs a number of schools. To reach and secure street children, Koinonia operators -many of whom are former Street Children – adopt a direct approach by establishing a relationship with the children where they live, sometimes spending the night with them and, following a path made of daily life and closeness, they convince, without ever forcing them, the little ones to join the project. They then work to reconstruct contact with the families and local communities, and prepare for their return to school.

“Father Kizito continues: “We have established a real ceremony for the day on which the child, after having regularly met and prepared for at least four months with the workers who go out onto the street, enters the reception center. The child takes a nice shower, receives new clothes and burns the old ones, almost as if to mean with a gesture the end of his old life and the beginning of a new one. Throughout the 1990s we had a hard time finding an approach that really worked: the children were driven here by primary needs, they stayed a bit and left. Since we changed method and realized that we only had to show them understanding and closeness – so then it was they who chose to end forever that “lifestyle” – the percentage of those dropping the program has fallen drastically, almost close to zero.

After the “rehabilitation” phase, which can last for years, the child is helped to return to the family or, if this is not possible, to rebuild ties with relatives, friends and the community of origin, cut over the years, that can support them in their growth.

“At home, there was not enough food for everyone – Evans, a 20-year-old former Street Child who has now become a prominent rapper (art name: Humble Prince) says – Dad died when I was very young and mom worked until late. Nobody really cared about me and then, I ended up on the street, I was 5 years old. At night, the police came to beat us up and treat us like animals, during the day we wandered to gather some small coins. Then Jack arrived…”. Jack is a former street child who was hosted about fifteen years ago by Father Kizito, now in charge of the reception centers. He is very popular among children who welcome him climbing on his statuary body.

“The first few times they thought I was a policeman. Then I started to spend time with them every morning, I brought them food, sometimes I organized football matches, some evenings I stopped over at night. When the group to which Evans belonged understood that I was one of them, that I was interested in their lives, they spontaneously decided to come to the rescue center”.

“At the beginning, it seems like an adventure – Friederick, 24, also a rapper (Bigfred cheche) explains – you feel strong, sniffing drug continuously and spending the whole day from one place to another, waiting for someone to give you some leftovers, gathering wood for cooking and going to the slums to watch movies. Then you start to ask yourself: “What did I do wrong to end up like this? Everyone avoids you and mistreats you. With us were also mothers and even street grandmothers, people who have never lived in a house”.

It is Sunday at the Domus Mariae centre where Koinonia runs a reception centre and a secondary school. All come to the mass, celebrated by Father Kizito, even the little ones of Islamic faith: left unguarded, they choose to participate to dance and sing with others. In the Mater Nigritia chapel, crowded with about a hundred children, there is calm and joy. The image of a society reconciled starting right from the little ones.

Gli “Street Children” del Kenya, tra povertà estrema e desiderio di rinascita

Vatican Insider, La Stampa, Pubblicato il 25/06/2018
Luca Attanasio – Nairobi

Li vedi a gruppetti molto compatti muoversi nelle zone centrali della capitale per elemosinare qualche spicciolo e poi buttarsi in un angolo a stordirsi di colla o carburante per aerei. Vestiti di niente, si incontrano la sera tardi negli slum di Nairobi. Pagano un misero biglietto ed entrano in baracche improvvisate adattate a cinema a vedere film d’azione o qualcosa di peggio: non tanto per esaltarsi ed emulare le capacità acrobatiche degli attori, piuttosto per assicurarsi almeno un paio d’ore al chiuso. Sono gli Street Children del Kenya, bambini che, forzati da povertà estrema, violenza domestica o semplicemente fame, si gettano per strada e rischiano di rimanerci fino all’età adulta. I più grandi sono adolescenti, i più piccoli hanno età comprese nelle dita di una mano.

