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Religious Freedom in Africa at The International Religious Freedom Summit July 13 – July 2021. By Lambert Mbom.

Washington D.C. — According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2021 Report released last April 2021, Eritrea and Nigeria are the two African countries of the ten recommended for designation as “Countries of Particular Concern” while Algeria and Egypt had the dubious distinction of landing on the “Special Watch List” and non-state actors Al Shabaab, the terrorist jihadist fundamentalist group based in Somalia and operating in East Africa and Yemen, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara based in Mali and Niger as “entities of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

Against the backdrop of the foregoing and the fact that “Religious freedom touches every culture, nation, religion, and political system” with over 80 percent of the world living in countries “where there are high levels of governmental or societal restrictions on religion, and restrictions have been steadily increasing for several years” that the United States of America convened the first International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington D.C. from Wednesday July 13th through Thursday July 15th 2021.

During this summit that brings together a coalition and seeks to expand it to advance the respect for the right to religious freedom, Africa will feature on the agenda. On its first day, one side event spotlighted Nigeria. Organized by Save the Persecuted Christians, a grassroots organization educating and highlighting the persecution of Christians worldwide, the event sought to highlight the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. The session entitled “Stop the Slavery and Slaughter in Nigeria” addressed the question: Who is funding the violence in Northern Nigeria against Christians. Follow the money to uncover why Nigeria is unraveling, unceasing religious based attacks fueled the enslavement of Nigerian women and girls.

Dr Gloria Puldu, President of the Leah Sharibu Foundation named after Leah Sharibu one of the girls abducted by Boko Haram still being held in captivity because of her faith epitomizes the faith of girls and women in Northern Nigeria, Stephen Enada of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) and Alheri Bawa Magaji, Resilient Aid and Dialogue Initiative were among panelists detailing the horror stories of religious persecution of Christians by Muslims and fulanis in Northern Nigeria.

The Family Research Council, the conversative Washington-based thinktank shall host a breakout session on Wednesday July 14th, 2021, at 1;45pm on the theme: “Africa’s Violent Christian Persecution: A Danger to the World” which will examine the causes of the escalating dangers on the continent, featuring eyewitness accounts from survivors and expert analysis of how the international community should respond.

Wednesday’s sponsored Dinner by ADF International will highlight the grave challenges facing Nigeria regarding the protection of religious freedom and the necessity of a sustained and well supported international effort to turn the tide against the violence and discrimination ravaging the country. USCIRF’s designation of Nigeria as a country of particular concern is a recognition of the dire situation facing religious minorities in Northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt. Rev Johnnie Moore, Author of the book, “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa,” Bishop Dr Sunday N Onuoha, of the Nigerian Methodist Church and founder of Vision of Africa, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the diocese of Sokoto in Northern Nigeria and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council are the witnesses whose voices shall bellow on the issue.

On Thursday, Joy Bishara, a Nigerian Survivor Chibok Girl shall share her testimony during the Morning Plenary Session on IRF in Economy, National Security and Accountability while Nigerian Prelate Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah shall speak on the panel discussing The Rising Tide of Religious Nationalism”

Why I am rooting for England against Italy in Euro 2020 Final? By Lambert Mbom

In a few hours, the Euro 2020 will be in the history books when Italy meets with England. And not that it matters, supporting either one or the other the difference shall be made by the soccer wizardry, technical savvy of managers and players and sheer luck.

It is not just out of sympathy that the Three Lions have not had any luck and savoir faire to bring home any title in 55 years that is driving my support for the English team. By the way, it seems awkward that with the nonchalance of the Brits towards the problem in Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) that they caused in the first place, I would be supporting them. The mess the Brits left post colonialism is nauseating and in fact the carnage going in the fight for freedom by the former colony is unforgivable and may need the absolution of the Vatican if the Italians could have the courage to ask. Yes, but let us not mix politics and soccer. Soccer is about entertainment.

I must confess that I have never watched any soccer game of the Italian soccer league which by the way has been home to many African immigrants. What is more, I am Catholic and the seat of Catholicism, the Vatican in Rome is in Italy but this is not enough to win my support for the Italian team.

In 2006, I visited Rome and Florence and saw firsthand the plight of African immigrants which left me aghast. Ten years later matters came to a head with the Lampedusa disaster where 366 African migrants lost their lives en route to Italy and am not blaming the receiving country for this.

What is even more sinister is the fact that Italy is one of those teams that has pure European lineage with no African/Black player in its ranks though they have the distinction of having lured a Brazilian to become Italian and play for them. Yes, one may shoot back that this is European soccer!

Most Sundays many African immigrants watch the English Premier League (EPL)! I am a Manchester United fan and have been for years. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham are the most popular teams amongst African immigrants! Many African immigrants own and proudly don the paraphernalia of these clubs and of course the rivalry, virtual and verbal is part of the daily menu for most of us!

There are currently four Manchester United players with the English team: Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire Marcus Rashford, and Sancho! Two of these have been spectacular throughout the competition.

The English team’s composition reflects the multiracial world we live in! Of course, Nigerian heritage cannot be missing from the picture with the brilliance of the young Bukayo Saka! The bulldozer Kyle Walker of Jamaican descent, Tyrone Mings whose father is from Barbados, the electric Raheem Sterling of Jamaican descent, the daring Rashford with St Kitts parentage, master dribbler Jordan Sancho with parents from Trinidad and Tobago, Kalvin Phillips of Jamaican descent and Calvert-Lewin are the many blacks who have lifted the Three Lions to their first final in a major soccer competition.

The story of England’s soccer team’s successful bid this far is one made possible because of migration. And as Stephen Frost notes in his article “The England Football Team, Diversity and Leadership” in Forbes “The London Migration Museum has run a campaign to remind us that without immigration the England team as we know it would not exist.” 

England’s team is a true reflection of the Commonwealth just as the French team is of the Francophonie. Yet, I could never support the French team because of the influence of France and its strangle effect on African economies and politics. The English have the opposite approach.

The challenge now is for the society to follow the example of its soccer team. When the Euro Cup comes home, let the glory of the title trickle down to the society so that in the index of racism, England might score better. Is it not reflective of the English that during the pregame anthem some have booed at players for taking a knee in demonstration of their fight against racial injustice? Or even the fact that black players like Marcus Rashford are often taunted when their performances at club level are perceived not to have delivered the goods. Racial slurs and nasty reference to color become the dominant show of disdain. This is just scratching the surface.

In 2019 when I visited my sister and her family, I had the rare privilege of dining with some priests from the archdiocese of Bamenda studying and working within the diocese of Portsmouth that has had a long-standing relationship with Bamenda. Stories of racist taunts against some of them demonstrated the deeply ensconced anti-black and anti-African reality of the English.

The glory of the cup coming home and not going to Rome will find true value when the virtue of tolerance becomes a pillar of the English society. If soccer is the gift of the English to the world and given the religious value of soccer in most African countries, herewith an opportunity for the English to avail of to check their racial biases and idiosyncrasies.

Good luck to the Three Lions and bring home the trophy!

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