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#MeToo: Memories of Sexual Assault are NOT a Figment of Women’s Imagination

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Listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s heart-rending testimony before the US Senate triggers traumatic memories for RASNA WARAH.

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#MeToo: Memories of Sexual Assault are NOT a Figment of Women’s Imagination
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The claim by President Donald Trump and others supporting the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court that it is impossible for a woman to remember every detail of a sexual assault that occurred more than 30 years ago cannot go unchallenged. Every woman who has experienced a sexual assault of any kind remembers every detail of the encounter. She may not remember the day it took place, or what she was wearing or even the exact location, but details of the assault itself usually remain indelibly etched in her memory.

Women watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford recounting the details of what she claims was a sexual assault by Judge Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers were warned that watching her speak at a US Senate hearing might trigger their own memories of similar incidents. Indeed that is what happened to me. As I watched Ford give her testimony, I found myself recalling events that I had long buried somewhere in my mind.

I remembered 1985, when I was a university student in the United States. I had just got off the bus and was walking to my apartment in Quincy town on the outskirts of Boston when I noticed a black sports car parked next to a curb and the white man in it jerking himself off while looking at me with a grin on his face. Having never been “flashed” before, I found myself paralysed and unable to move. I did eventually muster my legs to run to my apartment. I do not remember the exact day or time this happened, but I do remember the man’s face. He must have been in his 30s or 40s and had dark wavy hair and small beady eyes. I never told anyone about this incident (until now) because I dismissed it as one of those things that deranged men do to frighten or intimidate women.

Women watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford recounting the details of what she claims was a sexual assault by Judge Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers were warned that watching her speak at a US Senate hearing might trigger their own memories of similar incidents. Indeed that is what happened to me.

A year or so before, I had almost been raped by a man who was driving me home from a party. I didn’t know the guy very well, as I had only met him for the first time at the party. On the way back to my dorm in Boston, he stopped at an empty parking lot and proceeded to unzip his trousers. He then took out his penis and ordered me to suck it. I said no, and then lit a cigarette and threatened to burn his penis with it. I think I managed to scare him. He quickly dropped me off on a street that was nowhere near my dorm, yelling obscenities and calling me a tease. I didn’t tell anyone about this incident either because I blamed myself for allowing a man I barely knew to drive me home. But for years afterwards, I did wonder if my lighter and cigarettes had helped me ward off a rape.

I remembered 1985, when I was a university student in the United States…a black sports car parked next to a curb, the white man in it jerking himself off while looking at me with a grin on his face…I never told anyone about this incident (until now)… I dismissed it as one of those things that deranged men do…

In those days, the term “date rape” had not been popularised in American college campuses, and so not much was said when we learnt that a college-mate had been sexually assaulted, or even possibly gang-raped, at a college frat party in an elite university in Boston. I remember one instance vividly. My dorm mate, who happened to be a devout Catholic, asked me to wait in the reception for her while she went upstairs with a male student she had just met. I didn’t think much of the dangers that she might be exposing herself to at the time. (In US college campuses in those pre-HIV/AIDS days, it was quite normal for students to engage in casual sex.) When she didn’t return hours later, I decided to go back to my dorm, thinking that perhaps she had decided to spend the night with her new friend.

The next day, she returned to the dorm, visibly bruised and traumatised. It was obvious that she had been raped. She did not say what happened to her, but her demeanor suggested that she had been through something physically and emotionally painful. Her mental condition deteriorated to the point where her parents had to be called to pick her up and take her home. She never returned to college.

And no one in the college administration tried to identify the boys who had done this to her or to charge them with sexual assault. It was just not the done thing in those days. She probably blamed herself for the “sin” she had allowed to be committed against her, and being a Catholic, she probably even forgave her attacker/s. This is the thing that people don’t get about sexual assault – the victims always feel a sense of shame and guilt, and this is what often prevents them from coming forward. Worse, they are made to feel that the assault was just a figment of their imagination. Yet, as data shows, almost every woman in the world will experience or has experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment in her lifetime. So why is it so hard for people, especially men, to believe that this is happening?

A year or so before, I had almost been raped by a man who was driving me home from a party.

But was the reality TV-type US Senate hearing of Ford’s claims really necessary? I don’t think so. In my opinion, Ford should not have agreed to present her case in public on camera in front of the whole world, especially considering that she had previously requested to remain anonymous, and also because women who come forward publicly with such charges are often ridiculed, and made to feel bad all over again.

