An African Plea for Unity and Tolerance

The only written record in English of the teachings of Tierno Bokar (1875-1939) is found in this book by the Malian diplomat and intellectual Amadou Hampate Ba.

“May our love not be centered upon ourselves! May this love not incite us to love only those who are like us or to espouse ideas that are simililar to our own! To only love that which resembles us is to love oneself; this is not how to love.”

These are words spoken by the Malian mystic Tierno Bokar in the 1930’s. Known as Soudan during the era of French rule, Mali had been largely Muslim for centuries and Tierno was a disciple of the Sufi tradition of Islam.  The unity of all believers, like the unity of humankind, was basic in his teaching.  

“To believe that one’s race or one’s religion is the only possessor of the truth is an error. This could not be.  Indeed, in its nature, faith is like air.  Like air, it is indispensable for human life and one could not find one man who does not believe truly and sincerely in something.  Human nature is such that it is incapable of not believing in something, whether that is God or Satan, power or wealth, or good or bad luck.”

Tierno (pronounced ‘Chair-no’) Bokar grew up in a devout Muslim household surrounded by social conflict in Segou, a major town of southern Mali.  While periodic battles threatened the population, his mother, aunt and grandmother taught and lived the virtues of love and charity.  Following his father’s flight with one of the contending militias, Tierno and family settled at 18 in the village of Bandiagara where he lived the rest of his life.  As a man who exemplified modesty and humility, he taught that God bestowed faith and wisdom on all peoples regardless of their level of technological advance or education.  Although highly literate himself, Tierno’s humility along with his sensitivity and respect for those without education led him to teach through oral communication only.

Amadou Hampate Ba also published the African proverb “When an elder dies, an entire library burns.” He served on UNESCO’s Executive Committee and wrote many books including memoirs based on his long career serving as a “cultural ambassador for Mali and for Africa.

His leading disciple Amadou Hampate Ba wrote that Tierno had said, “Contrary to what usually happens, one should therefore not be surprised to find spiritual riches in someone from a people considered as backward, but one should instead be troubled at not finding them in civilized individuals who have long worked on developing their material lives.”  Ba urged us to remember that all of Tierno’s words “came out of a modest room of dried earth, in the heart of black Africa, in 1933”.  Amadou Ba’s 1957 record, published in French, of his master’s teaching was titled A Spirit of Tolerance: The Inspiring Life of Tierno Bokar in the 2008 English translation. 

After the Catholic Director of the colonial Office of Muslim Affairs read Amadou Ba’s transcript of Tierno’s words, he wrote,  

“These were words in their pure state, words spoken not to exalt man, neither speakers nor listener, but rather truly animating words, spoken with such sincere feeling for the other as to cause god to lie in the heart of the unbeliever, to vivify his faith, and to give a meaning to the lives of everyone.” 

At the age of 33 Tierno Bokar opened his school, or “zawiya”, in Bandiagara.  It was where Amadou Ba began his education.  After years of study in the colony’s French schools and university,  Ba spent six months in 1933 with Tierno, his first and foremost teacher.  His copious notes recording for himself and others what this master of wisdom and faith taught represents the only account of Tierno’s teachings.

Apart from his emphasis on tolerance and the unity of humankind, Tierno Bokar appealed to his pupils to find what God was trying to communicate to us through our senses and the “Book of Life”. As Jesus sought to do with the parables, Tierno often based his lessons on seeking the meaning of commonly shared experience. Amadou Ba’s book tells a moving story of his teacher repairing a bird nest and follows it with Tierno recounting an incident when his dog served him as an example of faithfulness. Ba comments, “For him, all of nature, animals and plants included, should be respected because they are not only our nourishing Mother, but they are, moreover, the great divine Book wherein everything is a living symbol and a source of teaching.”

During the six month sabbatical from his post in the colonial administration Ba asked Tierno whether it was good to study other religions.  The “sage of Bandiagara” replied,

“You will gain enormously by knowing about the various forms of religion.  Believe me, each one of these forms, however strange it may seem to you, contains that which can strengthen your own faith.  Certainly faith, like fire, must be maintained by means of an appropriate fuel in order for it to blaze up.  Otherwise , it will dim and decrease in intensity and volume and turn into embers then from embers to coals and from coals to ashes.”

