The name Continuing Indaba can be a cause of confusion as it is an unfamiliar word to many. This short article sets out why the name was chosen and then goes on to describe its basis in Scripture and the Anglican understanding of Church as Communion.
Why the name ‘Indaba’
The name ‘Indaba’ was chosen because it signifies a move away from parliamentary processes that have been associated with conflict mitigation and mediation to processes of conflict transformation that are more in line with Pauline theology and successful models from the Hebrew Scriptures. Read more
Rev. Philip Agik lecturer in Systematic Theology at Saint Paul’s University, Limuru, lects on the insights that can be drawn from the implications of Theological Discourse on Cultural Hermeneutics on Conflict Resolution for Continuing Indaba.
The Anglican Church, at this moment in its history that goes back to the 16th century when it pulled away from the Roman Catholic Church, is facing one of the hardest moments in relation to her indomitable unity as a flourishing family boasting a membership margin of 77 million. The tension of course is aimed at the four pillars upon which the church as a communion bases its theology: the episcopacy, tradition, reason and scripture. Read more
Following the Cuddesdon Resource hub Sr. Anita Cook, CSC, reflected on encouraging genuine conversation across difference out of her experience in community. The Community of Sisters of the Church is an Anglican religious international community with four provinces: Australia, Canada, Solomon Islands and the UK. The sisters live in community 24/7. Out of this experience in community Sr. Anita draws out practical tools for the ongoing discussions by people coming from different places and view points across the Communion. Read more
In November 2009 Canon Phil Groves consulted with a group of Church leaders and theologians in order to gain a fuller concept of Indaba. I was deeply touched when, after long discussions, he just sat down and, in a hopeless manner said, “please I need your help.” That night when I did my night prayers it came to me that I need to help him and the rest of the group on what I personally believe as an African concerning Indaba. This is the reflection I gave to answer Phil’s request and for the rest of the group. Read more
These reflections on Indaba were initiated by The Most Rev Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and a member of the Lambeth Conference Design Group. They outline the spirit of Indaba.
Indaba is a Zulu word for a gathering for purposeful discussion. It is both a process and a method of engagement as we listen to one another concerning challenges that face our community and, by extension, the Anglican Communion. Read more
Ms. Sushma Ramswami, Communication Secretary, Synod of the Church of North India and Vice President, National Council of Churches in India suggests some Indian analogues to Indaba
“Kulta, nalayak, kahan ka paap hai yeh” (stupid, idiot, blot on the family, whose sin is it?).
These were the screams coming out of a house in Ratanjuli Cluster situated 34 kilometres away from Tezpur in Assam, a state in the northeast of India. People from the area, including both Hindus and Christians, surrounded the house to find out what the matter was. On probe it was found that Anjali, a member of the family, had locked herself in a room and had not come out of it for two days. On probing further, the villagers found that she had been carrying a child for six months. Since being an unwed mother bears a stigma, the boy she had been seeing had taken her for an abortion. As the baby was six months old, the doctor refused to perform the procedure, so they went to a private pharmacy, where she was given a medicine that caused the baby to die inside her womb. Terrible pain and shame forced her to remain inside the room.
In the evening, as is customary, the male members of the village gathered under a banyan tree to discuss matters pertaining to the good of the village. Anjali’s matter was discussed at length, and it was decided that some of the elders from the village would approach the boy, who was working in a neighboring tea garden. When he did not listen to them they complained to the garden’s manager and asked him to suspend the boy. After hearing the story the manager took immediate action and suspended the culprit. Necessary arrangements for the girl’s treatment in the civil hospital were also made.
The matter did not end here, for the villagers were concerned about the future of Anjali. A meeting of the villagers was called to finalize the matter with the panchayat (local governance committee), labor union of the garden and local leaders. After discussing the matter thoroughly the villagers exhorted the boy to accept the girl as his wife and to arrange for proper treatment until she completely recovered. They also told the boy that if they found negligence in the treatment or anything else, legal action would be taken against him. Also, once the girl recovered, the boy had to have the marriage performed legally and produce a copy of the marriage certificate to the villagers. The guardian of the boy also accepted the resolution put by the villagers. Thus a life which could have been destroyed by fighting a case in court was settled through discussion under a banyan tree. This is an example of Indian Indaba.
Forums for Consultation and Decision-Making in India
The word Indaba is new in the Indian context, but for the African context it is not. In southern Africa it is a familiar term and a popular concept. It communicates a mode of interaction with sense and sensitivity.
When we try to unfold the nature of Indaba, we discover that it resembles several models of group interaction in the Indian context. In Bengal, for instance, addaa designates an informal discussion in a group. Students in universities sometimes have felt included in deliberations only if they were in an addaa, which may have a less formalized agenda than an Indaba. In other parts of the country, however, an addaa has the connotation of a drinking society.
