Africa Matters: November 2018 Update

It has been a while since my last update (July). Overall things have been well with a number of highlights on various fronts:

1.Family: summer saw me spending time with mother in the village at Malube, and with family & kids (nieces, nephews, grandnieces/nephews) at Bethany House. Pictures capture some of the moments:

2.Bethany Land Institute: News of a grant from the Italian Bishops Conference (beginning of summer) gave a good jump start for fundraising efforts for the construction of phase one of the campus – and hopefully for a 2019 official launch. Summer also saw me spending time “on the ground (land)” working with staff, board and other meetings. Again, pictures tell the story better than words:

In the meantime, a recently released podcast interview (Near and Far) captures the BLI journey:

3.Research: The end of July found me in Sarajevo, attending and speaking at the 3rd International conference of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church. Over 400 theologians from around the world! In the final plenary, I presented “Seven Emerging Convictions of Prophetic Theological Ethics for the World Church.” Read my presentation here:

In the meantime, on my sabbatical research project, Who Are My People, jointly funded by the Luce Fellowship in Theology and Contending Modernities, I finished up with the interviews over the summer, and am in the process drafting the five chapters of the book. See my “Excess of Love in the Oasis of Peace,” a blog entry following my visit to Maggy Barankitse’s “Oasis of Peace.”

The following report, to be presented at the ATS Luce Fellowship meeting in Pittsburg early next month, offers a good overview of the research project.

Here is the PDF of the Report:

A Review of Born from Lament

Earlier this year David Tanghou Ngong, a professor at Stillman College published a review of my book Born from Lament: The Theology of Politics and Hope in Africa in Reading Religion, a publication of the American Academy of Religion. I appreciate his assessment of my work, which not only highlights the strengths of the book but also offers constructive critique.

David Tanghou Ngong writes:

Katongole’s portrayal of an alternative vision of peace which the Christian faith provides in the context of the violent politics of the nation-state continues to be one of his significant contributions to African theology. Perhaps he is right that African theology has been too reticent in pointing out the salutary alternative visions of peaceful life that some Christians in the continent are cultivating. However, his claim that there has been a loss of lament in African theology is not an adequate description of the African Christian theological scene. Lament is at the heart of the theologies of inculturation, Black liberation theology in South Africa, the theology of reconstruction, and African women’s theology: the lament of the various forms of loss many have suffered and continue to suffer on the continent…This notwithstanding, Born from Lament provides significant ethnographic, biblical, and theological material that may enhance peacebuilding around the world.

For the full review please see:

Since my last post there have been a number of significant updates that I would like to share with you:

1. I am honoured to have been promoted to full professor at the University of Notre Dame.

2. The International Bulletin of Missions Research has selected Born from Lament: The Theology of Politics of Hope in Africa as one of its top ten outstanding books in Missions Studies for 2017.

3. I had the opportunity to participate in a Skype discussion about my book the Sacrifice of Africa with a group of students from South Africa hosted by Mziwandile Nkutha, a recent graduate of the Anabaptist Mennonite Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

Notes from the Field: March 1-9, 2018


I spent the beginning of March in the Central African Republic conducting field research. CAR has suffered significantly from political violence, which has been further exacerbated by divisions along religious lines. The 2013 crisis (Seleka vs. anti-Balaka violence) resulted in high levels of displacement across the country. In January 2018, the International Committee of the Read Cross stated that half of the country was in need of humanitarian aid.

My time travelling, interviewing, and reading helped shed some light on some of the dimensions that have shaped the conflict:

1. Crisis of Citizenship

There is a general feeling that Muslims (15% of population) do not really belong; they are ‘non-native’ to CAR. They are always suspected of having ‘external’ links and connections ( to Chad and Sudan). Muslims also control over 75% of economy. In spite of this, a number of people who I spoke with (both Christians and Muslims) observed that Christians and Muslims have always lived peacefully together and frequently intermarried.

2. Violence arises, in part, from a sense of marginalization

The rise of the Seleka (2012) is not a complete surprise when we consider that it originated in the North East, a very marginalized part of the country, from a variety of grievances. It is important to note that Seleka militia is 20% Christian. Adam Ashforth argues that the violence of the anti-Balaka arose, in part, due to a feeling of “spiritual insecurity.” The group has responded to this insecurity by invoking traditional beliefs and magical practices.

What is surprising is the level and intensity of violence. An ex anti-Balaka informant stated: “it is as if something internal exploded; something ‘diabolic.’”

3. Lack of “local” initiatives in leadership make it hard to move forward

There are many foreign elements to CAR’s social history, concessionary politics and economics: Arab slave traders, French colonialism, trading companies, Chad, Sudan, UN, and missionary congregations. Imam Kobine, who I was able to speak with during my time in CAR, noted that some of these dimensions may have contributed to the marginalization of local, “native” initiatives in leadership.