Secondo l’Unicef sono 300 mila, la metà dei quali, vive a Nairobi. Il Kenya sta facendo progressi e può essere considerato uno dei migliori Paesi africani in quanto a sviluppo. I suoi fenomeni sociali, però, assumono ancora dimensioni enormi. Nella capitale sorge Kebira, lo slum più esteso d’Africa: un milione di persone, in maggioranza bambini, accatastate in decine di migliaia di baracche di qualche metro quadro. Senza un sistema fognario degno di questo nome, la popolazione vive letteralmente su cumuli stratificati di immondizia che non verranno mai rimossi. Le strade sotto la pioggia si trasformano in pantani mentre le esalazioni, a tratti nauseabonde, si mischiano a odori di cibo fritto o bollito, merce venduta nei mini-shop ai lati delle viuzze che si intersecano formando un dedalo inestricabile.

Ancora a Nairobi, si trova Dandora, la discarica più grande dell’Africa orientale. È un’area incredibilmente estesa, cresciuta nei decenni sopra a mucchi di immondizia di ogni tipo che riceve circa 900 tonnellate di rifiuti solidi al giorno. Ci “lavorano” oltre 4 mila persone: vigilate da enormi marabù che stazionano sopra le collinette di robaccia e che di tanto in tanto spiccano il volo per cibarsi di resti alimentari o non biodegradabili, separano l’immondizia, la raccolgono per genere, e la consegnano al guardiano. Ne ricavano 15 scellini (0,15 dollari) al kg. Nel frattempo inalano o entrano in contatto con materiali pericolosi come piombo, mercurio o cadmio.

«In Kenya – spiega padre Kizito (al secolo Renato Sesana, in Africa dagli anni ’70 ha scelto il nome di uno dei martiri dell’Uganda), comboniano, giornalista e fondatore della Comunità Koinonia – c’è un enorme questione infanzia. La nostra comunità ha scelto fin dagli inizi di occuparsi dei bambini e dei giovani e, tra questi, ha privilegiato i più poveri tra i poveri. Gli Street Children hanno un loro codice, sono tra loro molto uniti e, specie se vivono per strada da anni, si formano una sorta di propria identità».

Koinonia ha mosso i primi passi in Kenya nel 1989. Da allora ha attivi due centri di prima accoglienza, tre centri residenziali, un dispensario medico e un servizio di fisioterapia che, al momento, si occupano di oltre duecento bambini di strada, e gestisce alcune scuole. Per raggiungere e mettere al sicuro i bambini di strada, adotta un approccio diretto: gli operatori – molti dei quali sono ex Street Children – vanno a istaurare un rapporto con i bambini lì dove vivono, a volte dormono con loro e, attraverso un percorso fatto di quotidianità e vicinanza, convincono, senza mai forzarli, i piccoli a entrare nel progetto. Poi lavorano per ricostruire il contatto con le famiglie e le comunità locali, e predispongono il rientro a scuola.

«Abbiamo stabilito una vera e propria cerimonia – riprende padre Kizito – per il giorno in cui il bambino, dopo essere stato incontrato regolarmente e preparato per almeno quattro mesi dagli operatori che vanno in strada, entra nel centro di prima accoglienza. Il piccolo fa una bella doccia, riceve nuovi vestiti e brucia quelli vecchi, quasi a significare con un gesto la fine della vecchia vita e l’inizio di un’altra. Per tutti gli anni ’90 abbiamo fatto molto fatica a trovare una strada efficace: i bambini venivano da noi spinti da esigenze primarie, restavano un po’ e se ne andavano. Da quando abbiamo cambiato metodo e capito che dovevamo solo mostrargli comprensione e vicinanza perché poi fossero loro a scegliere di chiudere per sempre con la strada, la percentuale di quelli che si perdono è scesa drasticamente, quasi vicina allo zero».

Dopo la fase della “riabilitazione”, che può durare anni, il bambino viene aiutato al rientro in famiglia o, se non è possibile, alla ricostruzione di legami con parenti, amici e la comunità di origine, recisi negli anni, che possano sostenerlo nella crescita.

