Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas In Africa

Editor's Note: As a San Diego immigration lawyer, one of my pleasures is learning about cultures throughout the world.  In this post, a Nigerian colleague, Olusegun Iselaiye, explains facts about Christmas in Africa which may surprise you.

An Overview: Christianity in Africa

Unknown to much of the Western world, there are about 350 million Christians in Africa.  And Christmas is a main event, another fact commonly unknown by many Westerns - even Christians living in the Western world.

Celebrated on the 25th of December worldwide, Christmas is perhaps the world's most famous celebration.   But there are many different ways this holiday is celebrated, especially in Africa.

Some Christians in Africa - primarily those living in Ethiopia and Egypt - are called the Coptic Christians,  Their dogma sets forth a different calendar.  They celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January of every year.

Christmas In Nigeria

In Nigeria, where I live, many citizens return to their respective villages from within and outside Nigeria to celebrate Christmas with their families.

During Christmas in Nigeria, you can expect to see a combination of the following:
  • Fun-filled street carnivals characterized with so many attractions like barbecue, games, clowns, and even Santa Clause stands
  • Parties – ranging from birthday parties to wedding ceremonies. During this period, you can not get bored if you are the partying type because you’ll have events galore to attend
  • Well-decorated streets, offices, hotels, buildings, and homes.  Fake snows decorate the fronts of stores in the Christian communities while Christmas trees are seen throughout local neighborhoods.
  • The market places get clogged with different breeds of chicken – some even often resemble vultures because they’ve been roughly handled by their unrepentant sellers
  • In the night, you will see clusters of what we call “beer parlors”, in Nigeria, where people gather to relax their nerves over some bottles of beer with pepper soup, “suya”, “nkwobi,” and barbecue
  • Traffic jams due to so many church activities like conventions, anniversaries, conferences, and special season’s prayers, etc.
  • Fuel (gasoline) scarcity.  This usually results from hoarding because the independent dealers want to make more money during this special season
  • Several road accidents.  People get drunk with alcohol, and become extremely impatient with one another while on the roads and this causes a lot of accidents.
And lest I forget, Nigerians enjoy Christmas Carols, which generally start by December 1st. 

Christmas Eve In Africa

Many Africans enjoy this day more than Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve is known as “Slaughter Day” in Uganda because they kill cows and goats bought for the celebration.  In fact, marriages have broke up in Uganda when the male fails to buy a cow or goat for the celebration.

In Nigeria, Christmas Eve is known as “Watch Night Day” because Christians, upon returning from mass, watch home videos, and start making snacks like chin-chin or cake.

On Christmas Eve, there are parties in different places or people just hook up and have drinks together mostly with pepper soup or peppered roasted meat (suya).

Christmas Fireworks

Fireworks are a unique part of the Christmas celebration in Africa.

All the cities including remote villages in West Africa engage in what I call colossal fireworks.

The government has made several attempts to stop this but their attempts have proved futile.These fireworks sometimes cause much damage.  Some people have lost their lives, yet many people refuse to stop using fireworks. 

Christmas Season Cooking and Outings

In Ghana, Christmas is incomplete without fufu and okra soup.

People celebrate with bar-be-ques in South Africa, bread, jam and tea along with goat meat in Zimbabwe, and rice and beef in Liberia.

In Nigeria, jollof rice with chicken is highly favored but some  prefer pounder yam (iyan) with egusi soup.

All this cooking and eating is done usually after attending Christmas service in church.

After eating, it’s time for an outing - particularly for the kids who like to visit family members and friends,  who may give them money or gifts.

For children, they cherish this time because they get to show-off their special Christmas clothes.

Santa Claus

Children in Africa also believe in Santa Claus, just like their European and American counterparts.

In West Africa, Santa Claus is referred to, as “Father Christmas.”   Children enjoy being taken by their parents or elder ones to see “Father Christmas” who gives them a gift.

Christmas Gifts

The inhabitants of rural Africa are too poor to exchange quality gifts or to buy toys for their children as Christmas presents.

