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Saint and Scapegoat: Kofi Annan’s Mixed Legacy

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Kenyans will always remember him for pulling us back from the brink. But in the 1990s, Kofi Annan was head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations and was therefore watchdog-in-chief of the biggest disasters in the organisation’s history: the genocide in Rwanda and violence in former Yugoslavia. Still, his tenure as UN Sec-Gen returned the UN to global relevance in an age of cynicism. A tribute, by RASNA WARAH.

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Saint and Scapegoat: Kofi Annan’s Mixed Legacy
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Many of the tributes pouring in for Kofi Annan, who died last weekend at the age of 80, fail to mention that the career of this former United Nations Secretary-General was marred by several scandals which tarnished the reputation of this world body and left a sour taste in the mouths of millions of people who suffered as a result of the UN’s actions or inactions. This soft-spoken Ghanaian, who gained rock star appeal for his quiet charisma and diplomatic skills, is particularly revered in Kenya where he helped broker a peace deal between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga after the disputed 2007 election and its violent aftermath. Many agree that were it not for his negotiating skills, Kenya might have sunk into a cataclysmic abyss.

Internationally, his contribution to world peace was considered so important that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. One could say that Annan acquired a saint-like status during his tenure as the world’s top diplomat. But he was hardly flawless, though the tonnes of charisma that he projected and his messiah-like gravitas softened most of his critics. You could say that he was the Teflon UN Secretary-General – no scandal left him permanently scathed.

That is why, as they heap praise on Annan, most journalists and commentators tend to overlook the many blunders that occurred under his watch, the most devastating of which occurred in Iraq. Many people forget that the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal – which led to the loss of billions of dollars – occurred during Annan’s tenure. The programme, the result of sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s government after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, has been described as the biggest corruption scandal in the UN’s history.

Internationally, his contribution to world peace was considered so important that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. One could say that Annan acquired a saint-like status during his tenure as the world’s top diplomat. But he was hardly flawless, though the tonnes of charisma that he projected and his messiah-like gravitas softened most of his critics.

Annan was at the helm of the UN in 2004 when it was revealed that Saddam had infiltrated the programme and had managed to divert billions of dollars meant for the Iraqi people – with the collusion of UN staff. Investigations carried out later showed that more than 2,000 companies and individuals from over 40 countries had paid bribes or received kickbacks to participate in the programme. The investigations also showed that Annan’s son Kojo might also have used his father’s influence to win a contract to inspect oil-for-food shipments for the Swiss company Cotecna.

But Annan failed to look at the warning signs that indicated that all was not well with the programme. When in 2002 a UN database manager tried to alert high-ranking officials at the UN Secretariat in New York about what Saddam was doing, his contract was not renewed. Annan, on the other hand, did nothing. It was only later, when news of the scandal began emerging in the media, that he established the Paul Volcker commission to look into the allegations. But by then, the programme had already been terminated and the United States already had its boots on the ground in Iraq. So no one was tried or convicted for these crimes, though the main culprit, Saddam Hussein, had been captured and sentenced to death – but for other crimes he had committed against the Iraqi people.

Annan was at the helm of the UN in 2004 when it was revealed that Saddam had infiltrated the programme and had managed to divert billions of dollars meant for the Iraqi people – with the collusion of UN staff. Investigations carried out later showed that more than 2,000 companies and individuals from over 40 countries had paid bribes or received kickbacks to participate in the programme. The investigations also showed that Annan’s son Kojo might also have used his father’s influence to win a contract to inspect oil-for-food shipments for the Swiss company Cotecna.

The invasion of Iraq by the United States and Britain in 2003 was another catastrophe that Annan failed to prevent. The George Bush administration went to war with Iraq without UN Security Council approval and without Annan’s blessing. Though Annan did publicly declare that the war was “illegal”, and expressed deep disappointment that the United States and Britain had decided to go to war with Iraq, there was not much else he could do. Thousands died and anarchy reigned in Iraq after Saddam was ousted. The people of Iraq are still picking up the pieces.