«A casa non c’era cibo per tutti – racconta Evans, un ventenne ex Street Child ora divenuto un affermato rapper (nome d’arte Humble Prince) – Papà è morto che ero molto piccolo e mamma lavorava fino a tardi. Nessuno si curava realmente di me e allora, a soli 5 anni, sono finito per strada. Di notte la polizia veniva a picchiarci e a trattarci come fossimo animali, di giorno vagavamo per raggranellare qualche spicciolo. Poi è arrivato Jack…”. Jack è un ex bambino di strada ospitato una quindicina di anni fa da padre Kizito, ora divenuto responsabile dei centri di accoglienza. È molto popolare tra i bambini che lo accolgono arrampicandosi su ogni parte del suo fisico imponente.

«Le prime volte pensavano che fossi un poliziotto. Poi ho cominciato a passare ogni mattina, gli portavo qualcosa da mangiare, a volte organizzavo partite di calcio, qualche sera mi fermavo a dormire con loro. Quando il gruppo di cui faceva parte Evans ha capito che ero uno di loro, che mi interessava la loro vita, hanno deciso spontaneamente di venire tutti al rescue center».

«All’inizio sembra un’avventura – spiega Friederick, 24 anni, anche lui rapper (Bigfred cheche) – ti senti forte, sniffi droga di continuo e passi l’intera giornata da un posto all’altro per farti dare gli avanzi, radunare legna per cucinare e infilarti negli slum a vedere film. Poi cominci a chiederti: “Cosa ho fatto di male per finire così?”, tutti ti scansano, ti trattano male. Con noi c’erano anche mamme e addirittura nonne di strada, gente che non ha mai vissuto in una casa».

È domenica al centro Domus Mariae dove Koinonia gestisce un centro di accoglienza e una scuola secondaria. Alla messa, celebrata da padre Kizito, vengono tutti, anche i piccoli di fede islamica: lasciati liberi, scelgono di partecipare per ballare e cantare con gli altri. Nella cappella Mater Nigritia, gremita di un centinaio di ragazzi, c’è compostezza e allegria. L’immagine di una società riconciliata a partire dai piccoli.

Una piccola storia di grande stupidità – A little story of great stupidity

Friday evening we accompanied to Nairobi airport two girls and three boys, all of them minors fully rehabilitated after years of living on the streets. Freshia, a thirty years old Koinonia’s social worker, travels with them, and they are headed to Wroclaw, Poland, where they were invited to the Brave Kids festival, a three-week meeting that is repeated annually with the participation of artistic groups of children from every European country. Ours is the only African group, due to the cost of the tickets. We were lucky that an association of Leszno saw our group last and decided to support us this year. It is the first time that our acrobatic team travels without me, and it is also the first time that we send two girls abroad. But we feel confident, because I saw in person last year how the Polish friends work, with enormous effort, to break down prejudices and cultural barriers and foster integration. Naturally the Polish embassy beore granting the visas required in impressive documentation – including the consent of the closest living family member and that of the school principal of each child, all certified by the Kenyan foreign ministry – of which Freshia has a copy in her handbag.

They leave at 4 am on the 16th, they arrive in Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, but when it comes to embarking for Berlin Tegel airport they get stuck, because, say the Turkish officilas, their visa is for Poland, not for Germany. Freshia explains that they have a Schengen visa issued after the Polish Embassy in Nairobi has seen their documentation and that Germany and Poland are in the Schengen area, and that last year another group of us had arrived in Berlin Tegel, where they had been received by Polish friends who had taken them to Wroclaw by car because Berlin is closer to Wroclaw than to Warsaw. No way. The officials of the immigration and the airline are adamant. “We have a treaty with the Germans that African refugees can not transit from Turkey“. “But we are not refugees, we have a visa”. “Yes, but there are new provisions”. Fortunately there is Whatsapp, Freshia calls Polish friends, they call me in a few minutes they se up Whatsapp group. We try to understand what are the imaginary new provisions.. We ask Freshia to let us talk with the officials. They refuse. The Polish friends contact the Berlin Tegel immigration and within half an hour receive an official response in an email, with the name and identification number of the official who signed, confirming that being both countries in the Schengen area our children can proceed immediately and will have no problems at arrival in Tegel.

