The Gospel’s relational cure to increasing tribalism

On our  trip through the USA this summer, I began to sense that as Africa becomes more global and cosmopolitan, my native America was growing more fractured and tribal. Stereotypically speaking, in Africa relationships almost always come first. With globalization, the circle of those relationships is rapidly expanding. Increasingly in America, ideology can trump relationship and end friendship. In my environment here in Nairobi, I can move from one  radically different cultural context to another within minutes, but those shifts pale in comparison to the whiplash I felt going from one isolated American tribe to another (e.g. moving from Christian Obama lovers to Christian Obama haters.) There were times I felt like if I dared disagree, the conversation might end instantly.

In a recent TED talk, Eli Pariser argued that  internet filters (Google, Facebook, etc.) will only accelerate that fragmentation/tribalization.

OR watch his talk on the TED page http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

What is the answer to this perennial human blight?

At GospelFutures, Neil Williams suggests that an inbuilt critique to tribalism is seen in the life of Jesus and the gospel story–relational tranformation–a just life (the concluding post to his a series on relational transformation.)

…What relationships are the hardest to transform? Where is relational failure most evident? An answer is suggested in Jesus’s words to his disciples, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:46-47).

…It is difficult to read and interact with the accounts of Jesus without noticing his relational integrity with and love for outsiders. [Neil lists a few examples from the Gospels.] …If there was one thing that riled up people, it was Jesus’s relationship with outsiders…So the gospel story has an inbuilt critique and challenge to exclusive clubs. The appeal is to transform these most difficult and problematic of relationships…

Neil also anticipates some objections: “Does this mean giving up our beliefs, values, and identity? And what about our theological reasons for exclusion?”

At a minimum: Make, keep, and love friends who see the world differently than you do and disagree with you–especially those who are likely to be marginalized by your tribe. It’s not easy, but it’s the Jesus thing to do.

Kibera’s not as big as we thought

Kibera is not as heavily populated as many (most?) people have been saying. This is old news (last year), but it’s gotten some recent attention  at Humanitarian info (for some reason, I can’t see the actual post; I only see the comments). See also Africa Research Institute’s Urban Africa by Numbers.

Daily Nation: By MUCHIRI KARANJA pmuchiri@ke.nationmedia.com
Posted  Friday, September 3  2010 at  22:30

It has been billed as Africa’s biggest slum and even by some accounts, the world’s largest. Some say it is home to two million people, others a million.

But the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census results released this week make everything you have heard about the size of Kibera improbable. Numbers do not lie, and figures from the 2009 census indicate that Kibera barely makes it to Nairobi’s largest slum.

According to the census figures, the eight locations that form Kibera slums combined host a paltry 170,070. These include Lindi, the largest, with 35,158 people; Kianda (29,356); Laini Saba (28,182); Makina (25,242); Gatwikira (24.991); Siranga (17,363); and Kibera (9,786)…

…Another major city slum, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, in Nairobi West with 130,402 people is slowly edging towards the largest slum in Kenya status. Throw in Mathare slum in Nairobi North with 87,097 people and you begin to understand why Kibera has never been Africa’s largest slum.

For a long time Kibera has been touted as Africa’s largest slum, with various ‘experts’ putting its population at anything between one and two million. But the slum does not hold a candle to India’s Pharavi with one million. Brazil’s Rocinha Farela with a quarter million is probably the closest rival…

…As for thousands of foreign visitors who trooped in to see the “Biggest-Slum-in-Africa:” You swallowed one big lie, hook and bait!

Read the whole article.

Brian Ekdale responded to the Daily Nation article with What’s in (a Name and a Number?) He offers a history of Kibara and just defended his dissertation on the subject (congratulations!): “Creativity and Constraint in Self-Representational Media: A Production Ethnography of Visual Storytelling in a Nairobi Slum.”:

First, I argue that the dominant discourse about Kibera that is constructed and circulated by authors, journalists, NGOs, and unawares is hyperbolic and simplistic. I explore this discourse by speaking with Kibera residents about the disconnect they see between their lived experiences and the representations of their community offered by non-residents and the media….[abstract]

So how did we get the million figure?

“In the absence of actual data (such as an official census), NGO staff make a back-of-envelope estimate in order to plan their projects; a postgraduate visiting the NGO staff tweaks that estimate for his thesis research; a journalist interviews the researcher and includes the estimate in a newspaper article; a UN officer reads the article and copies the estimate into her report; a television station picks up the report and the estimate becomes the headline; NGO staff see the television report and update their original estimate accordingly.” (source: www.humanitarian.info via Map Kibera see also Kibera’s Census)

Although I’ve been into Kibera a number of times for various reasons (including my day in Kibera court), the population “figure” mostly comes to mind when I’m driving a foreign visitor down a stretch of Langata Road, near Wilson Airport, where you get a good, panoramic view of all the roofs. I’ve commented more than once that this is “supposedly the largest slum in Africa…they say about a million people live there.”