In Punjab, in the northwest of India, people often gather on manji, or rope cots, under a banyan tree to discuss matters of common interest. There the meeting is called manji, and there are similar gatherings in other areas of the country, though under different names. Such meetings are often male-dominated. While the men are meeting and discussing issues pertaining to individuals, families and the community at large, the women folk are expected to be doing their family chores, cooking and the like. In the central Indian state of Maharashtra, however, women also participate.
In Maharashtra, sabha is another important model of group deliberation and decision-making, but it has a much more formal and legislative connotation. For instance, the two houses of Parliament in India are called the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha (similar to the House of Commons and House of Lords in Britain). At the local level, the panchayat, or village council of elders and other leaders, typically has a similarly formal decision-making function. Of late, women have emerged as winners in panchayat elections and often hold decision-making positions.
The Nature of Indaba
There seems to be no formal term in English that can communicate the meaning and message of Indaba. Although the term Indaba may be alien to the Indian context, its concept and sense are not, and in the Indian context we can understand what it is about.
• Sharing on a topic/and or an issue in an informal get-together, where age and sex, and even number hardly matter.
• Encouraging and sometimes instigating others to take part in the sharing or discussion, so that gradually everyone shares and/or talks.
• Giving up the initial hesitation to talk, and gathering momentum to be part of the whole discussion.
• Honoring others’ views more than one’s own.
• Finding time to reflect retrospectively, which often leads to confession and paves the way for reconciliation and growth.
• Inspiring people to develop the skill of listening and learning from each other.
• Developing an understanding of where there is agreement and where there is disagreement.
• Drawing no formal conclusion or resolution of the sharing/reflection/discussion, and yet finding everyone satisfied.
Seventy-five percent of India is rural, and the concept behind Indaba exists in the form of meetings under the banyan tree, where matters pertaining to the lives of people living in the area are discussed. Such gatherings have the spirit and the value of cooperation and trust to take decisions collectively and resolve conflicts between communities. This is evident in the stories below, which illustrate how such gatherings inculcate feelings of togetherness and trust that can bring healing.
The Nanegaon Dalits’ Fight for Their Graveyard
The life of India’s outcastes, commonly called Dalits, is full of struggle. Typically they work hard at very low wages to make ends meet in order to ensure their survival. In this instance, Dalits who were Christian converts also had to struggle to ensure that after death they too could rest in peace, possible only if they could be buried with dignity in the land that was theirs. A socio-economically weak group of people had to fight to reclaim their land, which was being encroached upon by the dominating class.
Nanegaon is a small village in Jalna district, about 52 kilometres from Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Nanegaon houses about 100 Dalit Christian families who come from the Maatan, or Maang, community, which has been residing in the area for three generations. Historically, the Maatan were looked down upon as outcastes and were forced to do lowly jobs like sweeping and scavenging. They also supported themselves by broom-making and rope-weaving.
Today the picture has not changed much, for the Maatan Dalits still live in poor conditions, deprived of many amenities. They are landless laborers who earn daily wages by working in neighboring farms and factories. When work opportunities decline in their villages many are forced to migrate to towns and cities in search of livelihood. Due to the apathy of the government and its policies, such communities have remained at the periphery of society. Yet in spite of all hardships, these communities have remained devout in their faith and have pulled together in facing the challenges of life.
Some 150 years ago, the missionaries who started work in the Nanegaon area bought a piece of land out of which 3.5 acres was kept as a burial ground. Over time its ownership passed to the local Dalit Christian community. A couple of years back the dominating classes in the village started impinging on the property and gradually grabbed most of the land, for there was no boundary wall. The Dalits were left with a mere one acre of land, and that too was being eyed by others. The Dalits found it difficult to protest because they depended on the the influential higher-caste people for their livelihoods, and they could not match their power.
The Dalit Christian community sat together and discussed various options to solve the problem. They realized that socio-economically they were at a disadvantage, for their livelihoods depended on the upper-caste people. They also believed that confrontation would not be effective because they were few in number. So with a rights-based perspective, they went into a thoughtful process of uniting and sensitizing the entire community, creating awareness of the right to a dignified life. Members were encouraged to wage a peaceful protest against the oppression and anarchy they were experiencing.
This community organization resulted in mobilizing a movement for the common cause. To claim back their land that had been forcibly taken, all Dalits together approached the local government machinery. They procured copies of government records and other documents that designated the exact area and proved their ownership of the land. Proceeding in a legal manner, they succeeded in ending the encroachment on their land. They also managed to get an official order to construct a boundary wall, as this would protect their land from further encroachment.
The results were not quick and the process was not easy, but over a period of time their Do No Harm approach enabled them to reclaim their land. Head-on clashes would not have yielded results, but a series of talks to convince the encroachers to give back land bore positive fruit. The community took the legal route to prove their ownership over the area and made the dominating class realize that their demand was just. Thus, they managed to maintain good relations with the other class and safeguarded their livelihood.
Restoring the Pannasi Water Supply
A long time back in the Bhandara District of Maharashtra, in central India, in an area included in the CNI Diocese of Nagpur, Pannasi village was carved out of Minsi village. It houses all Shende families, and they are Mali (horticulturists) by caste and occupation. In the beginning, a couple of families relocated themselves from Minsi and started residing on a hillside, cultivating the land for floriculture. As time passed, more families joined them, and gradually the number of families reached fifty. It was then that it became the separate entity known as Pannasi, for in Marathi, pannas means fifty.
Including Pannasi, there are three villages under Minsi Gram Panchayat, and they all get their water supply from Minsi. (A gram panchayat serves at the village level whereas a nagar panchayat serves a city.) In May 2008, Pannasi’s water was stopped. Some of the villagers went to the gram panchayat and enquired about it. They were told that the pipeline was closed for maintenance and that the supply would resume soon. Months passed, but nothing was done and the severity of the water problem increased. Women from Pannasi walked daily a distance of 3-4 kilometers to fetch the pots of water they needed for their households. Some of the villagers used bullock-carts, bicycles and motorbikes to transport water.
In March 2009, Manav Haqq Sangharsh Samiti (MHSS, meaning Human Rights Committee) a people’s organization and partner of the Nagpur Diocesan Board of Social Services in the Church of North India, started its intervention in the area. While interacting with the community members, the MHSS members realized the acute water problem that people were facing for months at a time. When they tried to find the root cause of this problem, they learned that the water supply was deliberately cut by Minsi because it felt the Minsi locals were not getting enough supply. MHSS tried to reason and solve the problem amicably by bringing together communities from both villages, but it did not work out.
The representatives from Pannasi in Minsi’s gram panchayat could not do much to restart the supply. The local governing system had a strong hold of Teli (oil merchants) and Kunbi (landlords) communities which are considered to be high castes. They dominated the proceedings in the general meeting and sidelined the Pannasi issue.
MHSS mobilized the community in Pannasi and empowered them to unite to acquire their right to water. There were some people in Pannasi who were indifferent to the process, and their involvement was casual. They thought they would benefit even if they did not participate actively in the struggle. But the MHSS brought the Pannasi residents together and led them in their struggle, guiding them to take this matter to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bhandara District. The villagers in large numbers went to the District Office. The CEO promptly responded to the people’s appeal and asked the concerned department to take necessary action. Minsi Gram Panchayat was also directed to cooperate.
In the first week of July 2009, mechanized crews reached Pannasi village and began the maintenance work on the water system. Within a month the water supply was restored. In order to strengthen the village’s position in the gram panchayat, Pannasi village plans to prepare more Mali members to serve as their representatives in the local governance system. To establish a bond with other villagers they plan to have common celebrations of religious festivals, initiate and organize cultural programmes and build trust so that they can participate in each other’s social and political struggles. It is also thought that one common water scheme for all the villages would maintain harmony.
With the help of the elders at the sabha, the community in Pannasi was empowered to unite to acquire their right to water.
Indaba in the Bible
If people getting together to share joys and sorrows, excitement and frustration, memories of yesteryear and plans for the tomorrow are the main focus of Indaba, then there are ample references to Indaba-type consultations in the Bible. Certain biblical narratives can be considered in the category of Indaba if examined carefully. For example, the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) provides evidence for a kind of Indaba. Genesis 11:1-4 suggests that the people of the whole world were part of an Indaba as they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens.” They moved together, they talked together, they planned together and then they took a decision together for what they considered their wellbeing. This “good” was to retain their name and identity: “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
There is a trace of another Indaba in the succeeding verses, Genesis 11:5-7. Here we find God in a divine Indaba in which God speaks as a plural person: “Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Here God, depicted as a plurality, talked and took a decision against the human Indaba. In this story the divine Indaba can be identified as a counter-Indaba to that of the humans. The divine Indaba superseded the human Indaba, and thus the human Indaba faltered (Genesis 11:8-9).
The New Testament provides examples of people coming together to sort out issues. Acts 15 provides the story of the Jerusalem Council, which was held chiefly because Christian Hellenists in Antioch had baptized uncircumcised Gentiles, and because other Christians (the mainly Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians in Jerusalem) believed that was wrong. But the disagreement was not only about circumcision. They were debating whether Gentiles had to adopt Jewish customs before being baptized. Jewish Christians believed it was right to impose their own customs and culture on the Gentile Christians. This is a mistake which some missionaries of all nations have made and are still making.
Another example is found in the various accounts of Jesus’ last night with his disciples in the four gospels. The act of giving and serving is stressed. Jesus is the leader but he acts in vulnerability: he offers his body and blood for the disciples and for the life of the world. He lets Judas go, although he knows betrayal is at hand. He washes the disciples’ feet. Jesus shares his anguish with the disciples in various ways. They confer about who the betrayer might be, and Peter professes his undying loyalty. Jesus prays for the disciples. Was this Indaba successful? Well, it certainly bequeathed to us the Eucharist that is at the heart of our worship life, and Jesus’ prayer is a permanent gift about what it means to be “in Christ”. On the other hand, it did not prevent the disciples from scattering shortly thereafter. Like any Indaba, its record was mixed!
The Listening Cell in the Church of North India
The Indian analogues to Indaba that have been cited arise from the historically rural context of life in India. Yet India is becoming increasingly urban, with Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai qualifying as megalopolises on a global scale and many smaller cities have several million inhabitants. In this environment it is important that urban Christians develop patterns of common life that both draw on traditional patterns and respond to urban realities.
On the above premise, after becoming Moderator of the Church of North India in 2006 the Most. Revd. Joel V. Mal presented his address at the first CNI Executive Committee (the senior executive body of CNI), and it was received with deep appreciation. The address generated discussion and noted the following points:
- That the Church Union was achieved and inaugurated on 29November 1970 is a gift from God:
- Despite trials and tribulations during this long united journey for 35 years, it was acknowledged that the journey has been rich and vibrant and God was with us.
- For the onward journey to be smooth the Church needs to get back to the basics and be always ready, like soldiers in barracks—fully prepared.
- Before we engage in our journey together we need to find out together what is ailing us and what it ailing others, and then find medicine for that. It is going to be difficult and painful to be honest with ourselves, others and God, but there is no other way.
- The Church of North India as it is here and now should proceed to look at itself critically. This self-examination will help all to participate more fully in the church’s life and work.
After much discussion it was decided to establish a “Listening Cell” at the church-wide synod level.
Salient among its terms of reference were:
- It shall endeavor to undertake a process of introspection to address issues that are hindering the growth and development of the life and work of the church.
- It shall facilitate listening to the voice of the people of the CNI and create space for understanding, fellowship and reconciliation.
- It shall examine matters of conflict in order to decide whether there is any possibility for negotiation and reconciliation.
- The Listening Cell shall function within a time frame and submit periodic reports on the outcome of its work to the Executive Committee.
- While dealing with matters pertaining to a diocese, it shall make efforts to visit the diocese involved and talk to the people concerned.
The Listening Cell had just one meeting, at which many grievances were shared by members of congregations and by one staff member of a synodical board. However, the Listening Cell did not see the light of another meeting and the effort lapsed, essentially because the criticisms that were voiced were considered too sensitive and volatile. In this situation we see that the church had the vision and courage to launch an Indaba-type effort, but it had not developed internal mechanisms of trusting responses to handle what the consultation process might bring to light.
This reflection has recounted several instances in which Indian Christians have activated indigenous models of consultation and decision-making in situations of personal and socio-economic conflict, both within their communities and with other communities. A particular instance of church-wide listening and consultation has also been narrated. The study has cited conceptual models from within Indian society that are analogous to the practice of Indaba, and biblical instances of Indaba-like consultations have been explored.
The challenging question before us as the Church of North India is this: Are we a listening church, or have we over time become chiefly a bureaucratic multinational organization? Seen as the mission of Christ, the church is for the people, of the people and by the people. While the Lord’s command remains a top priority for members of rural congregations in India, we in the urban setting seem to be preoccupied with bureaucratic realities. If people in rural congregations can sit together and sort matters out, why can’t we at the national level have the spirit of reconciliation to try and build a just and peaceful society?
2Minutes of the 77th Meeting of the CNI Executive Committee, held 7-8 February 2006.
This is an extract from Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s talk at a USPG conference in 2010. The Full text can be found here.
Indaba is not about trying to make everyone into Amazulu, nor about transplanting elements from one culture into a completely foreign and inappropriate context. I also know that Indaba is far from perfect – it is not always conducted inclusively, and it can be abused by leaders intent on getting their own way. But at its best, there is a great deal that is readily susceptible to the sort of ‘baptism’ of which I spoke earlier. Let me explain:
Rev. John Mark Oduor of All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, uses the Luo drumbeat to describe how conflict transformation might be possible in the Church.
In this world we live in, it is said that everyone dances to a certain drumbeat. Carl Henry calls it the “go-go generation”. He puts it this way “we are becoming nomads in the world of ideas and values no less than in the world of space and time”
Many dance to the drumbeat of wealth and prosperity, business and success, football and other sports, they live controlled and manipulated by these drumbeats. But there is a drumbeat that is significantly becoming louder by the day and it’s hard to ignore. It keeps our ears blocked and our hearts palpitate with a rhythm that makes many of us uncomfortable. We try to ignore it, brush it aside, push it to the periphery but it has refused to go away. It is the painful drumbeat of fear, conflict, and tension, beaten by the sticks of war and turmoil, accompanied by the Kayamba
that sheds blood and whistles that cause death.
Drumbeat of Fear and Conflict
This drumbeat is so loud in our ears that we no longer can hear any music at all. This drumbeat is heard in every corner of the globe, from Europe to Asia, the Middle East to East Timor, China to Mexico, Colombia to Indonesia Afghanistan to Iraq. But the continent that beats them all is Africa. You can no longer think of Africa without thinking of this drumbeat, from Zimbabwe to Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda. It finally landed in Kenya after a democratic election turned sour. When Kenyans burnt each other in January 2008, one CNN reporter loudly said, “Another African State is on fire”. It can be said, like in the Movie Hotel Rwanda,
“TIA” meaning “This Is Africa” This drum beat is synonymous with Africa and vice versa, unfortunately recently Kenyans have joined in. Which part of Kenya can you think of without seeing the painful picture of those who have lost loved ones and have been maimed or worse are so hurt that they don’t know what to say. Watching on TV you hear one survivor saying in Kiswahili “Sasa unataka ni seme nini – now what do you want me to say?”
This drumbeat of terror, fear, conflict, tension and shedding of blood has become part of the African life in the last few decades. Its almost hard to image that there are children who have never known peace, stability, or a place they can call home. This drum beat is killing our eardrums and we have reached a point that we cannot hear anything else. It is unfortunate that even the church has been so caught in the dance that she forgot which drumbeat she should be dancing to and whose music she should be listening to. Worse still, whose drum she should be beating. This, my friends, is the problem. It is when we forgot the drumbeat to which we should be dancing that the rain started beating us. We, the church, got so wet that we almost forgot that the church was supposed to be different. We stopped being different we became like everyone else. Brothers and sisters this is the problem.
The second problem has been the desire by everyone to change the drumbeat so that we hear less of the noise. We have tried to dance to several beats but this has not helped. The crisis has gotten out of hand, but many of us have not seen it nor realized the magnitude of the noise in our ears. Carl Henry tries to describe this crisis and says it’s a spiritual, moral, social and intellectual crisis. He sums it up that “this crisis, in short touches the whole of humanity and the whole man. The soul of modern man has been sucked dry by temporary concerns that eclipse the eternal world.”
We have tried to offer solutions to reduce this noise and silence the drumbeat, but we have not succeeded. This is because we have offered temporary solutions. We have treated symptoms and signs but not the real issue.
The world has offered temporary solutions to a problem that will soon get out of hand if we do nothing. We have heard the cry for justice. This has been done and in many ways.
Let me highlight some of the temporary solutions that the world around us has tried to offer. There are those who opted for instant justice or mob justice. Its actual name should be instant injustice. Many have taken the law into their hands when faced with situations of injustice. Others have tried to change the drumbeat with instant injustice because they have felt that the official system and the powers that be will not serve them well enough. They would say that they know that nothing will be done and so they take the law into their own hands and install their own form of justice. This unfortunate situation brings temporary satisfaction to the enforcers but not to the victims. Neither does it deal with the problem. It just creates another drumbeat of conflict tension and bloodshed and the cycle continues. Those who have been hurt harbour revenge, anger and bitterness. This only perpetuates the cycle and the drumbeat continues.
The same drum beat has been perpetuated also by the delayed justice in our legal system. It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. Many who have felt that the legal system isn’t working for them have opted not to trust it and they would rather not waste any time or money in the system and this drumbeat has not helped either. There is no change. The same drumbeat different players, while our ears continue to hurt and our bodies ache with pain and fear and our hearts bleed.
Drumbeat of Silence
Some survivors opted to use the samedrum beat that made HIV and AIDS the worst killer in this continent. The drumbeat of silence. This drum beat kills slowly and painfully. Carlos Falconi
in his book The Silence of Pope Pius XII identifies two major reasons why the Pope opted to be silent about the Second World War atrocities, that it is useless to speak as speech alone can’t do a thing, and that sometimes talking about such issues endangers the victims and the one speaking. Many who find themselves helpless would rather be silent as they ask the pregnant question, “who will fight for us and who will stand for us”? They resign themselves to a state of solitude and abandonment with nothing to look forward to. They see the future like a little boy sailing in the sea who wakes up early in the morning to see how far they are to go before they get to the land; when asked by the parents what he sees he sadly stoops down and says “nothing”. This drumbeat will not change things and it speaks so loud we need to ask ourselves why it is blasting our ears. Some keep hoping that someone or something will remove the conflict, the fear, the tension, but they don’t go away. Nothing happens.
Drumbeat of Blame
Another drumbeat that has echoed through the corridors of our land is the blame game: accusations, rhetoric and passing of the buck. Everyone seems to know who was responsible, who should be penalized and who should be arrested and imprisoned, but nobody does a thing or even owns up and says “I’m responsible”. It’s called the “culture of impunity”. Read in the papers and you’ll be shocked at how many people know who the guilty ones are. But nothing gets done. Many in Africa hope, pray and wish just that someone would rise up and say “we are tired of everybody blaming everyone else but nobody doing anything about it”. It’s like the words of an a cappella song, “everybody said that anybody could do the important thing that somebody should do….. But this important thing is what nobody did”. The drumbeat continues and the cycle continues and the rhythm of fear, turmoil pain and suffering is perpetuated and more people die and nothing gets done.
Brothers and sisters, growing up in the rural areas, was an interesting experience, I saw another drumbeat being practiced yhat was common among the women folk. This is the drumbeat of mock fights, trading insults and warmongering. This drumbeat was practiced by people who, on their own, could not fight but could engage the enemy in an emotional and psychological stimulation that lead to the real soldiers coming out to prove their point. They would make faces, throw their arms in the air, call names, and tell you what they could do if you tried touching them. How useless you are, if you were near enough they would draw a line on the ground and ask you to cross it and see what they would do to you. This drumbeat has not changed, today in the political arena; the mock fighters claim to speak on their people’s behalf. Words such as “we are being finished but we won’t take it lying down”. Some of us remember the days of “money has been poured to finish us” and “our people are being marginalized”. Most of this rhetoric is selfish and self-centred but nobody seems to say so and they are bought by the masses. The title of John Githongo’s experience should echo this drumbeat well enough “Our turn to eat”. This battle cry only gives a false security that we can manage all things only if we the victims fight back, but like I said earlier, this is just a mock fight. Nothing concrete comes out it. The warmongers make threats but the threat will not be carried out unless by the ill-willed and uninformed.
Another drumbeat that East Africa has heard very loudly lately, and is so loud in Kenya today, is the salsa dance beat that someone else will do it for you. Get the perpetrators to another man’s court. Get the International Criminal Court at The Hague to do the job. I call it a salsa dance because, like salsa, it is foreign but we think it will get our justice done. Maybe we could learn that the ICC is a good project, but for whom and by whom? We may take 50 years to arrest the culprits and take them to The Hague, but without the survivors’ witness it will be a pipe dream to get justice done. We could learn from Rwanda. 15 years down the line and less than 30 people convicted. You may have noticed that Sudan strong man is adamant that ICC can do him nothing.
The LRA strong man in Uganda says he won’t sign any peace deal if his name is among the wanted men by ICC. This drumbeat might look like a nice outfit, but is the survivor getting his deal right? The targeted big fish also happen to be well equipped, well resourced and some are even citizens of several countries so getting them can be another story. We are all aware of the reportedly wealthy Rwandan genocide sponsor who is staying in Kenya where he owns several estates; for him life is “business as usual”. Could this drumbeat provide false hope to the survivors of the deafening sound from a killer drum?
Ladies and gentlemen, one more drumbeat that kills our ears will not kill you if I mention it. Many have realized that humans cannot help them so they have turned to God for divine intervention and invocation of the spiritual. Many curse and hope their curses will have generational effect. They curse the perpetrators and wish their children and families will live to regret all their days or that they be doomed in the land they or their parents, grabbed, stole or acquired through dubious and illegal means. They call on God to “fix” their enemies. They conveniently quote the psalmist, “let God arise and our enemies not His be scattered. …Let them run in seven different directions (Psalm 68).” They cannot depend any more on humans. In fact they quote an Old Testament prophet “cursed is the man who puts his trust in man (Jer. 17:5)”. But like the great saints of old they still deal with the same old questions: “Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the unjust seem to have it easy? How come they trample on the poor and the innocent yet nobody does a thing”?. Their hope of God unleashing wrath on the unjust seems to fade away because they don’t see this happening in their generation and time and God seems to take His time. So it turns into despair, hopelessness, resignation and ultimately death of the spirit, heart and rejection of God.
We can openly conclude that these drumbeats above are not solving our problems. Some provide only false security or temporary satisfaction.
Wrong drumbeat or wrong drum?
We need to ask ourselves one key question: “Could it be that we are not just listening to the wrong drumbeat, could we actually be listening to the wrong drum”?. I want to suggest to you that we need to review the sound we have heard for too long. From the time the winds of political change leading to waves of independence started in the 50s, this continent has not known peace. Friends, 50 years is more than enough time to ask the serious question. Could it be that we have heard not just the wrong drumbeat but actually the wrong drum? Africa is known for her drums. The Asante Kingdom of Ghana was known for their talking drums. Again growing up in the rural Kenya, you would know the occasion or event by the drumbeat. You would know that it was Sunday because at 10am the church verger would beat the drum to tell people that it was time to go to church. The drum said that it was God’s time. The sound would tell you if it was a funeral, or a wedding. You could tell that it was the church bell and not the political rally drum.
Remaking the Drum
Is it, therefore, possible to critically look at the drum that has given the above beats that don’t seem to sort out our problems. I know that one can tell a lot by hearing the type of sound. We need to ask several fundamental questions and get answers so that, as a people of faith, we must have a solution. To get the solution we need, we must go back to the foundation upon which our faith and mission is based.
Lets go to the drum. What is our drum made of? Is it made of the crocodile skin of careless rhetoric, or the hippo’s skin of revenge? Could it have been made of the genuine leather of love, forgiveness and grace? Are we looking for a beautiful outfit like the snake skin of deceit or are we looking for the real buffalo skin of endurance? So can we go and see what our skin is made of.
Jesus Christ in many ways shows us how to deal with conflict. He gives us a 5-step model, which I call the Theology of Baraza drumbeat.
To make the drum we would need a wooden trunk: This trunk becomes the defining material that gives the drum the shape, size, and ultimately its sound. The trunk is Christ. He defines who we are and what we do. He gives us the message, our philosophy and agenda must be based on Him and his agenda. Like Christ the trunk comes hollow not with a hidden agenda ,but to be inculturated and incarnated in us and our community; it still remains the defining component of us, our faith and our mission. He is objective in the way he deals with our issues but remains focused and open-minded. He not only defines our mission but gives it clearly as we find in John:
This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
These things I command you, that ye love one another.
And Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians “We have been given the ministry of reconciliation”.
This is where we find our skin. Our skin is our mission. Our mission is what makes us sound different when we play the drum. It’s the heartbeat to our calling and purpose. The type of skin defines the type of sound. Our mission is reconciliation. This reconciliation must “remain”, last a long time and pass the test of time.
Reconciliation is sometimes defined as “to bring together those who are separated by conflict”. It means that they were once together but are now apart.
Now to make the drum, since we have found the trunk and the skin, we need strings to pull the skins at both of the entrances of the hollow trunk together. The strings were usually made of the same substance as the skin but thicker and stronger. We find these strings from Jesus’ commission and mandate to us in the above text in relation to the purpose of the sound we produce which is to call people together. Here we find our strings and they are five. These five strings pulled the skin together and this made the drum. It was the familiar drumbeat that called people to a Baraza. Baraza is a Kiswahili word for a local assembly. It was in this local assembly as was typical of the Luo people in rural western Kenya that the agenda of the community was discussed. People knew what was going to be discussed because they heard the drumbeat that was familiar. The drumbeat told people what the agenda was. They could tell whether it was a funeral, a new-born child celebration or a political meeting. The drumbeat brought the people together as a community. It’s based on this once togetherness that I pick up Jesus’ way of conflict resolution in relation to Baraza drumbeat.
The strings from Christ’s mandate are:
- Relationship: There was a relationship between the members of the community. They stood together with one another in all circumstances. This is seen in the way Jesus talks to his disciples: “I have loved you….” “You are not servants but friends”. Prophet Amos
- says “two cannot walk together unless they agree”. A prerequisite to understanding the community and dealing with its issues was that you are part of the community—there was relationship. Is this what the church confesses in our liturgy every time when we start the service? “We have come together the people of God…….”
- Conversation: The community appreciated the diversity within itself. They expected people to hold different opinions, but everyone was allowed to talk and share their ideas. There was room for everyone. In conflict resolution Jesus allowed the survivor and the perpetrator to talk to each other. Jesus taught his disciples “If your brother has anything against you go talk to him first”. Isaiah
- says “Come let us reason together”. Go, talk to the coming king with a stronger army Jesus insisted. Talk, talk and talk that seems to be so loud and with talking comes listening.
- Fellowship: This is a forum where people of the same mind, values, thought etc meet to share ideas and experiences. The Baraza created a forum for fellowship for the community. This meeting took place at the foot of a particular tree. Fernado Domingues
- calls it “The Tree of meeting”. Among the Luo the word fellowship has several meanings. It is translated as “One” or “Oneness”. In Luo the word fellowship is lalruok which also means something that goes round in cycles around one thing and attaches itself tightly to it. Fellowship is a forum in which people, as friends, brothers and sisters, share about their lives’s experiences. It’s here where people share one another’s burdens, weaknesses, strengths and encouragements. Like in the Baraza, this forum creates an opportunity for the community to be one.