Turkish officials also refuse to read the email. They refuse to talk to Tegel. They mention the new provisions that the Germans say do no exists, and the Turkish say the only solution is for the children to embark on a direct flight to Warsaw, but they have to purchase a new Istanbul-Warsaw ticket. The price is slightly lower than the return Nairobi Berlin. Freshia is tense, she tells me that she feels considered inferior, incapable to understand, less then a minor. She adds that the children are quite and have laid down to sleep among lines of departing passengers, wrapped in blankets made available by some airpot staff with a kind heart. Meanwhile, all negotiations are rejected. The Polish friends eventually decide to pay the cost of the new ticket, reserving the right to ask for a refund.

As I write, on the afternoon of Sunday 17, our dangerous Masai warriors – you see them in the impromptu show for the girls of Anita’s Home two hours before departure – should be flying to Warsaw. We had chosen together that they would start the show with a traditional Masai dance before an half an hour of acrobatics. In the right hand they should have the traditional Masai spear, but we decided they would buy some broomsticks in Wroclaw. But maybe someone has read their bad intentions in their eyes …

A tragedy? No, for heaven’s sake. Just an example of how arrogant little officials can display all their stupidity and ignorance. A symptom of how the racist messages continuously launched by Europe are received. This morning I was commenting with a Kenyan journalist Aquarius saga, and he told me “The message is always the same, and getting worse, and I feel it on me every time I have to go to Europe for work: Africans are not welcome, they are dangerous savages, probably sub-human “.

On the (yellow) train of modernity – Sul treno (giallo) della modernità


The first section (Mombasa-Nairobi) of the new railway line that will cross Kenya and in the near future will continue towards the Kampala, Uganda, is going to be completed on time. It is meant to define the future of this country.
Work on the stretch of 472 km began in 2013 and are expected to be completed in June 2017, in time for the presidential elections scheduled for next August 8th. The journey from Mombasa and Nairobi will be reduced from twelve hours to four for passengers, and eight hours for freight trains, with the prediction that in a year it will move 22 million tons of goods. Built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation and funded 90% by the Export-Import Bank of China, the cost is calculated at around 3 billion Euros, to which must be added about 200 million euro for the stations, which in Mombasa and Nairobi will include large shopping mall and hotels financed by local and international companies, and that will later be connected with the respective airports with fast metro lines.
It is already planned that the railway from the western Kenya border will continue to Kampala, Uganda, and from there it will branch to Juba, South Sudan and Kigali, Rwanda. On the way from Mombasa to Nairobi there will be five major and thirty minor stations. China will provide fifty-six diesel locomotives (electrification is expected only after a few years), one thousand six hundred twenty freight cars and forty passenger coaches. The new line runs mostly parallel to the old railway and the road, deviating only when necessary to avoid too steep stretches. The segment that crosses the Tsavo natural park runs above ground, to ensure the possibility for animals to move according to their traditional migration trails. In addition to reducing the traffic on the road, it should promote tourism, by offering a spectacular view of the parks and the Rift Valley.
It is by far the most ambitious and expensive project that Kenya has undertaken since independence to date, and those who are against accuse the current government to create a debt and a dependence on Chinese technology for decades to come.
The second phase of the project, from Nairobi to the border with Uganda, has already been inaugurated by President Kenyatta last October 19, but it is marred by controversies. The most important relates to the path to be followed in exiting Nairobi. According to the government plan it should cross the Nairobi National Park, the only park in the world located within the borders of a large metropolis. Ecologists and conservationists oppose it strenuously, arguing that this would mark the end of the park, already heavily penalized by the ring road built two years ago and earlier abusive urban developments, built about twenty years ago during President Moi’s time, and with his connivance.
Those of the Lunatic Express
Disputes were also quite a few more than a century ago, when the old line was built, starting in 1895 from Mombasa, reaching Nairobi in 1900 and Kisumu in 1902. It is still the backbone of the country and around ir grew the major cities, including Nairobi, then described as an “unhealthy wetland “. At that time the workforce was mainly made up of Indians, specially recruited for the job, who then settled in Kenya, giving birth to a large and now thriving community. In 1898, when building the bridge over the Tsavo River, at least 35 (but some say more than 100), Indian workers were devoured by lions. On this episode John H. Patterson, the construction manager, wrote a book, and since 1950 half a dozen films have been made. In London opponents of the project ironically nicknamed the train “Lunatic Express” because wanted by lunatics.
But the “Iron Snake”, as was instead called by the locals, became the engine of Kenyan growth. It is now obsolete (is still ironically called Lunatic Express to indicate its unreliability) and is far from adequate to handle the container traffic from the port of Mombasa to Nairobi and to the landlocked Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The new railway line is the icon of the new Kenya. In Nairobi in recent years huge concrete and glass buildings destined for luxury offices have sprung up, and large shopping centers are mushrooming. In the Karen suburb – named after the Danish author Karen Blixen who owned the whole area – until twenty years ago a simple road junction with a few shops and three restaurants, now there are three major shopping centers and more luxurious office building. They have not yet finished to advertise “the largest shopping center in Kenya”, with restaurants overlooking an artificial lake, that begins the construction of another, “the largest in Africa”, including further amazing features.
It is enough to be away for a few months to be disoriented. Catherine Njuguna, who emigrated to New York ten years ago just after graduation to look for better opportunities and returned to Nairobi with very little in her purse apart from the American passport, does not believe her eyes: “While I was in America, America has come here!”
Some experts in the building sector predict that the urban bubble will burst soon. Already there are the symptoms: hundreds of empty offices and luxury homes, exceeding the demand. But Nairobi is still under a kind of collective drunkenness, a craving for luxury and “modernity” that continues unabated.
Yet this is one side of the story. There are still many, literally millions, of people living in poverty in the slums of the Kenyan capital, but they do not count. In Kenya there are two economies, one that travels at high speed and the other with the Lunatic Express. Two economies that live side by side and never meet. The upper middle class, politicians, employees of international companies, the officials of numerous UN agencies, embassies and major NGOs who when they have a toothache go to seek treatment in London, and the poor who eat a once a day.
A French friend who works in one of the hundred offices of the United Nations, set aside in Gigiri, a separate area in the North-East of Nairobi, told me “For most my colleagues life unfolds in Gigiri, in shopping malls, international schools if they have children, in luxury hotels participating to international conferences, in restaurants, and who move with a chauffeur driven car. If they are in the mood for great adventures, Hemingway-like, they go for an organized visit to a park, staying in “tents” with all services, outdoor buffets, three days all inclusive for an amount equivalent to the combined salaries of their cook, driver, gardener and housekeeper. They have never walked in a slum. This is a city that symbolizes the social injustice of the world”.
Common interests
The new railway is also a crown to the growing prestige of President Uhuru Kenyatta, that some polls predict will win the 2017 election with over 60% of the votes. Undoubtedly he is a skillful politician, who managed to reconcile factions and ethnic tensions within his party that only a few years ago seemed irrevocably adverse. He managed to attract investments and to maintain balance between international allies, although the growing importance of China Kenyan economy raises many bad feelings in London and Washington. When he entered the political arena in 2002, Uhuru was important only for the name (his father Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya) and the consolidated family wealth, but over the years it has proven very skilled and capable to overcome obstacles and attract investments where its predecessor Mwai Kibaki had failed. Kibaki has left Kenyatta the heavy legacy of the military intervention in Somalia, which continues to cause reprisals and atrocious terrorist attacks by Al-Shabaab.
The new railway will be also the visible sign of the growing economic power of China in the whole of Africa. A whole generation of Kenyan engineers will go to China to study in order to guarantee the flawless operation of the whole railway, and it is easy to think that contracts for Chinese companies will continue to increase. The Head of the Public Service of Kenya, Nzioka Waita, has recently stated that during the construction of the railroad over 30 thousand Kenyans have been hired full time and it is an ongoing process of capacity building and transfer of responsibilities.
For its part, Macharia Munane, professor of international relations, argued on the Chinese news agency Xinhua, that the modernization of the rail and road networks in Africa operated by the Chinese government in recent years is something that no colonial power ever did and that cooperation between Africa and China is based on the realistic perception of common interests and is likely to continue.
But the great railway project is also a node which highlights the clash between man and nature. In Kenya, as in few other parts of the world come to the eye that population growth and modernity are in competition with the natural environment, and the environment, the animals in particular, are always the losers.