In West African, many Africans share Christmas meals with their neighbors and family who in turn, reciprocate the gesture.

The wealthier families engage in the gift buying and giving  culture of the Western World.

As you can see, there are different ways and styles in which Christmas is celebrated in Africa.  Like elsewhere, exactly how they celebrate Christmas depends on their cultural influences, geographical locations, religious teachings, and economic situations.

Merry Christmas To All!

Friday, May 7, 2010

MOSOPP's Cry For Help: Ethno-Religious Genocide Or Political And Economic Corruption?

When it comes to international issues, most Americans walk around with blinders. Despite a huge growth in news sources on the internet, there is a wide knowledge gap between domestic and international news in the United States.

This point was driven home a few weeks ago when I opened my email and found a letter from a Nigerian organization, the Movement for the Survical of Plateau People (MOSOPP) asking for protection against genocide. In the letter, MOSOPP claimed Christians were being exterminated due to their religious beliefs.

Although I am an immigration and asylum attorney, my knowledge about religious conflicts in Africa, like most Americans, is limited. My cases involving African refugees have not been based on religious persecution.

I was shocked by MOSOPP's plea but I realized if I wanted to help, I should first learn more about the nature of the conflict.

The Current Conflict In Jos

According to Time/CNN reporter Meg Handley, Nigerian officials asserted the recent killings of Christians, many of them women and children, was retaliation for clashes in the same city earlier this year in January. In the earlier massacres, Christians killed about 300 Muslims.

Since January the violence has continued. 400-600 people have died and 18,000 have been left homeless as a result of fighting between Muslims and Christians.

Largely unnoticed by the Western world, MOSOPP's cry for help had been building for several months.

A Historical Context

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, the eighth most populous country in the world.

Nigeria's population of 150 million people is divided into more than 250 ethnic groups and several different languages. Christians and Muslims account for an approximately equal share of the population.

The current conflicts have been centered in villages close to the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau State. Jos sits in the center of Nigeria's "middle belt," a cultural fault line dividing the country's Muslim north from the Christian south.

As a melting pot region, the major ethnic groups of Nigeria have usually coexisted peacefully. But they have violently collided at times. 700 died in 2001 and another 300 died in 2004 as a result of conflict between the two groups. The recent events have once again thrown Nigeria's problems into the spotlight.

Most outsiders attribute these conflicts to religious differences.

My initial reaction was similar. It's actually quite easy, and intellectually lazy, to assume a new Holy War is taking place when the combatants are Muslims and Christians.

I'm fortunate. Olusegun Iselaiye, who has assisted me with research projects pertaining to Africa in the past, quickly corrected my misperception. Responding to my inquiries, he wrote that "since most of the international community does not know the history of this age-long conflict, it is imperative to dig into the roots of such heinous and appalling acts" before jumping to conclusions.

A Flawed Religious-Based Perspective

Soon after the recent round of conflict began, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi suggested that Nigeria should be partitioned into two countries - one for Christians and one for Muslims.Gaddafi's comments were quickly rebuffed by Nigerian religous leaders.

On the Christian side, Methodist Reverend Sunday Ola Makinde noted, "The entire population of Muslims and Christians in this country has not shown any sign to say that they cannot peacefully coexist."

On the Islamic end, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at in Nigeria described Gaddafi's statement as unwarranted, and stressed Nigeria's needs a true federalism form of government.

Anthony Sani, the spokesperson for the Arewa Consultative Forum, a social cultural group, said Gaddafi's statement indicates he is ignorant of the fact that no Nigerian community has 100% of its inhabitants practicing solely Islam or Christianity.

In short, the violence in Jos is not a fight over the divine nature of Jesus or the prophethood of Mohammad.

Political And Economic Corruption

The deeper reasons for the violence in Jos stem from a scramble for land, scarce resources, and political clout. In Plateau State, Muslim cattle herders from the north and Christian farmers duel for control of the fertile plains. The religious and ethnic differences disguise the underlying problems.

