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Hallo again to all.

Last week we reflected on the negative influence that improved global communication has had on the Anglican world, beginning with the transatlantic telegraph a century and a half ago. Since so much of the global Anglican news this week is about the fate of Anglicans in Zimbabwe, we thought it would be in order to reflect on the positive side.

Nolbert Kunonga
Nolbert Kunonga

In case you've not been following the story (most AO readers live more than 5000 km from Zimbabwe), we'll summarize. In 1997 the Diocese of Harare held an election for a bishop to replace Peter Hatendi upon his retirement. History has not recorded whether the election was fair, but we note that there were actually two candidates. One candidate was Nolbert Kunonga, described even by his friends as a 'rabid' supporter of Zimbabwe's ruling political party. The other candidate, Timothy Neill, was strongly opposed to the rule of that party (ZANU-PF) and Zimbabwe's president-for-life Robert Mugabe, about whom you have probably heard. As usually happens in countries run by dictators, the pro-government candidate won the election and Nolbert Kunonga became Bishop of Harare.

Mr Kunonga was removed as bishop in January 2008 by a special synod in the Province of Central Africa, but did not take it well. Within a month, Mr Kunonga took over the diocesan cathedral with an armed militia and set it up as his headquarters. That was the first salvo in what has turned into a 3-year terror campaign against the Anglican church there. This report in The New York Times is a good summary of the state of Zimbabwe's Anglican churches in May 2011. The Zimbabwean recently concluded that Mr Kunonga had stolen US$40 million worth of properties from the Province of Central Africa. The Zimbabwe Independent opined that 'Kunonga is a mere cog in the ZANU-PF wheel' and that he was clearly just doing the bidding of the ruling political party, that he was 'not his own man'.

Rowan Williams
Rowan Williams
Hundreds of churches have been seized, hundreds of thousands of churchgoers have been displaced, inconvenienced, or terrorized. Someday thousands of pages will be written in history books (history media?) describing this terrible time, but for now we're going to let those two paragraphs stand for all of the mayhem and state-approved violence in Zimbabwe during the last three years.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, made a trip to the Province of Central Africa last week. The primary motivation for that trip was a visit to Harare and a meeting with Zimbabwe's ruler Robert Mugabe. We must admit that we were skeptical. Dr Williams is not known for his performance in battle, and we couldn't imagine Mr Mugabe taking kindly to an Englishman dressing him down*.

But the clever Archbishop had a secret weapon. The day before his meeting with Robert Mugabe, he held a public worship service in a sports stadium that the Christian Post reports was attended by more than 15,000 people, presumably Anglicans who had been forced out of their churches by Mr Kunonga's thugs. He was well received, the crowd was jubilant, and the Holy Spirit was everywhere. What's the scripture? 'Whenever ten or fifteen thousand are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.' No, that's not exact, but you get the point. When Dr Williams met with Mr Mugabe to discuss Anglican grievances, he carried the power of the Holy Spirit reflected 15,000 different ways. No bully can stand up to that. Even Pilate didn't manage it, though for a while he thought he had.

Paul Baran
Paul Baran
Within a day or two, newspapers started reporting headlines such as 'Teachers reinstated at Zim mission schools' or 'Zimbabwe high court overturns ruling used to seize Anglican properties'. Something worked. This is by no means over (Kunonga spokesman Bishop Alfred Munyanyi said his faction will appeal the ruling, and in the meantime will keep seizing properties) but it seems to us that the tide has probably turned. Well done, Dr Williams.

What does any of this have to do with improved global communication? President-for-life Mugabe knew that the whole world was watching, that millions of people would have reports within minutes. There's no longer a principle 'whatever happens in Africa stays in Africa'. Dr Williams carried that bright light with him too. His even knowing about what was going on in Zimbabwe would not have been possible twenty-five years ago. When Mr Mugabe took control of Zimbabwe there were a few telephone lines going in and out of the country, and some radio stations that were easy for the state to control. Information was his. Now, for better or for worse, information belongs to the world. Even false information. If someone does something newsworthy at a cathedral in Harare, soon a thousand people in fifty countries will know about it and start discussing it and writing about it and forming opinions about it. Soon, everyone who cares will know about it. No country can live in isolation, and no country can keep secrets. This is an inevitable and irreversible consequence of easy global electronic communication, and, yes, it began with the transatlantic telegraph cable.

See you next week. A week seems like an eternity these days, doesn't it.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

16 October 2011

*Yes, we know that Rowan Williams is Welsh, not English, but the distinction is lost on much of the world.

Note: We are grateful to George Relyea for sending us photographs of a section of the original Atlantic Cable that was awarded to his grandfather, a telegraph operator from Cheshire.

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