To make peace on the road to Assisi – Fare pace in cammino verso Assisi


“How many wars are going on in Africa?” On 9 October, I was marching from Perugia to Assisi, in central Italy, with about 100 000 people to show that we stand for Peace and Brotherhood. That’s when a little girl, maybe 10 years old, caught up with me and fired her question. I could not answer immediately; I stopped on the steep final approach to the town of Saint Francis and pretended to think. In fact, I was simply recovering my breath. “Well, let me try to count”, I said, taking my time and counting with my fingers, “South Sudan, Sudan, DR Congo, Somalia… and then, you know, wars are done for different reasons…” but she would not let me go: “My father says you come from Africa and you surely know the answer out of the top of your head. How many in all?”
Africa is perceived in Europe as a continent at war. In any European newspaper, Africa is mentioned when there are wars, atrocities and violence. They create a wrong perception that is difficult to counteract.
In fact, we can observe that most of Africa south of the equator has not known any war since the beginning of this century; some internal strife and conflicts, in some case, but nothing that could be called civil war or inter-state war. North of the equator wars have developed in a big cluster including Libya, Sudan, Chad, South Sudan, Central African Republic, the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Plus two countries not geographically connected with this cluster, Mali and Somalia. All these wars defy simplistic explanations. To understand first, and then to explain the links, the similarities and the differences between these wars could be the subject of a big book. Impossible to explain them to a little girl who most probably would not even be able to name five African countries! So as I continued to walk for the remaining 3 kilometers (the total of the march was 24), I kept thinking of African wars.
At the root of every conflict I have known there is a strong national or ethnic interest. Often the national interest is represented by a person, a leader, who becomes the icon of such an interest, for good or for bad. In some cases the interest is strong enough, or blind enough to the rights and the need of the others, that results in complete disregard for the consequences. The aim becomes an idol to be reached at any cost. And the leader pursues his own selfish interest hiding behind the national interests. The worst case I know is South Sudan where two leaders have hijacked an entire country for their own personal interests and made the life of its citizens a nightmare. No matter how committed and skilled are the negotiators, if the parties are not willing to reach peace, the talks will fail.
When I happened to be involved in a couple of occasions in “peace talks”, I have learned that when a leader has only his own personal interest and power at heart, it is absolutely futile to held such talks. The leaders would simple disregard the consequences for their followers. They are ready to sacrifice without the blink of an eye the lives of thousands if that brings more power to them. Or more money, because for them money and power are the same in their view. Now, after many years, I remember the comment of an old aid worker who told me, “So Father, you are involved in peace talks between so and so? Good luck! Me, I believe it is as useful as shovelling s*** uphill.” A bit vulgar, but wise. Yet, in the light of Christian hope it is not futile to keep working for peace even in the most desperate situations. It is important to keep opened every avenue.
Powerful international interests also play an important part in local African conflicts. The economic interests of the international powers and companies – often oil and mining companies – play an important role in exasperating and exploiting the local tensions, giving weapons and so creating situations always more complicated. These international actors are the greatest obstacle to reach a stable peace.
On the other side, I have seen that to impose peace by physical force, or moral or international coercion can give only short term results. The unsolved issues will resurface, sometimes stronger. Peace after war and violence implies a genuine change of heart, a recognition of the mistakes, a sense of repentance. Otherwise violence and war come back. To think that it is possible to impose peace by force is a counter-sense.
Peace will not last either if all the grieved parties do not take part in the peace process. All grievances by all parties must come out in the open, otherwise they will resurface later. When the so-called comprehensive peace agreement was signed to end the civil war in the then united Sudan in 2005, the signatories had been hand-picked by the team of negotiators. All the minor actors were left out. They could have been a stabilizing factor, instead now they are contributing to the South Sudan mess.
Violence begets other violence. It is old wisdom, but valid. Dom Hélder Câmara, the Brazilian bishop advocate of justice and peace in his county during the second half of last century, spoke of a “spiral of violence”. Only nonviolence can break the spiral of violence. “Nonviolence” is different from “non violence”. The latter means simply absence of violence, while nonviolence wants to be a new concept, stressing an active process of peace building that includes peace education.
When personal and national interests prevail the looser is the common interest, or we would say with Pope Francis, the “common good”, the good of all and everyone. In these days of globalization, the common good means the good of all humanity, the good of the whole world.
Peace-building, I have also learned, is a permanent process. It is not enough a change of heart of all parties, or of a whole nation. The human heart is such that if a small grain of hatred is left hidden at its bottom, sooner or later will grow again as a poisons tree. Stable peace requires constant efforts, education in human rights, respect for the others, dedication to common good. Peace, as every living thing, needs constant care.
We Christians are called by Jesus to be peacemakers, therefore have a special responsibility to work for peace, and as Church have an extraordinary potential in reaching out to the hearts of people at the grassroots level.
The marchers have almost arrived at the Rocca, the hill behind Assisi where a last appeal for peace will be done before they will disperse, and the little girl is still besides me, looking at me with inquisitive eyes. What can I tell her? “Don’t worry, if you and I continue on the path of peace, one day wars will end.”

