Pakistan’s loneliest church celebrates Christmas in Taleban country
Pakistan’s loneliest church celebrates Christmas in Taleban country
“The lights are all up, and the choir boys are ready. The church is looking its best,” said 60-year-old Alam, a former missionary who has celebrated his last ten Christmases there. “There’s not much left to do but to pray and rejoice.”
Outsiders might see little cause for joy. Pakistan is the sixth most dangerous country in the world for minorities, says London-based watchdog Minority Rights Group International. Christians, Shiite Muslims and Ahmadis are victims of a rising tide of deadly attacks.
But Alam’s church, and the homes of most of his 200 parishioners, are nestled inside a Pakistani army base in South Waziristan, a mountainous region that was a hotbed of militancy until a military offensive in 2009.
“When the US went into Kabul, things became bad for everyone. But we are safe here. The army protects us,” says Shaan Masih, who helps clean the church and likes to play the drums and sing carols.
For two decades, the church was little more than a room and the tiny community worshipped there under light protection. In 2009, the army set up a base in South Waziristan as part of the offensive against the insurgency and invited the church inside.
“It was a longstanding demand of the community to be given a proper space,” Col. Atif Ali, a military officer, told Reuters during a rare trip to the region arranged by the military.
Many of the Christians work for the army in clerical or domestic positions. So far, they have been sheltered from the bombings, raids and drone strikes, violence that rocks the region on an almost daily basis.
Less than a 100 miles away (160 km) lies North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan and one of the last areas controlled by the Pakistani Taleban.
The United States has repeatedly urged Pakistan to launch an operation against militants sheltered there including remnants of Al-Qaeda and Pakistani groups targeting the nation’s minorities.
Pakistan says it is doing everything it can to fight the militancy and needs to consolidate the campaign in South Waziristan before opening a new front.
The small blue and white church building has been freshly painted and the main hall covered in new ceramic tiles. A small chandelier hangs from the ceiling and a cloth spread over the altar reads: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The church’s gratitude to the army is expressed in a sign outside thanking Ali for his help with the renovation.
“Now it is much easier and convenient for them to worship. The new building is close to their homes. They are very happy with us,” he said.
While Christians elsewhere in the country are lowering their profile, community members here mix freely with their Muslim neighbors. Their children attend the same schools and neighbors go to each others’ weddings and funerals.
When five Christians from Waziristan were kidnapped by the Taleban on their way to the plains of Punjab in 2009, pressure from the army and the community helped free them.
“There are lots of Muslims in our neighborhood,” said 30-year-old Saleem Masih, another church helper. “We take part in each other’s happiness and sorrow. Christmas is coming. You’ll see the Muslims will join us.”
Relations between Pakistan’s Christians and Muslims are not always so harmonious. Rimsha Masih, a teenage Christian girl, was accused of blasphemy in Islamabad earlier this year in a case that underlined the climate of fear and suspicion that minorities face.
Masih was eventually cleared of the charges, but many of her neighbors fled their homes and her family is still in hiding. Nine Christians were killed after a similar accusation in 2009 and mobs frequently lynch anyone accused of blasphemy before they can get to court.
That’s one reason why Christians in South Waziristan say they feel safer in their army base than living in Pakistan’s capital, where they are vulnerable to accusations from anyone who covets their homes or businesses.
But the main reason, says pastor Alam, is their trust in their neighbors, ordinary Muslims who are also living under the shadow of war.
“If there is one person who kills, there are also so many who protect. We couldn’t live here if Muslims didn’t give us protection,” said Alam.
“Don’t forget: where there is bad, there is always good also.”
Nigeria sees a rush to get Nollywood online
- Nollywood is home to the world’s second biggest movie industry in terms of production behind Hindi-language Bollywood.
- A viable economic model for the promoters of Nollywood online still needs to be found, given the lack of widespread high-speed Internet coverage
LAGOS, Nigeria: A glamor blogger, a filmmaker and a tech mogul are competing to create a homegrown African rival to Netflix, but poor Internet connections and intense competition are proving daunting obstacles.
They dream of popularizing access to films made in Nigeria, which is home to the world’s second biggest movie industry in terms of production behind Hindi-language Bollywood.
With nearly $4 billion in revenue and almost 2,000 productions every year, films made in what is known as Nollywood are largely sold on the streets and to idling motorists caught in traffic as pirated copies for just a few dollars.
Local start-ups and Nollywood stars understand the interest in changing the distribution of films that are hugely popular across Africa, where cinemas are few and far between.
With such a huge potential market, video-on-demand platforms have sprung up in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and home to the country’s film industry.
And competition is already fierce.
Blogger Linda Ikeji — one of Nigeria’s biggest names on social networks — recently launched Linda Ikeji TV (LITV) to great fanfare.
It offers dozens of films, series and programs inspired by US shows but with a Nollywood twist for a monthly fee of 1,000 naira ($2.80).
“We are hoping to be to Africa what Netflix is to the world,” Ikeji wrote on her Instagram page, which has some two million followers.
She promised glamor, sass and humor, particularly with reality shows such as “Football Wives” or “Highway Girls of Eko,” “a show on real-life prostitutes” in Lagos.
The 37-year-old former model-turned-businesswoman made her fortune through advertising revenue on her site, which tracked the lives of Nigeria’s rich and famous.
She said she had invested “half-a-billion naira” of capital in the project. As well as buying video, she is also making original content from her own studios in Lagos.
Before the end of the year, Nigerian company Envivo is expected to launch its own platform with an initial investment of more than $20 million, said filmmaker Chioma Ude, who is the firm’s marketing director.
“(US telecoms giant) Cisco wants a big footprint in Africa, and as our technical partner, they will provide all the technology, from the network to the video compressions, etc.,” the founder of the Africa International Film Festival said.
A viable economic model for the promoters of Nollywood online still needs to be found, given the lack of widespread high-speed Internet coverage.
Only 34 percent of Africans have Internet access compared with more than 50 percent in the rest of the world, according to the 2018 Global Digital report.
But Africa showed the biggest progression in Internet users last year, especially through mobile telephones.
Serge Noukoue, organizer of the annual Nollywood Week in Paris, said price was everything and the African consumer wanted to pay “as little as possible” to watch a film.
“Even iROKOtv, the pioneer on the continent, doesn’t really make a profit,” he said.
“They have had a lot of success in fundraising but what subscribers actually bring in is less conclusive.”
Jason Njoku founded iROKOtv in 2010 but said he made a mistake to count on streaming from the start. “It simply couldn’t work,” he explained.
“Data costs were prohibitive, as is access to reliable broadband across huge swathes of the continent. Our customer service team was inundated with queries.
“We totally rebuilt our product and rebuilt our entire company around the African consumer and their habits.”
That led to an application that ate less data and which allows free mobile downloads of video files.
There is original content, while films have also been subtitled in French, Swahili and Zulu to make them more accessible to other African countries.
Competitors have emerged elsewhere in Africa in recent years, including Kenya’s BuniTV ($5-a-month) or South Africa’s Magic Go ($8-a-month).
“If these online platforms don’t make money yet they’re a bet on the future for when connections are better,” said Noukoue.
“A lot of projects have been created but there will not be room for everyone in the market in the long term. Competition will be fierce.”
Giants of the sector such as Netflix, which in 2016 launched in Africa, could outshine the continent’s video-on-demand pioneers in years to come.
“Netflix doesn’t yet have a real Africa strategy but it’s started to produce original African content. That will be a gamechanger.
“It has considerable means at its disposal that the others don’t have.”