- Appreciation of our uniqueness. We are all different and have various talents and gifts. The community allowed members to use their best qualities, skills and talents to enrich the life of the community. Jesus reminded the church in Revelations that he knew them and their strengths, but also appreciated their effort to do things differently. The church as a community of believers must uphold the basic principle that binds them together: The love factor. Jesus taught that without love it would be impossible to identify them. Stanley Grenz puts it this way “In a word, such community life is the life of love. And love is merely life in the community”.
- Among the Luo one’s identity was not based on individual name but on the whole community.
- Walking together with each other after forgiveness. This was, and is, the hardest part of community life—yet it is the best. Richard Gehman says “Forgiveness is costly and difficult. True forgiveness is the hardest thing in the universe, our idea of justice pulls the other way”. He goes further to say, “God’s forgiveness should motivate us to forgive others”.
- This would be the only evidence that there was a conflict resolved. The Luo called forgiveness wena – “Leave me or let me go”. It gave the prerogative of the final say to the victim after or during the forgiveness process. After forgiveness, with the community’s encouragement, that victim and the aggressor walked together. William Barclay in his book Turning To God identifies the following as the obligation of the church as was practiced by the Luo community, namely teaching, strengthening, admonishing and encouraging people to live together after forgiveness or conversion.
- Jesus best showed this by choosing Peter to be the Chief of the Apostles even after he denied him. In spite of his failing he was accepted back.
Stephen Covey says that leadership is not position but influence.
The church can show leadership in reconciliation, healing, peace building and conflict resolution through the above model which can be seen in what I have coined the Baraza drumbeat Theology. The Baraza, as we know it, is the gathering of the community, including the leadership to the smallest, to decide which way forward in the community. Like making the drum one needs to personalize the process of conflict resolution.
Baraza, like the church (ecclesia), is when we come together. We could borrow from the monastic life of the medieval Catholic monks. In the monastery when the monks sat to do business, it was the least whose opinion would be heard first. You were considered least either because you were the newest recruit, or youngest, or recently recovered from an experience, habit or an addiction. Traditionally, among the Luo, when someone had a complaint against another and you were brought to the Baraza, it was worse if the accuser was a woman. She would have to be heard and her story believed and the man had no favours.
I believe that the Baraza model is what President Paul Kagame used to sort out issues in Rwanda after the genocide of 1994 in dealing with perpetrators and victims.
The church over the years has used councils (read Baraza) to sort out her theological challenges. Today the earlier mentioned drumbeat won’t help deal with people’s issues until they are willing to sit down and give some Jesus drumbeat and Baraza to the process.
If you ever see a drum maker working on a drum, every part of his body gets involved. The legs held something, the hands worked, the eyes got busy. Everyone and every part is important. Let’s make a new drum to produce the beat that creates a Baraza theology, one that is all inclusive, allows all to talk, share and feel they belong and have a role to play.
In Kenya, honestly I have not heard the church trying to bring people together, to talk and sort out issues. They have loudly acknowledged the need for the International Criminal Court drumbeat, but how will that heal the hurting people in the village who don’t know of a Mr. Ocampo.
Some are so scared of their neighbours that, unless the church helps create a prevailing environment for Baraza theological model, not even the government will help. It’s the people in the villages who are hurting, not the rich powerful big shots in the offices and parliamentary offices in the cities.
The most important thing other than the sound of the drumbeat, it was also the beater of the drum that matters. It wasn’t just an ordinary person, but a special person. Today the church is that special person to beat the special drum that summons the community to a Baraza, under the tree of meeting of the old rugged cross of Calvary, for the healing, reconciliation, and unity of the community and the world.
May our drumbeat be heard in the world so that we lead them to the Baraza of life.
Barclay, William. Turning to God. Edinburgh: St Andrew Press, 1978.
Carlos, Falconi. The Silence of Pius XII. London: Faber and Faber, 1970.
Covey, Stephen R. The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. London: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Gehman, Richard. Learning to lead: The Making of a Christian Leaders in Africa. Nairobi: Oasis International, 2008.
Grenz, Stanley J. The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics. Downers Grove, Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1997.
Henry, Carl F.H. New Strides of Faith. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972.
Okullu, Henry. Bishop Quest for Justice. Kisumu, Kenya: Shalom, 1997.
Various Authors, (Ed. Department of Systematic Theology). Theology and Transformation of Africa. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2000.
White, John. Greater Than Riches. Downers Grove, Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1992.