4. The role of the Church in CAR

The Catholic Church plays a powerful role in the country’s social and political infrastructure. The Church also reflects the ‘external’ element of leadership. Only one of 8 bishops is diocesan; the rest are from missionary or religious congregations. The general secretary of the Bishop’s conference stated: “The church’s role is to support what the state is doing.”

The Church’s presence and positive impact are visible in the care of refugees, such as Cardinal Nzapailanga and the Interfaith Platform. However, I was also told that all too often “The church promotes a magical faith; a certain fatalism (if God wants us to have peace, we will have peace).” Thus, the church has yet to meet the challenge of unleashing the internal capacities (inner revolution) of believers.


Visible Signs of Hope

In the midst of suffering I also bore witness to visible signs of hope, reflecting an “excess of love” in the midst of violence.

1. The Interfaith Platform, founded by the Archbishop, an Imam and a pastor. It connects and brings together different faith traditions, advocating for peace and reconciliation on national and community (local) levels, and serving as an example of interfaith solidarity.

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2. I was particularly impressed by Fr. Bernard Kinvi, a Camillian priest, who runs the hospital at Bossentele, and who during the 2013 crisis, offered refuge at the hospital, to both Christian and Muslims, mediated between Seleka and anti-Balaka, protected the vulnerable; buried the dead, and helped many to evacuate. A native of Togo who has been here for 7 years now, he is driven by the Camillian spirituality: “serving the poor and sick is the way to God’s heart.” He is using that spirituality to knit the social fabric of the remote village of Bossentele into a sense of belonging that closely reflects the church as a “Field Hospital”. Talk about ecclesial radiance! The two days here in Bossentele, trailing and learning from Kinvi, as he takes me around the hospital and visiting and talking to various people in the community, are without doubt, the highlight of my time in CAR!


Notes from the Field: February 2018

February has been a rich month.

I spent time at the Bethany Land Institute where we had our BLI board meeting. We were excited to approve a new member, Catherine Barasa Asekenye. She is a senior social development specialist at the World Bank – based in Uganda, and focusing on gender and poverty issues.

I was able to visit with Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo at Kampiringisa where he is setting up a UNDP funded and Government of Uganda sponsored National Farmers Leadership Center (NFLC) based on the Songhai model. The Bethany Land Institute is excited about opportunities to collaborate and partner with Songhai.

A few Highlights from Kenya:

1. I spent the end of February in Kenya. I was invited by Tangaza University College School of Theology in Kenya to present a paper titled, “Ecological Conversion and Integral Ecology in Africa: Experiments in the Spirituality of Little Think.” The conference brought together scholars and students to explore how we can respond to the ecological crisis from a theological perspective.

2. Catholic Youth Network for Environment Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA).
I spent a rich afternoon of meeting and conversation with Allen Ottaro, the founder, and Helen, David and Abner, other leaders of CYNESA at their Nairobi Office. The mission of CYNESA is to link (and thus provide a platform to) young Catholics across the continent in their efforts to respond to the challenges of environment degradation and climate change. Behind the personal stories of the young leaders and their inspiring work, I discover an Ignatian spirituality as a driving force. Encountered through the Magis program by Allen and his friends, the Ignatian spirituality has a a threefold emphasis: finding God in all things; personal responsibility (what can I do as an individual), and a lifestyle of contemplative action. With programs in over eight countries they encourage young people to live out this spirituality in the spirit of Laudato Si. See blog entry on my visit:

3. Green Belt Movement (GBM)
Half a day at the office of The Green Belt Movement: (GBM), and meeting with Wycliffe Matika, interim Deputy Director, and Mercy Wanja Karunditu, Senior Program officer. Founded by the first African women Nobel Laurette Wanghari Maathai, GBM continues advance Maathai’s ecological and peacebuilding vision and efforts: “When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.” To date GBM has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya! It was inspiring to hear, from the staff of GBM and other random people, including my driver, personal testimonies regarding the character, motivation and spirituality that shaped Maathai’s “Humming Bird” efforts. It was also touching to visit Freedom corner in Uhuru Park, where Maathai led a group of women to protest President Moi’s decision to give away part of the park to investors to construct a business and office complex. The protests would later inspire a civil movement that eventually brought down Moi’s dictatorial regime.

4. A Meeting with the editor and publishers at Daughters of St Paul to explore the possibility for co-publishing and marketing of my books in East Africa, which would make books like The Sacrifice of Africa, Born From Lament, Reconciling All Things, and The Journey of Reconciliation more accessible and affordable to readers in East

At the end of the month I traveled to the Central African Republic for my research. I look forward to sharing more about my time there in my next blog post.

A few photos from my time with Fr. Nzamujo at Kampiringisa: