The Rise of ISIS in East Africa is Hindering Efforts by Churches to Fight Ebola

Mwamini Kahindo, an Ebola survivor working as a caregiver to babies who are confirmed Ebola cases, holds an infant. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

In North Kivu, an eastern province of Congo, church leaders are stepping up their fight to halt the advance of the 40-month-old Ebola epidemic, even as the Islamic State group increasingly makes its presence felt in the troubled region.

Since August, when Ebola broke out in earnest in the eastern part of the predominantly Christian country, churches and other faith-based organizations have been helping health officials get the word out on prevention methods, producing songs on hygiene and hand-washing for local broadcasts, hosting talks and offering pastoral support for those affected. Most churches have imposed bans on exchanging hand greetings during services.

In Congo, the local church is often the most trusted institution and is a crucial ally in a health crisis in which superstition and rumors are often the enemy.

“We are speaking strongly about it. We are telling our members not to accept any lies and misinformation since disease threatens everyone,” the Rev. Josue’ Bulambo Lembe-Lembe of the Church of Christ in Congo told Religion News Service in a telephone interview.

Complicating the effort to keep Ebola at bay is an array of militant groups and, more recently, the alleged arrival of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.

Forced out of its bases in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has moved aggressively into Africa and recently described Congo as its Central Africa province of the caliphate. The group claimed responsibility for the killing of six soldiers on April 19 in an attack in Kamango, on the Congo-Uganda border.

“We have heard about the presence of the terrorist group, but it has not been confirmed. As churches we continue to investigate,” said Lembe-Lembe.

Visiting Congo this week (May 20), Francis Kuria Kagema, general secretary of the African Council of Religious Leaders, called the claim of responsibility “probably an empty boast,” but he said that if Islamic State fighters have entered the area, “it will be difficult to dislodge them, as we have seen in Nigeria-Cameroon border, where the heavy forest cover provides a hiding area.”

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SOURCE: Charisma News, Fredrick Nzwili