Tierno Bokar then added, “That which varies in the diverse forms of Religion – for there can only be one Religion- are the individual contributions of human beings interpreting the letter with the laudable aim of placing religion within the reach of the men of their time.  As for the sources of religion itself,” he went on to say, “it is a pure and purifying spark that never varies in time or space, a spark which God breathes into the spirit of man at the same time as He bestows speech upon him.”

Founding his beliefs on love and humility, Tierno’s teachings on religious tolerance came naturally. A plea for the unity of all believers accompanied his teaching on tolerance:

“Brothers of all religions, let us in God lower the boundaries that separate us. Down with the artificial creations that pit human being against each other….. Let us fly as an eagle with powerful wings towards the union of hearts towards a religion that is not inclined towards the exclusion of other ‘credos’ but towards the universal union of believers, freed from their own selves and morally liberated from the appetites of this world.”

Tierno advocated respect and acceptance for Christian missionaries and colonial officials: “This religion, which Jesus sought to deliver and which was loved by Muhammad, is that which, like pure air, is in permanent contact with the sun of Truth and Justice, as well as with the Love of the Good and Charity for all.”

It is with excitement that I introduce most of you readers to the teaching of Tierno Bokar. I am looking forward to re reading Ba’s book again and expect it will soon fill with my scrawled notes and comments. The lessons of a heightened awareness of what is going on around us in nature, the animal and plant realms in particular, hold a special appeal for me as I approach three quarters of a century in age. I also plan to order the only other book I know of that treats Tierno’s insights on God’s presence. Published in 1984 it is by the author of the introduction to Ba’s book, Dr. Louis Brenner, and is titled West African Sufi: The Religious Heritage and Spiritual Search of Cerno Bokar Saalife Tall .

Tierno Bokar Saalif Taal (1875-1939)

A New Congo, A New Africa

Since 2008 the mid October commemoration of Congo Week has sought to inform and educate people world wide on the ongoing crisis in the Congo.  More recently an excellent thirty minute film has been produced which offers an overview of Congo’s tragic five hundred years of foreign exploitation and control.  You can view and share the documentary “Crisis in Congo: Uncovering the Truth” by going to the web address at the bottom of this introduction.  In 2019 Friends of the Congo organizers at have set October 12-19 for Congo Week events.  But they urge us all to show the film at gatherings and share other materials from their web site at any time.

Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki noted, “There cannot be a new Africa without a new Congo”.  The nation at the heart of Africa rivals and many say surpasses South Africa in the wealth represented by its natural resources.  The U.S. was the first nation to recognize King Leopold of Belgium’s creation of the Congo Free State in 1885.  And Congo became the focus of U.S. Africa foreign policy since the highest grade uranium used in the first atomic bombs was supplied by a mine in Congo.  President Barack Obama declared, “If Africa is to realize its promise, the problem of the Congo must be resolved.” 

To download and view “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” one of the two avenues below should take you there. Do respond with a comment to this blog post if you have any trouble.

Africans Rising Will Defend Human Rights In Congo

Africans Rising movement by Sarah Walsh

The struggle in Congo for fair elections and a government which represents the will and desires of the people has gained a potentially powerful ally. Africans Rising is a new Pan-African movement formally launched on May 25, 2017, “African Liberation Day”. In a conference nine months before the launch, two hundred seventy two activists from 44 African nations representing trade unions, people living with disabilities, parliamentarians, media organisations and faith-based groups approved the new organization’s founding document the Kiliminjaro Declaration.

One of the founding principles of Africans Rising established by The Declaration is the following: “We are committed to a decentralised, citizen-owned future that will build support and solidarity for local struggles, empower local leadership and immerse our activists in grassroots work of building social movements from below and beyond borders.” The first guiding principle reads, “Africa is a rich

Africans Rising Co-Coordinators Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan and Coumba Touré
continent. That wealth belongs to all our People, not to a narrow political and economic elite. We need to fight for economic development that is just and embraces social inclusion and environmental care.”