But then perhaps we assume that the position of UN Secretary-General is more powerful than it really is. The UN Secretary-General is not above presidents or UN member states. His job is to do what he can where he can without stepping on too many important toes. The biggest donor countries usually get their way, and those with veto powers in the UN Security Council wield most of the power. UN General Assembly resolutions do not amount to much as they are not legally-binding. UN Secretary-Generals who assume that they have the power to change the will of the world’s richest and most powerful nations are considered extremely naïve or self-important – and are quickly sacrificed.

The last UN Secretary-General who tried to assert his independence on global issues found himself out of a job. Kofi Annan might never have become UN Secretary-General if his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had not become such a pain in the ass for the United States government. While he was extremely intelligent and well-read, Boutros-Ghali failed to appreciate that his position was highly political and that no UN Secretary-General can get away with offending or opposing the wishes of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

So when Boutros-Ghali refused to authorize NATO air strikes in Bosnia in 1994, the United States orchestrated a campaign to get rid of him. The Clinton administration felt that he was too arrogant and too strong-willed for the post and that he lacked the diplomatic skills required of the world’s top diplomat – in other words, he was unwilling to play ball with the world’s superpower. So he had to go.

The US government lobbied for the appointment of the more pliable Annan, who one US official described as “an extremely nuanced, extremely serious man with whom we agreed most of the time”. But Annan, a career civil servant who began and ended his career at the UN, was not completely untarnished. The Rwandan government blamed him for failing to prevent the 1994 genocide when he was head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations. General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda when the killings began, blamed the UN Secretariat in New York and Annan in particular for ignoring his reports of a planned mass massacre of Tutsis and for denying him permission to raid various caches in Kigali where arms were being accumulated.

Annan had ordered Dallaire not to take sides as “it was up to the Rwandans to sort things out for themselves”. Dallaire blamed the UN for the calamity that befell Rwanda then, as did Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose Rwandan Patriotic Front is credited for stopping the killings without UN or international support. When Annan decided to make an official apology to the people of Rwanda in May 1998, a year after he was appointed UN Secretary-General, no Rwandan official came to receive him at the airport in Kigali. Rwanda’s foreign minister even publicly rebuked Annan for failing the people of Rwanda.

General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda when the killings began, blamed the UN Secretariat in New York and Annan in particular for ignoring his reports of a planned mass massacre of Tutsis and for denying him permission to raid various caches in Kigali where arms were being accumulated. Annan had ordered Dallaire not to take sides as “it was up to the Rwandans to sort things out for themselves”.

Annan, as head of the Department of Peace Keeping Operations, and the Dutch peacekeeping troops deployed to the Balkans were also blamed for failing to prevent the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica of 8,000 Muslim men by Bosnian Serb forces. However, the Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers spoke out in defence of Annan, who was head of the UN’s peacekeeping operations then, and the role of the UN’s peace-keeping troops lay dormant for years. In 1997, three years after the Rwandan genocide and two years after the killings in Srebrenica, Annan was appointed UN Secretary-General.

Nonetheless, Kofi Annan will be remembered for making the UN more relevant in a world that had become cynical about its relevance. He rallied the world’s governments around the Millennium Development Goals to halve poverty, disease and illiteracy and surrounded himself with intelligent and competent people who lent credibility to the institution. He saw the link between poverty and human rights and was a champion of sustainable development.

He was also a great advocate of evidence-based research and believed that the UN had a key role to play in producing and disseminating knowledge for development. I remember the former head of UN-Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka, telling me and other UN-Habitat staff that she had been instructed by Annan to produce quality reports on housing and urbanisation as this was one way the UN agency would gain legitimacy and credibility. (This led to the birth of The State of the World’s Cities report, of which I was the editor.)

Annan was not threatened by talented or competent people – a rare quality among UN bureaucrats. His most articulate spokesperson, Shashi Tharoor, could convince even the most diehard cynics that the UN had an important place in world politics and that the world was a better place because of it. For Africans, Annan represented the best the continent could offer, a shining example of African decency and humility.