And indeed that is exactly what happened. A few days after the hearing, Ford was mocked and made fun of by none other than the President of the United States who suggested that she had made up the whole story at the behest of his political opponents. The laughter that echoed at the Mississippi rally where Donald Trump derided Ford probably brought back memories of the “uproarious laughter” that she says she remembers most about the sexual assault incident in 1982. For those who watched the rally on television, the most shocking scenes were those of women in the crowd laughing and jeering.

Until the #MeToo movement gained momentum, most victims of sexual assault or harassment believed that they were to blame for what happened to them. What the #MeToo movement has done is shift the blame to the perpetrators, thereby liberating women (and men) to speak openly about the trauma they suffered. It is likely that the recent barrage of revelations about Catholic priests in the United States and Australia molesting or raping boys may have remained a secret if these boys (who are now middle-aged men) had not been emboldened by the #Me Too movement. For the first time in a long time, it has become okay for women and men to say they were raped or sexually harassed without feeling that they will be put on the dock and not be believed.

But, as the Senate hearing has shown, despite the #MeToo movement, it is still difficult for sexual assault victims to be believed. And when they do come out, all kinds of questions are raised about their mental health, rather than the mental health of the perpetrators even though during most of the hearing, it was Ford who appeared coherent (though visibly flustered) while the man she was accusing appeared hysterical and overly defensive. Kavanaugh even managed to paint himself as a victim of a left-wing conspiracy. And despite his repeated declarations about how much he liked beer, none of the members of the male-dominated Senate accused him of having a drinking problem.

Until the #MeToo movement gained momentum, most victims of sexual assault or harassment believed that they were to blame for what happened to them.

In 1991, Anita Hill, a bright young black lawyer, accused Clarence Thomas (another US Supreme Court nominee) of sexual harassment, and she was not believed. She was vilified and accused of being a “man-eating professional” who was just seeking attention. To see this happen now, once again, 27 years later, is discouraging.

Some feminists like Germaine Greer have even stated that women who claim to have been sexually harassed or assaulted by powerful men might have willingly agreed to have sex with these men. Of the Hollywood actresses who have accused movie moguls of sexual assault or harassment, she had this to say: “If you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me or and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.” It is disheartening to hear these sentiments expressed by someone who has spent a lifetime examining male-female relations and how they impact sexuality.

Greer, of all people, should know that rape and other types of sexual assault or harassment are political issues – because they are the result of skewed power relations between men and women. When the man raping or sexually harassing a woman has the power to make or break her career, the issue of consent becomes murky and blurred. What does consent mean in this context?

And it really doesn’t matter if the assault was a rape or a groping of groins while fully clothed; the impact on women and girls is the same. (I still remember to this day when a big burly man came up behind me, fondled my buttocks and let out a great big guffaw as I was walking to school from my home in Nairobi. Like Ford, it is the laughter I remember most about that incident. That happened more than 40 years ago, when I was around 10-years-old, but I am still wary of walking alone on lonely lanes.)

Recently the Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta stated that the “casting couch” is alive and well in Bollywood and that leading male actors routinely ask their female co-stars to have sex with them before they approve them for a role. (Apparently, the casting of leading ladies in Bollywood happens in actors’ trailers and hotel rooms, not in the offices of casting directors). Dutta has not had a leading role in a Bollywood movie since she accused a much-respected male co-star of sexually harassing her. This shows that when a woman comes out and accuses her boss or colleague of sexual harassment, she is likely to be committing career suicide. She will be ridiculed, not believed, and most likely fired. Which woman would risk facing all this?

It really doesn’t matter if the assault was a rape or a groping of groins while fully clothed; the impact on women and girls is the same.

So when a woman does come forward, chances are that she has either calculated the risks in her mind and has decided to do what is right no matter what. Some argue that women who come out years after being sexually assaulted – when both they and the accused have got married, had children and moved on with their lives – are not doing anyone a favour as many lives and reputations are destroyed. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that the perpetrator has stopped attacking women now that he is happily married with children. As the Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump cases have shown, men do not stop grabbing p….. just because they have a beautiful wife and children home. Men who commit such crimes or misdemeanors – and constantly get away with them – are likely to continue committing them unless they are made to account for their actions.

All the men and women who support abusive men should know that sexual crimes have no expiry date and that if this culture of misogyny and male entitlement continues, it is their daughters who will one day pay the price.

The Women for Trump brigade and all the men and women who support abusive men should know that sexual crimes have no expiry date and that if this culture of misogyny and male entitlement continues, it is their daughters who will one day pay the price, if they are not paying it already.

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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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SAPs – Season Two: Why Kenyans Fear Another IMF Loan
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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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