Combined with corrupt politics, poverty and joblessness drive extremists from both sides to commit horrendous atrocities.

Although the nation rakes in billions of dollars in oil revenue annually, the majority of Nigerians scrape by on less than a dollar. A member of OPEC, Nigeria is the United States' largest trading partner in Sub-Sahara Africa and supplies the U.S. with one-fifth of its' oil needs.

In the view of Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development at the Cranfield School of Management, oil companies have pitted ethnic factions against one another for economic gain.

And political corruption seems to know no bounds. Olusegun Obasanjo, the immediate past President of Nigeria, openly acknowledged voting fraud and other electoral lapses. Today he is one of the wealthiest persons in the African continent, a status which, according to some sources, was obtained largely through unaccounted public funds stolen while he was in office.

Answering MOSOPP's Call: The Transformation of Nigeria

MOSOPP's request for assistance, properly understood, reaches far beyond mere ethnic and religious boundaries. Yet, at least initially, the call to action is one which Nigerians must address internally. This is not a simple task.

The problems facing his country, my friend Iselaiye writes, run so deep that Nigerian citizens must rise "to a new level of consciousness."

Nigeria, he asserts, must forge a new political, economic, ethnic, and religious paradigm that allows his country to take its place as a viable international participant in the 21st century.

As Americans committed to liberty and equality, we should remain vigilant to calls for help from oppressed peoples anywhere in the world. But we need to make sure that when we jump in, ours is not an emotional and knee jerk, but a rational and moral, response.

Especially when the nation undergoing turmoil is contributing so much to the well-being of our own society.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Misguided Immigration Attorneys And Reverse Brain Drain

I am strongly pro-immigrant. I want immigrants, especially from poorer countries, to have the same opportunities as those of us from richer nations.

But I'm torn on the issue of professional visas.

My discomfort arises from the dog-eat-dog attitude displayed by some immigration lawyers.

They decry the loss of skilled immigrants because these workers will return to their home countries and perhaps work for U.S. competitors. They've even invented a term for this situation. They call it reverse brain drain.

Their position, at best, is disingenuous. When professionals from poor countries go home, their wages will not increase.

What Is Brain Drain?

Brain Drain refers to a large scale exodus of talented persons moving from one region to a different region to pursue higher paying careers and better living conditions. The exodus occurs from poorer areas to richer areas.

Brain Drain Writ Small: A Personal Example

I was raised in Barrio Logan, a poor Hispanic area in San Diego, California. I left as a teenager. Upward mobility needed no justification. Moving out was a no-brainer. A nicer neighborhood. A bigger house. A better car.

My body may have left my old neighborhood. But not my soul.

A large part of my motivation to succeed was a desire to improve the conditions for those left behind. The memories of learning to ride a bike, playing marbles, and chomping on watermelon with buddies on a hot summer day are special memories. To this day, my old neighborhood has a special place in my heart.

When I moved out, I left with optimism - optimism that somehow, someday, I would return as a San Diego immigration attorney with skills to make things better for my family and the families of my friends.

It's not quite that easy with immigrants from poor neighborhoods in another country.

Brain Drain Writ Large: The Agony Of Skilled Immigrants

I've been fortunate. I live close to areas resembling my old neighborhood. I can still fulfill my dream to help those stuck in poor areas like where I once lived.

Not so with foreign scholars and professionals. They cannot live in both worlds at once. They cannot continue to live in the U.S. after college graduation and at the same time help their local communities. The distance is not just a few miles.

Their choices are harder than mine.

Of course, some immigrants do not want to return home. As an international relations student and immigration lawyer, I learned many would cherish the opportunity to go home and make it a better place for others.

Competition Is Not The Answer

I don't agree with immigration attorneys who base their support for professional visas on fears of making U.S. competitors stronger.

This position shows me a lack of concern for helping less fortunate countries. This position glorifies our economic superiority as the only thing that matters.

Certainly, we need more skilled workers to meet our demands in various professions. Poor countries have the same needs.