Annan was not threatened by talented or competent people – a rare quality among UN bureaucrats. His most articulate spokesperson, Shashi Tharoor, could convince even the most diehard cynics that the UN had an important place in world politics and that the world was a better place because of it.

There is no doubt that Annan was a world leader with immense influence. But in the end, like all UN officials, he was constrained by the nature of his job, which meant that even if he wanted to, he had no power to shift the global power balance or to prevent wars. From Yemen to Iraq and Afghanistan, the world today is as tumultuous as it was when the UN was established after the Second World War – a testament to the inadequacies of an institution that has failed to live up to its main mandate of preventing “the scourge of war” because the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (who also happen to be the biggest arms manufacturers in the world) make the ultimate decisions on global security matters.

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Rasna Warah
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Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and journalist. In a previous incarnation, she was an editor at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). She has published two books on Somalia – War Crimes (2014) and Mogadishu Then and Now (2012) – and is the author UNsilenced (2016), and Triple Heritage (1998).

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SAPs – Season Two: Why Kenyans Fear Another IMF Loan

The Jubilee government would have us believe that the country is economically healthy but the reality is that the IMF has come in precisely because Kenya is in a financial crisis.

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Never did I imagine that opposing an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to Kenya would be viewed by the Kenyan authorities as a criminal act. But that is exactly what transpired last week when activist Mutemi Kiama was arrested and charged with “abuse of digital gadgets”, “hurting the presidency”, “creating public disorder” and other vaguely-worded offences. Mutemi’s arrest was prompted by his Twitter post of an image of President Uhuru Kenyatta with the following caption: “This is to notify the world . . . that the person whose photograph and names appear above is not authorised to act or transact on behalf of the citizens of the Republic of Kenya and that the nation and future generations shall not be held liable for any penalties of bad loans negotiated and/or borrowed by him.” He was released on a cash bail of KSh.500,000 with an order prohibiting him from using his social media accounts or speaking about COVID-19-related loans.

Mutemi is one among more than 200,000 Kenyans who have signed a petition to the IMF to halt a KSh257 billion (US$2.3 billion) loan to Kenya, which was ostensibly obtained to cushion the country against the negative economic impact of COVID-19.  Kenya is not the only country whose citizens have opposed an IMF loan. Protests against IMF loans have been taking place in many countries, including Argentina, where people took to the streets in 2018 when the country took a US$50 billion loan from the IMF. In 2016, Eqyptian authorities were forced to lower fuel prices following demonstrations against an IMF-backed decision to eliminate fuel subsidies. Similar protests have also taken place in Jordan, Lebanon and Ecuador in recent years.

Why would a country’s citizens be against a loan given by an international financial institution such as the IMF? Well, for those Kenyans who survived (or barely survived) the IMF-World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s and 90s, the answer is obvious. SAPs came with stringent conditions attached, which led to many layoffs in the civil service and removal of subsidies for essential services, such as health and education, which led to increasing levels of hardship and precarity, especially among middle- and low-income groups. African countries undergoing SAPs experienced what is often referred to as “a lost development decade” as belt-tightening measures stalled development programmes and stunted economic opportunities.

In addition, borrowing African countries lost their independence in matters related to economic policy. Since lenders, such as the World Bank and the IMF, decide national economic policy – for instance, by determining things like budget management, exchange rates and public sector involvement in the economy – they became the de facto policy and decision-making authorities in the countries that took their loans. This is why, in much of the 1980s and 1990s, the arrival of a World Bank or IMF delegation to Nairobi often got Kenyans very worried.

In those days (in the aftermath of a hike in oil prices in 1979 that saw most African countries experience a rise in import bills and a decline in export earnings), leaders of these international financial institutions were feared as much as the authoritarian Kenyan president, Daniel arap Moi, because with the stroke of a pen they could devalue the Kenyan currency overnight and get large chunks of the civil service fired. As Kenyan economist David Ndii pointed out recently at a press conference organised by the Linda Katiba campaign, when the IMF comes knocking, it essentially means the country is “under receivership”. It can no longer claim to determine its own economic policies. Countries essentially lose their sovereignty, a fact that seems to have eluded the technocrats who rushed to get this particular loan.

