Friday, February 3, 2012

My Take on the News: East Africa Drought; Cotabato, Two and a Half Years Later

There are droughts in progress in South America, Mexico, Africa, and Texas. I'm focusing on what's happening in and near the Horn of Africa: that bit of the continent at the south end of the Red Sea.
  1. Droughts, Politics, and Getting a Grip
  2. Cotabato Cathedral, Two and a Half Years Later

1. Droughts, Politics, and Getting a Grip

"African Union summit, food crisis in the Sahel and global hunger figures"
Claire Provost, Poverty matters, guardiannews.com (January 31, 2012)

"Despite gathering to boost intra-African trade, delegates at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa found discussions overshadowed by a high-profile leadership race. The summit, which ended on Monday, failed to produce a clear winner and another election will be held in Malawi in six months. South Africa's interior minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, had challenged the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, for the post of AU commission chairman.

"Before the summit began, the AU's new headquarters had already courted controversy. Built and paid for by the Chinese, some questioned why the 20-storey building, which was inaugurated on the eve of the summit and is Addis Ababa's tallest building, wasn't built by Africans.

"Meanwhile, ahead of the summit, Mohammed Abdul Aziz, Libya's deputy foreign minister, said his country's new government is still taking stock of extensive investments made in Africa by Muammar Gaddafi, former chairman of the AU...."
Oh, yes. There's also the matter of food:
"...Severe food shortages continue to threaten communities in the Sahel. Reporting from Niger, Mark Tran finds erratic rainfall and the global financial predicament are stretching improved crisis preparations to the limit. Earlier this month, the EU's top humanitarian official, Kristalina Georgieva, visited Niger and Chad and announced new funding for humanitarian work in the region...."
(guardiannews.com)
The Sahel, in this context, is a swath of land running across Africa; just south of the Sahara Desert; from Senegal to Eritrea, Etheopia and Djibouti.

I could complain about the mess that the African Union is in, or how China shouldn't have built the AU headquarters, or how the British article didn't - not once - mention Spicewood, Texas.

The first two points almost make sense, and I'll get back to them.

Helping Folks Who Need It

Before anything else, though, folks in and around the Horn of Africa are short on water. And just about everything else. More about that:
I took care of some of my household's charitable stuff by contributing a little to the CRS. No pressure: but it wouldn't hurt to check out their website. They're all over the world, if you've got another area in mind.

Now, back to what that article brought up.

African Union

I've mentioned the African Union a few times, mostly in another blog:
It's big: 54 African nations are members. Back in 2008, they took the usual 'it is the fault of the Jews' position. Maybe that'll change, now that Libyans decided that they'd had quite enough of Muammar Gaddafi. I've discussed the situation in Libya elsewhere, including:
I don't see the African Union as a shining light on a hill, a beacon to unity and a good five-cent cigar.

But I think many people involved in the African Union are trying to make sense of politics and economics on the continent. Cleaning up the mess left by the Treaty of Versailles is a huge job.

Like the United Nations, America's Congress, and Nintendo, the African Union is part of today's world. I think it's okay to recognize that we can probably do better: but meanwhile, it's prudent to deal with what we've got.

'Not Built by Africans?'

I didn't know quite what the article meant by folks being upset that the AU's new headquarters "wasn't built by Africans." That could mean anything from folks being upset that a Chinese contractor ran the project, to folks from places other than Africa being employed for the construction crews.

Turns out, it's the latter. From a political point of view, with about a third of Ethiopia's citizens below the poverty line, and a regional drought, this is incredibly clueless:
"Construction criticism casts the spotlight on intra-African trade"
Mark Tran, guardian.co.uk (January 27, 2012)

"Sleek and glinting in the sun, combining a traditional office tower with a more unusual spherical conference centre, shaped like a flying saucer, the new African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, is an impressive symbol of modernity.

"Some, however, harbour mixed feelings towards the complex, which is scheduled to be opened by President Hu Jintao on Saturday, the eve of the AU summit. Why was it, they ask, that the 20-storey main office building and conference centre, which can seat more than 2,500 people, was built by a Chinese company with Chinese labour, rather than by Africans?..."
[emphasis mine]
Maybe the African Union took a page from American government federal and state procedures, and had to give a contract to the lowest bidder. I think responsibility in government spending is a good idea. I also think rewarding contractors who lowball, thereby penalizing those who give honest estimates, is a bad idea. Maybe someday "on-budget government project" won't sound like an oxymoron, and that's another topic.

2. Cotabato Cathedral, Two and a Half Years Later

"Guarding Our House"
"A K of C marshal service in the Philippines defends worshippers from potential terrorist attacks"
Ferdinandh B. Cabrera, Columbia Magazine, Knights of Columbus (January 27, 2012)

"Before dawn breaks on Sunday morning, retired Philippine Army Sgt. Teodorico Bautista, 48, prepares himself with a flashlight before hitting the road to Immaculate Conception Cathedral, about half a kilometer from his home. He either rides on a padyak - a pedaled tricycle - or walks, but he makes sure that he is at the church before the first bell.

"Bautista is the chief of a marshal group formed by Cotabato City Council 3504 in Mindanao, Philippines, to augment military and police forces against bombing threats in the cathedral compound. Once a specialist in intelligence work, Bautista now coordinates all threat information and immediately informs the parish and authorities of any potential dangers.

" 'I am doing this voluntarily to serve God because of my patriotism for this country and my promise of charity as a member of the Knights of Columbus,' he said...."
I posted about the Cotabato bombing in July of 2009. Very briefly, several people were killed when a bomb went off near:
  • A cathedral
  • A woman
    • In public
    • Doing business
      • Involving pigs
  • Soldiers
    • In a passing truck
    • Guarding the cathedral
As far as I could tell at the time, from what got into the news, the intended target could have been the:
  • Cathedral
  • Woman
  • Pork
  • Soldiers
  • None of the above
"None of the above?!" It's possible, if unlikely, that the bomb was being carried to another location: and went off accidentally.

According to the Columbia article, we still don't know who planted the July, 2009, bomb, who else was involved, or why folks were killed. I don't think that Islamic terrorists are responsible: but I don't think someone with that set of beliefs isn't responsible. I simply do not know.

Cotabato Cathedral: Life, and Mass, Goes On

After the bombing, folks are understandably edgy about celebrating Mass at the Cathedral. I'll get back to that. There are Knights of Columbus in the Philippines, including Council 3504:
"...In response to the decline in worshippers, the parish sought assistance from Council 3504, which led to the creation of the Knights' marshal service...."

"....Dressed in long-sleeve white shirts and black pants, a squad of Knight marshals is deployed in every corner of Immaculate Conception Cathedral, working in shifts for each of the nine Masses that are offered every Sunday. The marshals, supervised by Bautista, ensure that motorcycles are thoroughly inspected and parked safely inside the cathedral gymnasium, which is 100 meters away from the church. Other vehicles are parked in a designated lot where routine checks are made with the use of bomb-sniffing dogs.

" 'We gained trust with churchgoers, treating them with respect, dignity and courteousness as we check their bags or vehicles,' Bautista stressed...."
(Columbia)
On the whole, I'd just a soon not have the family van checked when we go to Mass each Sunday. But I'd much rather have that done, than risk the lives of everybody who's there.

I think it's worth pointing out that it's the churchgoers who are having their stuff checked out. Maybe it'd be convenient if the Knight marshals could just 'look for terrorists,' or focus their attention on 'suspicious parcels.' But that's not going to work.

Cotabato City is home to just under a third of a million people, and a marshal isn't likely to know everybody who shows up for Mass personally.

Even here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, with a population of about 4,000, I see unfamiliar faces at Mass now and then. Particularly around holidays, when folks visit family and friends.

Besides, terrorists don't carry signs saying "I AM CARRYING A BOMB: SEARCH ME." And, some old-time movies notwithstanding, the bad guy doesn't always have
  • Slick hair
  • Pencil mustache
  • Thick eastern European accent
Like I've said before, stereotypes can show moviegoers who's the bad guy: and that's okay. But the real world doesn't work that way.

Fear and Worship

"...On July 5, 2009, while Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato celebrated morning Mass, a powerful bomb packed with nails and jagged iron exploded in front of Immaculate Conception Cathedral, killing five civilians immediately and injuring at least 30 others. The explosion occurred after persistent bomb threats had been leveled against churches in central Mindanao, and it was the fourth attempt to plant an improvised explosive device in the area surrounding the cathedral since 2003.

"Apart from the tragic cost in human life, the blast had a second consequence: a noticeable drop in Mass attendance.

" 'The news broke my heart,' said Balbina Pasawilan, a 53-year old woman who was returning from an earlier Mass when she heard about the explosion. 'After that, there was apprehension that the incident would be followed by more bombings, so I decided not to attend Mass for the next few Sundays.'

"For 71-year-old Zenaida Tato, the incident was a test of faith, as she continued attending Masses despite the danger. 'We lived here for more than five decades, mingling with other cultures and beliefs, and we are used to news about violence. But I was never affected by these atrocities,' she said. 'Instead, I continued my relationship with God.'..."
(Columbia)
This is where I could do a little heroic posturing, and say that I'd never stop celebrating Mass with the rest of the parish each Sunday: no matter what. That's not gonna happen.

I'd like to think that I'd continue to fulfill my Sunday obligation, but I've never had to make a decision like that. Maybe I'd be sensible, maybe not. I hope I never find out.

My hat's off to Zenaida Tato, and others, who decided that worshiping God is more important than staying safe.

Not that staying safe isn't a good idea, provided that higher priorities aren't sacrificed in the process. And that's a whole lot of other topics.

Related posts: More: In the news: Background:
  • "African Union"
    Wikipedia
  • "Djibouti"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated November 10, 2011)
  • "Ethiopia"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated January 11, 2012)
  • "Horn of Africa"
    Wikipedia
  • "Japan"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated January 24, 2012)
  • "Niger"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated December 27, 2011)
  • "Norway"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated January 12, 2012)
  • "Philippines"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated January 10, 2012)
  • "Sahel"
    Wikipedia
  • "Senegal"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated January 17, 2012)
  • "Somalia"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated November 10, 2011)
  • "South Sudan"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated January 11, 2012)
  • "Sudan"
    World FactBook, CIA (last updated January 17, 2012)
1 Being "ready to deal with natural disasters as Texans" doesn't mean being Texans. Any more than Norwegians became Japanese. But folks in both countries learned how to cope - and prosper - in today's world. But they didn't do that by keeping all the social customs and institutional structures of their Viking or shogunate years.

My ancestors eventually stopped conducting human sacrifices. If a bunch like us could turn that around, I'm pretty sure that folks in Africa can upgrade their domestic technologies, and learn alternatives to cattle raids. And stay as distinctive, culturally, as Norway and Japan are today.

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Extra letter: "progress in South American, Mexico, Africa, and Texas"

Also, I think the numbered list is missing links.

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Fixed both, thanks!

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.