The Sanneh Institute 2020 Update
“No test has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the test he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1Cor. 10:13). As this challenging year comes to an end, we at TSI like many others felt tested and stretched in a number of ways. But at critical turns of the test, God, through friends and partners provided a way out which made it possible for us to endure the test. We are therefore sharing aspects of TSI’s work that defined us, inspired us, and offers us hope for 2021.
The pandemic became a global phenomenon following on the heels of our successful inauguration in February 2020. Its effect had significant impact on our work and funding. We are eternally grateful to Larry Smith, President of ScholarLeaders International (SL), and his management team, and more crucially, SL Board Members, for their financial support during the second half of 2020. Two times support from SL was critical in helping us pay rent for twelve months and vital operational costs. Same way we are thankful to Jeff Ritchie and friends at Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and First Presbyterian Church, Evanston, IL whose support enormously helped with some of our operational costs in the months of July through to October. To all the above and more, we are truly grateful!
IMPACT OF TSI WORK
In the wake of a public lynching of an old lady on accusation of witchcraft in July in Northern Ghana, TSI hosted a very successful webinar on “Witchcraft, Religion and Law in Ghana” to educate and challenge such harmful beliefs and practices. The webinar was preceded by social and mainstream media campaign, and advocacy with various state institutions for the criminalization of witchcraft accusations in Ghana. Our campaign, along with others, for Ghana’s Parliament to pass a law criminalizing witchcraft accusation gained traction with the leadership of Ghana’s Parliament and we plan to renew the pressure in 2021 for the bill to be passed into law.
The campaign and activism also specifically targeted a base in the Upper East Region where women were accused as witches, publicly humiliated and brutalized. Our campaign resulted in the arrest and detention of the witchdoctors which resulted in the closure of the base near the Togo border. TSI has received several messages of gratitude and appreciation for the closure of the base from chiefs, opinion leaders and the general public in the area, including victims and their relations. Our plan for 2021 is to embark on education and advocacy for the closure of the six so-called witch camps in the Northern and North East Regions and reintegration of nearly five hundred women banished, sometimes with children, on accusation of witchcraft and living in appalling conditions in the camps.
PROJECTS IN PROGRESS
- In collaboration with a Roman Catholic Press in Abidjan, we have commissioned the translation of Prof. Sanneh’s Whose Religion is Christianity into French. Dr. Matthew Krabill who is the Co-Director of the Menonite Mission Network based in Paris, is coordinating the translation project. Dr. Krabill is also working through the papers presented at the inaugural conference towards some form of publication of the festschrift and the launch of our online journal.
- We received a planning grant from a foundation to put together a team of scholar-advisors who are currently developing a research proposal on select topics for a larger grant request for consideration during the third quarter of 2021. In this initiative, we are partnering with African scholars in the diaspora and colleagues from the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ghana. If successful, we hope to launch TSI’s first major Research Project from early 2022.
- In partnership with the office of the Project on Religious Freedom & Society in Africa started by the late Prof. Lamin Sanneh, and currently housed at the Yale Macmillan Center, we are launching a TSI Monthly Virtual Lecture Series from January 2021 on issues at the intersection of religion and society in Africa. We shall be announcing the first lecture in the first week of January 2021. We are also on course to develop and launch graduate level online courses on “Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa” for theological and religious studies students and interested persons in West Africa from 2021/22 academic year.
- TSI is in conversation with the largest Muslim organization in the world, the Nahdlatul Ulama of Indonesia, the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative and the office of Strategic Religious Engagement of the U.S. Department of State, towards an inter-religious task force and collaborative work aimed at countering religiously motivated violence in West Africa and the Sahel region. The exact nature of this joint effort will be announced in the first quarter of 2021.
PRAY AND PARTNER WITH US:
- Pray and consider partnering with us on our campaign to reintegrate the women banished into camps in the North of Ghana back into their communities. We will launch a “Let our Mothers Go Home” campaign from January 2021 and counting on support from churches and individual well-wishers to support our effort in closing down the “witch camps”.
- As part of the development of the online courses, we are working with Theological Book Network in Grand Rapids to ship the late Prof. Sanneh’s lifetime collection of books to Accra in 2021. Shipping the collection to Ghana calls for a larger office space to house the library in the interim. We are praying for partners to help with shipping, clearing and cataloguing cost.
- Operational cost for office rent, utilities etc. is a major challenge as many donors do not give towards such costs. We will appreciate prayer and partnership in meeting these costs.
- One of the several projects and plans COVID-19 upended is that of our Building Fund. The University of Ghana has generously donated a piece of land in a prime area on campus for the construction of a facility to serve as offices for TSI and to house a library
After such a difficult year, and irrespective of how the year 2020 feels like to us, we would like to conclude with the following words of Pope John XXIII: “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” This is our inspiration and our prayer for ourselves and for all our friends and partners like yourself. Blessings
John Azumah, PhD