When he took office in 2002, President Mwai Kibaki kept the World Bank and the IMF at arm’s length, preferring to take no-strings-attached infrastructure loans from China. Kibaki’s “Look East” economic policy alarmed the Bretton Woods institutions and Western donors who had until then had a huge say in the country’s development trajectory, but it instilled a sense of pride and autonomy in Kenyans, which sadly, has been eroded by Uhuru and his inept cronies who have gone on loan fishing expeditions, including massive Eurobonds worth Sh692 billion (nearly $7 billion), which means that every Kenyan today has a debt of Sh137,000, more than three times what it was eight years ago when the Jubilee government came to power. By the end of last year, Kenya’s debt stood at nearly 70 per cent of GDP, up from 50 per cent at the end of 2015. This high level of debt can prove deadly for a country like Kenya that borrows in foreign currencies.

When the IMF comes knocking, it essentially means the country is “under receivership”.

The Jubilee government would have us believe that the fact that the IMF agreed to this loan is a sign that the country is economically healthy, but as Ndii noted, quite often the opposite is true: the IMF comes in precisely because a country is in a financial crisis. In Kenya’s case, this crisis has been precipitated by reckless borrowing by the Jubilee administration that has seen Kenya’s debt rise from KSh630 billion (about $6 billion at today’s exchange rate) when Kibaki took office in 2002, to a staggering KSh7.2 trillion (about US$70 billion) today, with not much to show for it, except a standard gauge railway (SGR) funded by Chinese loans that appears unable to pay for itself. As an article in a local daily pointed out, this is enough money to build 17 SGRs from Mombasa to Nairobi or 154 superhighways like the one from Nairobi to Thika. The tragedy is that many of these loans are unaccounted for; in fact, many Kenyans believe they are taken to line individual pockets. Uhuru Kenyatta has himself admitted that Kenya loses KSh2 billion a day to corruption in government. Some of these lost billions could actually be loans.

IMF loans with stringent conditions attached have often been presented as being the solution to a country’s economic woes – a belt-tightening measure that will instil fiscal discipline in a country’s economy by increasing revenue and decreasing expenditure. However, the real purpose of these loans, some argue, is to bring about major and fundamental policy changes at the national level – changes that reflect the neoliberal ethos of our time, complete with privatisation, free markets and deregulation.

The first ominous sign that the Kenyan government was about to embark on a perilous economic path was when the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, made an official visit to Kenya shortly after President Uhuru was elected in 2013. At that time, I remember tweeting that this was not a good omen; it indicated that the IMF was preparing to bring Kenya back into the IMF fold.

Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, shows how what she calls “disaster capitalism” has allowed the IMF, in particular, to administer “shock therapy” on nations reeling from natural or man-made disasters or high levels of external debt. This has led to unnecessary privatisation of state assets, government deregulation, massive layoffs of civil servants and reduction or elimination of subsidies, all of which can and do lead to increasing poverty and inequality. Klein is particularly critical of what is known as the Chicago School of Economics that she claims justifies greed, corruption, theft of public resources and personal enrichment as long as they advance the cause of free markets and neoliberalism. She shows how in nearly every country where the IMF “medicine” has been administered, inequality levels have escalated and poverty has become systemic.

Sometimes the IMF will create a pseudo-crisis in a country to force it to obtain an IMF bailout loan. Or, through carefully manipulated data, it will make the country look economically healthy so that it feels secure about applying for more loans. When that country can’t pay back the loans, which often happens, the IMF inflicts even more austerity measures (also known as “conditionalities”) on it, which lead to even more poverty and inequality.

IMF and World Bank loans for infrastructure projects also benefit Western corporations. Private companies hire experts to ensure that these companies secure government contracts for big infrastructure projects funded by these international financial institutions. Companies in rich countries like the United States often hire people who will do the bidding on their behalf. In his international “word-of-mouth bestseller”, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins explains how in the 1970s when he worked for an international consulting firm, he was told that his job was to “funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development and other foreign aid organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s resources”.