The Kiliminjaro Declaration overall reads like a manifesto for political and economic change in Congo. Those who work and pray for creation of a just, democratic State dedicated to serving the Congolese people should welcome Africans Rising’s solidarity with and support of activists for change in Congo. Among the co-conveners of the Arusha, Tanzania Conference which produced the Declaration, Kumi Naidoo, is the new chief executive for Amnesty International. In an article in The Guardian on the aims of Africans Rising Naidoo wrote, “We are building a movement that aims to finish the journey of true African liberation, for which so many people laid down their lives in the struggle against colonialism and since. We refuse to accept that all that blood was spilt for the difficult lives people live every day on the continent. The struggle continues!” Read the entire article at:

Among the resources prepared by Africans Rising for last year’s Africa Liberation Day is the following prayer for Africa. Let us consider this prayer as an appeal to God and the divine within each of us :

O God of many names,
We call to you on behalf of our beloved Africa,
Mobilizing around a shared vision: a more peaceful, fair, and prosperous Africa,
Trusting your guidance, as it is through you alone that we can move mountains;
O God of all creation,
As citizens and descendents of Africa, help us as we strive for a better future,
A future absent of corruption and greed; a future of social inclusion, dignity for all, and sustainability of all creation,
A future worthy of leaving to our children and grandchildren;
O God of all humanity,
Heal the people of Africa from the wounds of slavery, racism, and colonization,
Raise new leaders with the moral courage to help put an end to autocracy, tyranny, tribalism, and neocolonialism,
Strengthen and guide those who are already working for a more just Africa;
O God who hears all languages,
As allies in the fight for justice, equality, and equity, let us seek the way of peace together,
Challenging those who work against your will of compassion and liberation for all,
And creating a vision of Africa as your love would have it.

New Book on Congo’s Conflicts

A new book on the causes and evolution of the conflicts in eastern Congo has received favorable reviews in leading U.S. publications.  Jason Stearns, a young American who began serving as a relief worker in the area in 2001, has just

Excitement and hopes were high at the 10th Independence Anniversary Parade in Mbandaka on June 30, 1970. What a contrast to the sombre, reflective mood across the nation on the 50th Anniversary last June 30.

published Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost,  wrote in his April 1 review in The New York Times  : “The task facing anyone who tries to tell this whole story is formidable, but Stearns by and large rises to it. He has lived in the country, and has done a raft of interviews with people who witnessed what happened before he got there. Occasionally the chain of names of people and places temporarily swamps the reader, but on the whole his picture is clear, made painfully real by a series of close-up portraits.”

The American Congo-based political scientist who writes the blog “Texas in Africa” also has commented favorably on Stearns’ book:  “As someone who has read the bulk of what’s been published on the conflict over the course of the last fifteen years, I can unequivocally say that this is the most accessible introduction to the country’s multi-layered local conflict, civil war, and international wars out there. In short, if you want to understand the DRC wars, you need to read this book.”

We will have to wait it seems for the book which covers the conflicts of eastern Congo’s effects on the nation as a whole

"Servir: Oui!; Se Servir: Non!" emblazoned the official "pagne" of the Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution during the 10th Anniversary Year

or the book which assesses the post Mobutu state’s attempts to control exploitation of Congo’s resources other than the minerals.  Since the promulgation of the new Law of the Forest early in the current Kabila administration, cutting of the Congo rainforest in Equateur Province has stepped up considerably.  Environmental groups such as Greenpeace International are monitoring the signing of contracts with European timber companies and recently protested the World Bank’s approval of the state’s opening up the rainforest to increased harvesting.

The U.N. in Congo

The U.N. began its current peacekeeping operations in Congo in 1999.  Following negotiations with the Kabila regime, which was urging withdrawal of U.N. military forces, the mission was renamed in May 2010. What had been MONUC (the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) became the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) beginning July 1 of last year. 

Despite the many setbacks and blemishes in its record over the past 12 years, the U.N. presence enables slight hope for free and fair national elections being held at the end of this year.  It now seems likely that those donor nations underwriting the billion dollar plus annual budget of MONUSCO will have to exert pressure on the Kabila regime to allow the U.N. troops to stay beyond the current June 30, 2011 withdrawal deadline.  The regime only in August, 2010 adhered to the country’s Constitution and set the wheels in motion for the national plebiscite by calling for the voting to be held in November.