I guess now I know better now.

Update (17 Aug. 2012): 

See now Martin Robins, “The missing millions of Kibera” (The Guardian, Aug. 1)

…A quick search on Google finds page after page of estimates in or around the same ball-park. The White House reckon it’s “just about 1.5 million”, while the BBC claim 700,000. Jambo Volunteers say “more than one million.” The rather sickly-sounding Global Angels reckon “around 1 million.” The Kibera Tours website describes “a population estimated at one million.” The Kibera Law Centre gives “almost 1 million.”Shining Hope for Communities reckon that Kibera “houses 1.5 million people.” The Kibera Foundation talk about “a population of almost a million people,” as do Kibera UK and about a hundred other sites you can find through your friendly neighbourhood search engine.

…Kibera consists of around two square miles of densely-clustered, single story shacks. For the White House’s estimate to be accurate, Kibera’s cluttered streets and labyrinthine alleyways would have to support a population density thirty times higher than the towering skyscrapers of New York…

He too cites the above studies:

Hence the shock when a census by the Kenyan government found only 170,000 residents, a count probably not much higher than the number of NGOs that have swarmed into the area. It isn’t easy counting the transient population of an informal settlement, and of course the government don’t have a fantastic record on Kibera – if they did, it wouldn’t exist – but their figures fit reasonably well with those produced by others. The Map Kibera Project used sampling to produce an estimate of 235,000-270,000, while KeyObs deployed the cold, hard gaze of a satellite to produce an estimate of around 200,000. These more accurate figures have suffered the fate that tends to befall most inconvenient truths; they have been widely ignored.

Religious Restrictions Rising (Pew)

A recent Pew study shows that religious restrictions have risen for over 1/3 of the world’s population between 2006-2009. More than 2.2 billion people – nearly a third (32%) of the world’s total population of 6.9 billion are facing greater religious restrictions. See Executive Summary for more details.

 

Among the five geographic regions covered in this report, the Middle East-North Africa had the highest government and social restrictions on religion, while the Americas were the least restrictive region on both measures. The Middle East-North Africa region also had the greatest number of countries where government restrictions on religion increased from mid-2006 to mid-2009, with about a third of the region’s countries (30%) imposing greater restrictions. In contrast, no country in the Americas registered a substantial increase on either index.

In China, there was no change in the level of government restrictions on religion, which remained very high. But social hostilities involving religion, which had been relatively low, increased substantially from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

Love outlasts fear and ignorance

I’ve come to believe Love doesn’t outright defeat fear and ignorance as much as it simply outlasts them. No matter how much you give, our little neighborhood fellowship will never overcome the culture of poverty surrounding us. We are just the Resistance, wreaking compassionate havoc where and when we can, waiting for a much stronger force to come finish the job…In the meantime, we try not to push too hard, for fear of burning ourselves out. – Bart Campolo.

For some reason, this comment comforted me. Maybe it has something to do with coming back from a three and a half month tour of North America (the longest I’ve been in the US in nine years) to a place where I’m surrounded by friends feeling the effects of poverty.

The wonderful mystery of creation

My friend Simon writes:

Throughout their existence, humans declared that things they did not understand were the work of the divine. The blazing sun, without fail, appeared and disappeared by an unseen eternal locomotion…Then, as our race began to understand complexity, we began to declare we had found the reasons for these things. The sun, who previously could humble and blind us by its own power, was reduced to a dumb mechanical looping ball of hot stone. Our methods invented good vaccinations and movable type, yet bleached the world of its color. A thing’s value suddenly was established by its utility. Wordsworth saw this, lowered his eyes and muttered, “We murder to dissect.”

We have not ended the place of wonder but pushed it. The boundary where we are delighted by what we do not understand has been relegated by our scientific arrogance away from life’s center. Yet it can appear if we take enough time to stare with an open heart. This is because, thankfully, there is no end to anything. Small things are made of smaller things, tiny weaved of the tinier. Down and down the composition goes….

I want to pull the place of wonder back to where it was, back to the exhilaration of dipping my finger in the lake, back to stories of aflame angels appearing over flocks at night, back until it collapses over everything. We were right all along. The world is steeped in unknowns, and by extension is thick with miracles. This roiling race of hominids may seek to find stability by exhuming the world’s mechanism, but when will they learn that peace is found in wonder? When will we see that love of creation and Creator, the path to the planet’s health, is less a math equation than a romance?…

Read Simon’s full reflection (20 May 2010).