Sometimes the IMF will create a pseudo-crisis in a country to force it to obtain an IMF bailout loan.

The tools to carry out this goal, his employer admitted unashamedly, could include “fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex and murder”. Perkins showed how in the 1970s, he became instrumental in brokering deals with countries ranging from Panama to Saudi Arabia where he convinced leaders to accept projects that were detrimental to their own people but which enormously benefitted US corporate interests.

“In the end, those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them whenever we desire – to satisfy our political, economic or military needs. In turn, they bolster their political positions by bringing industrial parks, power plants, and airports to their people. The owners of US engineering/construction companies become fabulously wealthy,” a colleague told him when he asked why his job was so important.

Kenyans, who are already suffering financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic which saw nearly 2 million jobs in the formal sector disappear last year, will now be confronted with austerity measures at precisely the time when they need government subsidies and social safety nets. Season Two of SAPs is likely to make life for Kenyans even more miserable in the short and medium term.

We will have to wait and see whether overall dissatisfaction with the government will influence the outcome of the 2022 elections. However, whoever wins that election will still have to contend with rising debt and unsustainable repayments that have become President Uhuru Kenyatta’s most enduring legacy.

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Haiti: The Struggle for Democracy, Justice, Reparations and the Black Soul

Only the Haitian people can decide their own future. The dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse and its imperialist enablers need to go – and make space for a people’s transition government.

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Haiti: The Struggle for Democracy, Justice, Reparations and the Black Soul
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Haiti is once again going through a profound crisis. Central to this is the struggle against the dictatorship imposed by former president Jovenel Moïse. Since last year Mr. Moise, after decreeing the dismissal of Parliament, has been ruling through decrees, permanently violating Haiti’s constitution. He has refused to leave power after his mandate ended on February 7, 2021, claiming that it ends on February 7 of next year, without any legal basis.

This disregard of the constitution is taking place despite multiple statements by the country’s main judicial bodies, such as the CSPJ (Superior Council of Judicial Power) and the Association of Haitian Lawyers. Numerous religious groups and numerous institutions that are representative of society have also spoken. At this time, there is a strike by the judiciary, which leaves the country without any public body of political power.

At the same time, this institutional crisis is framed in the insecurity that affects practically all sectors of Haitian society. An insecurity expressed through savage repressions of popular mobilizations by the PNH (Haitian National Police), which at the service of the executive power. They have attacked journalists and committed various massacres in poor neighborhoods. Throughout the country, there have been assassinations and arbitrary arrests of opponents.

Most recently, a judge of the High Court was detained under the pretext of promoting an alleged plot against the security of the State and to assassinate the president leading to the illegal and arbitrary revocation of three judges of this Court. This last period has also seen the creation of hundreds of armed groups that spread terror over the entire country and that respond to power, transforming kidnapping into a fairly prosperous industry for these criminals.

The 13 years of military occupation by United Nations troops through MINUSTAH and the operations of prolongation of guardianship through MINUJUSTH and BINUH have aggravated the Haitian crisis. They supported retrograde and undemocratic sectors who, along with gangsters, committed serious crimes against the Haitian people and their fundamental rights.

For this, the people of Haiti deserve a process of justice and reparations. They have paid dearly for the intervention of MINUSTAH: 30 THOUSAND DEAD from cholera transmitted by the soldiers, thousands of women raped, who now raise orphaned children. Nothing has changed in 13 years, more social inequality, poverty, more difficulties for the people. The absence of democracy stays the same.

The poor’s living conditions have worsened dramatically as a result of more than 30 years of neoliberal policies imposed by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), a severe exchange rate crisis, the freezing of the minimum wage, and inflation above 20% during the last three years.

It should be emphasized that, despite this dramatic situation, the Haitian people remain firm and are constantly mobilizing to prevent the consolidation of a dictatorship by demanding the immediate leave of office by former President Jovenel Moïse.

Taking into account the importance of this struggle and that this dictatorial regime still has the support of imperialist governments such as the United States of America, Canada, France, and international organizations such as the UN, the OAS, and the EU, the IPA calls its members to contribute their full and active solidarity to the struggle of the Haitian people, and to sign this Petition that demands the end of the dictatorship as well as respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the Haitian people, the establishment of a transition government led by Haitians to launch a process of authentic national reconstruction.

In addition to expressing our solidarity with the Haitian people’s resistance, we call for our organisations to demonstrate in front of the embassies of the imperialist countries and before the United Nations. Only the Haitian people can decide their future. Down with Moise and yes to a people’s transition government, until a constituent is democratically elected.

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Deconstructing the Whiteness of Christ

While many African Christians can only imagine a white Jesus, others have actively promoted a vision of a brown or black Jesus, both in art and in ideology.

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When images of a white preacher and actor going around Kenya playing Jesus turned up on social media in July 2019, people were rightly stunned by the white supremacist undertone of the images. They suggested that Africans were prone to seeing Jesus as white, promoting the white saviour narrative in the process. While it is true that the idea of a white Jesus has been prevalent in African Christianity even without a white actor, and many African Christians and churches still entertain images of Jesus as white because of the missionary legacy, many others have actively promoted a vision of Jesus as brown or black both in art an in ideology.

Images of a brown or black Jesus is as old as Christianity in Africa, especially finding a prominent place in Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has been in existence for over sixteen hundred years. Eyob Derillo, a librarian at the British Library, recently brought up a steady diet of these images on Twitter. The image of Jesus as black has also been popularised through the artistic project known as Vie de Jesus Mafa (Life of Jesus Mafa) that was conducted in Cameroon.

The most radical expression of Jesus as a black person was however put forth by a young Kongolese woman called Kimpa Vita, who lived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Through the missionary work of the Portuguese, Kimpa Vita, who was a nganga or medicine woman, became a Christian. She taught that Jesus and his apostles were black and were in fact born in São Salvador, which was the capital of the Kongo at the time. Not only was Jesus transposed from Palestine to São Salvador, Jerusalem, which is a holy site for Christians, was also transposed to São Salvador, so that São Salvador became a holy site. Kimpa Vita was accused of preaching heresy by Portuguese missionaries and burnt at the stake in 1706.

It was not until the 20th century that another movement similar to Vita’s emerged in the Kongo. This younger movement was led by Simon Kimbangu, a preacher who went about healing and raising the dead, portraying himself as an emissary of Jesus. His followers sometimes see him as the Holy Spirit who was to come after Jesus, as prophesied in John 14:16. Just as Kimpa Vita saw São Salvador as the new Jerusalem, Kimbangu’s village of Nkamba became, and still is known as, the new Jerusalem. His followers still flock there for pilgrimage. Kimbangu was accused of threatening Belgian colonial rule and thrown in jail, where he died. Some have complained that Kimbangu seems to have eclipsed Jesus in the imagination of his followers for he is said to have been resurrected from the dead, like Jesus.

Kimbangu’s status among his followers is however similar to that of some of the leaders of what has been described as African Independent Churches or African Initiated Churches (AICs). These churches include the Zionist churches of Southern Africa, among which is the amaNazaretha of Isaiah Shembe. Shembe’s followers see him as a divine figure, similar to Jesus, and rather than going to Jerusalem for pilgrimage, his followers go to the holy city of Ekuphakameni in South Africa. The Cameroonian theologian, Fabien Eboussi Boulaga, in his Christianity Without Fetish, see leaders like Kimbangu and Shembe as doing for their people in our own time what Jesus did for his people in their own time—providing means of healing and deliverance in contexts of grinding oppression. Thus, rather than replacing Jesus, as they are often accused of doing, they are making Jesus relevant to their people. For many Christians in Africa, therefore, Jesus is already brown or black. Other Christians still need to catch up with this development if we are to avoid painful spectacles like the one that took place Kenya.

This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.

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