For a listing of the nationalities of the over 16,000 troops now deployed throughout the Congo, with a large contingent in Equateur, click on the following and to return to the blog click your backspace key:

Congo U.N. Mission 2011

It is distressing to note that many African troops have been withdrawn from the MONUSCO forces and Asian troops in particular far out number those from Africa

50 Years of Independence??

First it was the traffic in human beings. Then, under the rule of the King of the Belgians, it was the coerced trade in ivory followed by gathering of rubber, under the penalty of amputation or death, for the manufacture of automobile tires. Between 1910 and June 30, 1960, a colonial administration overseen by the Belgian Parliament found recompense in the mineral wealth of the Congo. While copper took precedence as the leading export, the Begian Congo gained renown as an incomparable reservoir of a variety of rare minerals and metals.

U.S. mining interests took note of the quality and size of the reserves and supplied uranium from the Belgian colony for the first atomic bombs. It was widely known when I lived in the newly independent Demorcratic Republic of the Congo from 1969 that the country was, next to the Soviet Union, the leading producer of industrial diamonds in the world and that at least half of the gemstones were exported illegally. Today, it is the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda whose official exports of gold and coltan respectively fuel their development with minerals extracted from the Congo.

One of the first Congolese Christians, King Affonso I of the Kingdom of Kongo, made an eloquent plea in the early 1500s for a more humane treatment of the subjects of his realm. In response, the King of Portugal did little to nothing to restrain the slave traders. The greed and depravity of the European slave traders modeled what was to come later and turned a relatively benign traditional practice of slavery into a brutal decimation of the continent’s people.

Five hundred years later it now seems apparent that the pillaging of Congo’s incredible wealth will not be ended by today’s traders or their fellow citizens in Europe, North America, and increasingly, Asia. It rests with the Congolese themselves to reclaim their patrimony, stand up for their rights as an independent nation, and, in so doing, help all of humanity take a giant step toward the day of true independence for us all.

That that day will come might be seen every morning in the valiant struggle of the pirogue fishermen on the Congo River. After a night or several nights of fishing they paddle their canoes against the powerful current to their homes on the other side of the River. The parable of their struggle takes shape in the retreating progress that follows. The spectator on the bank is despairing, but then notes that in their retreat downstream they are closer to the island in the middle, the island whose bulk will impede or reverse the current and enable the eventual crossing. Unremitting, constant, the fishermen plunge their paddles, matching their force and their wisdom against that of the river as they make their way home.

The River’s News 6/24/10

I read the news this morning in the constant flow of the massive river carrying clumps of hyacinths, islands at times, to their end where? After rising at 4:30 or 5 I shuffle to the tiled shower enclosure where I pour five or six small buckets of water from above before applying the shampoo and soap. Refreshed from the cool water shave as well, the celebration of the breeze on opening the front door is the final preparation for contemplation of the river.

Traffic on the majestic freeway 75 yards below my front porch picks up by 6 am. Each pirogue carrying a story of graceful struggle, they hug the bank at this hour, intent on marketing their load of firewood, fish, greens, roofing, poles, monkey and more exotic items which I must file for explanation later. Two women pole the river bottom at each end of a long pirogue with firewood loaded four feet high. Their small enterprise reminds me of the boat with a load of gigantic hard wood which passed in the middle of the river several days before.

The story of the hard woods emerges from various conversations detailing the cutting of select giants of the rain forest. Two informants report that villagers in Equateur province are paid on average $3.50 per tree for the virgin hard woods. On reaching Kinshasa, the Congolese logging company is paid nine thousand dollars for a tree which will cost fifty two thousand dollars in Germany. It is much the same with the diamonds, coltan and other precious minerals dug from Congolese soil with this important exception: much of the mineral wealth benefits middlemen of the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda more than those of the Congo.

My neighbor in the duplex next door approaches for a brief exchange of commentaries on the scenes played out on the river and then we are interrupted and the day’s business begins.  I prepare a cup of coffee with Nescafe, powdered milk and sugar (we do things different here KT!) before sitting down to a bowl of oatmeal which I will flavor with papaya, bananas and honey. The radio news lead story during breakfast reports that President Obama has dismissed General Mc Crystal as Commander of U.S./Allied troops in Afghanistan.