Perché partecipare alla Marcia Perugia – Assisi

Mi hanno chiesto perché il 9 ottobre parteciperò alla Marcia della Pace e della Fraternità da Perugia ad Assisi.
E’ molto semplice.
Perché ho visto la guerra. Sui Monti Nuba in Sudan ho visto la popolazione civile rifugiarsi nelle grotte e viverci per settimane per sfuggire ai bombardamenti del governo di Khartoum. Gli occhi terrorizzati dei bambini. La paura che ti rode le viscere quando senti i fischi e poi le esplosioni delle bombe che ti cadono tutto intorno. Le grida di chi fugge e dei morenti. L’odore di morte quando tutto è finito.
Perché ho visto le conseguenze della guerra. Ho visto il campi dei darfuriani rifugiatisi sui Monti Nuba. Dei nubani rifugiatisi in Sud Sudan. Dei sudanesi, somali, ruandesi, burundesi rifugiati in Kenya e in Zambia. Conosco il degrado e la miseria dei rifugiati che vivono nella periferia di Nairobi. Il dolore del vivere lontano dalla famiglia. La disperazione che spinge a tentare di andare ancora più lontano, a rischiare la vita, attraversare il mare andando incontro ad un mondo ignoto.
Perché ho conosciuto i mutilati, gli ex-bambini soldato, gli occhi spenti di chi ti racconta la morte orribile dei propri cari
Sarò alla Marcia da Perugia ad Assisi perché sono consapevole che nel mondo è in atto in grande conflitto alimentato dai mercanti di armi, dai drogati del potere, dai prigionieri dell’odio e dell’egoismo, ai danni dei poveri e dei senza potere. Partecipando alla marcia vorrei diventasse chiaro che nonostante le mie incoerenze mi voglio schierare dalla parte delle vittime dell’ingiustizia e della sopraffazione, contro la cultura della morte e dello scarto. Vorrei che questa marcia rappresentasse la volontà di tanti di fermare nuove guerre, nuove violenze.
Perché non voglio essere corresponsabile delle sofferenze di tante vittime innocenti: i bambini, gli anziani, i perseguitati, le persone abusate, private di libertà e di dignità, gli esuli, i profughi. Tutti coloro ai quali è stato rubato il gusto della vita. Perché non vorrei partecipare mai più a giornate di ricordo per i disperati che sono morti in mare sfuggendo alla guerra, ma a giornate di gioia per celebrare la fraternità ritrovata.
Perché credo in una chiesa che preferisce accogliere piuttosto che giudicare, stare dalla parte dei poveri, dei perseguitarti, delle vittime delle guerre piuttosto che dei vincenti. Perché credo che potremmo essere vincenti tutti insieme solo costruendo fraternità e pace.

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