The answer to the shortage is not to try to keep the best and brightest just for ourselves. Instead, we need to develop international education and training programs which strengthen the emerging global economy. We need to share workers. We need to share skills. We need to share technology and resources. By sharing, perhaps we could end the global economic mess sooner.

If we are ever to have global peace and harmony, cooperation, not competition, is the key.

In my view, immigration attorneys should help others, across oceans and continents, because we are all brothers and sisters. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Peace, Politics, And The Noble Candidacy of Morgan Tsvangirai

Like many, I was surprised to learn President Obama had won the 2010 Noble Peace Prize.

And I was more surprised to learn his victory was not universally celebrated by African leaders.  

Accustomed to being accorded second class status, several Africans felt Obama's victory minimized the leadership and courage of one of their own: Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

This position was echoed by others knowledgeable about African politics.

The Daily Kos wrote:

"The Nobel Peace Prize is about who you are, not who you aren't."

"9 months ago, Barack Obama was the junior senator from Illinois, and I hope that over the next 39 (hopefully 87) months he does something to earn the award, but there is simply no comparison between his actions to date (less than 9 months) to the years long efforts of Morgan Tsvangirai . . .  on behalf of peace, reconciliation, and justice."

Tsvangirai's record is clear.

For over a decade, he has challenged Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe - one of the world's most ruthless dictators.  Tsvangirai has been repeatedly arrested, jailed, and tortured.  He has survived three assassination attempts.  Condemning human rights violations, Tsvangirai has consistently urged peaceful solutions to his country's problems.

In 2002 and 2008 he ran against Mugabe for the presidency.  Both elections were marred by massive fraud.  Despite winning the 2008 election, Tsvangirai was denied the presidency by Mugabe.  Soon after the election ended, Mugabe began to punish his opponent's supporters.  Tsvangirai stayed the course.  Eventually, an agreement was reached with Mugabe and the two share power.

Writing in Brown University's Daily Herald, Dominic Mhiripiri, a student who grew up in African, explained the Noble Peace Prize denial of Tsvangirai's candidacy:

"I took Obama's Nobel success with a personal dimension," notes Mhiripiri, "as it denied a similar triumph for a bold and courageous countryman whose sacrifice has been a beacon of hope in the storied struggle for democracy in my country and across the African continent."

"In risking his life for his country, Tsvangirai has slowly established himself as the face of an emerging brand of 21st-century African leaders who value peace and democracy more than personal power, recognition, and wealth."

Although living in a part of the world often neglected by the major powers, Tsvangirai's actions deserve world wide acclaim.

Hopefully, his merits will be fully considered when the Committee makes it next selection. 

By: Carlos Batara, United States, and Olusegun Iselaiye, Nigeria

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why Diversity Fusion?

We live in a global community.

Thanks to technology, we can read and learn about people and events in far away places within the blink of a second.

But we do not behave as a global community.

For most, loyalties are narrow.  Nationalism still reigns supreme.  On major worldwide issues -- from global warming to nuclear proliferation -- our views rarely extend beyond the prevailing opinions expressed inside our country's physical borders.

We remain dependent, consciously or subconsciously, on national leaders and media personalities for guidance on these issues.    Our opinions are limited.  Limited by a narrow national scope.

We have the ability to perceive more, understand deeper, and comprehend greater.

Why not reach out to our brothers and sisters living in other parts of the world?

On issues of the world, why not listen to each other without the filters of national political and media agendas?

Why not use technology as the gift that it is?

Which brings us to this blog, DiversityFusion.

Diversity, as a political definition, refers to people of different backgrounds.

As a political policy, diversity reflects a tolerance for individuals of different background.

This is not enough.

Fusion embraces the merging of different elements into a new union, a new whole.

DiversityFusion is the merging of people's opinions from different ethnic, cultural, religious, and regional backgrounds into new and unique perspectives on world affairs. 

This blog hopes to help address that need.

We may not always agree, but we can share.

In sharing, may a new fusion emerge.