Celebrating the Love of Friends in a Loving World

Celebrating the Love of Friends in a Loving World
Red Roses for You, My Sweet Friends ... Total Love.

My Sweet Friends

My sweet friends,

We grow closer to each other;

When we interact together and share ideas;

The common faith that we share,

Binds our hearts in one accord.

For sweet friendships last a life time,

When built on mutual respect, humility and understanding;

Throughout each different season,

We find we are one in life.

Sweet friends are there through times of grief;

And times when hope is gone;

Always there with encouragement;

So we can carry on.

I thank the Lord for you,

My true and faithful friends;

To fondly speak with you, whether we agree or not,

On this, our beloved blog;

For sweet friends will stay, no matter what;

Giving support.

Together, our hearts and minds truly unite;

With the amazing love of sweet friends.

In the spirit of true friendship,

Best wishes, my sweet friends;

May the Lord bless you abundantly.

I remain, yours truly,

B.B. Bakampa.

Search This Blog

Popular Posts

Total Pageviews

Follow by Email


Google+ Badge

Google+ Followers

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Role of Religion in Africa’s Development

A short paper presented at the Pan African Club Interactive Bi-weekly Intellectual Discussion

Dr. Alex Nkabahona
Makerere University
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Department of Religion and Peace Studies

 Venue: Sea Scallop Restaurant, Kamwokya Suburb, Kampala - Uganda

Friday 20th June, 2014

The moderator, my colleagues on the panel [Prof. Kakonge, Mr. Kato Mukasa, Mr. Achibald Agaba Kakuranga, and Madam Amanda Magambo] distinguished members of the Pan African Club and The Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity and Accountability], Ladies and Gentlemen. I am as honored as I am so humbled to have been given this opportunity to present and discuss the topic of such great interest to all of us: Africa’s Development, with special focus on the role and contribution of religion.
I observe, however, that discussing the nexus between Religion, development and Africa is too wide a topic to do it justice in only 15 minutes, which is the maximum time that my colleague Ngabirano communicated to me emphasizing that I must observe RELIGIOUSLY. I will try my best in the spirit of Pan-Africanism. 

Paper Outline

The approach I have chosen may not be the most conventional but I hope it serves the purpose of arousing intellectual debate on the subject. And this is my unconventional approach.
My presentation and discussion is based on an interrogative assumption, namely: Religion has potential to inspire and spur development particularly in Africa. It has not. Where is the problem?

Based on this assumption, I try now to discuss the topic, hopefully in 15 minutes or less, the following aspects: one thesis and two questions.

  1. Africa is the most religious continent but also the least developed. This phenomenon clearly slums the door in the face of my assumption but at the same time raises the central question of this discussion, namely,
  2. What role has religion played (if any) in Africa’s development/underdevelopment?
  3. What more needs to be done to make religion play its crucial role in Africa’s human Development?
  4. Conclusion

Africa: the most religious continent but also the least developed

The question to unravel here (if we can) is: What is the correlation between being religious and living in a poverty-stricken-continent? Even with a positive Human Development Index (HDI) outlook for developing countries (The South) in the 2013 Human Development Report (HDR), African countries (with exception of South Africa and Botstwana) are still at the bottom of the ladder. This has been the trend since the first United Nations HDR in 1990.

Meanwhile, Africa’s rich religious and spiritual resources have been here for as long as the homo sapiens human species. Similarly, Christianity, Islam and other foreign religions have been embraced by Africans well over a century in some countries and even more in some others. In all this, I also wish to point out the inner dynamics and paradigm shifts in the way religion has been propagated and practiced over the centuries. From so-called animistic African Traditional Religious practices (with no written Scriptures, no fixed places of worship etc), to the revelation religions of Christianity, Islam and others, with claim to revealed Holy Scriptures and fixed places and days of worship and today, new religious movements and sects whose trade mark is almost synonymous with Tele-evangelism, street preaching and claim to performing miracles (such as healing, wealth creation, production of babies, acquisition of good jobs, winning political offices etc) all through the power of prayer,  but at a cost.

In the final analysis religion today has become a commodity for sale.  At the same time, we see a resurgence and desire to go back to the traditional practices – witchcraft among others, resulting into syncretism if not paganism. In all this, individuals, families and communities seem to share one ultimate goal: well-being, wholeness through the intervention of some supernatural powers. So what is religion? And how does the way one defines or understands religion and practices that religion impact on human development? What is development in this case? Are the religious dynamics and paradigm shifts mentioned above facilitating or impeding the Africans’ search for well-being and wholeness? Has the African found himself/herself, composed and found his/her well-being or he/she is lost in the quagmire of the shifting grounds of religiosity dynamics some of which he/she may not have control over? This brings us to the second and core segment of our discussion:

What role has religion played (if any) in Africa's development/underdevelopment?

What is religion?

For most people in the world, including in Africa, ‘religion’ refers to a belief in the existence of an invisible world, distinct but not separate from the visible one, which is home to spiritual beings that are deemed to have effective powers over the material world (Ellis and Ter Haar, 2004: 14). Thus in this belief, religion is key. It is important in peoples’ lives, because it facilitates the vital connectivity between the spiritual and physical (material) worlds. Africans, in particular, believe that for man to attain wholeness and well-being, this connectivity and relationship must be guarded jealously. Any miss harp or acts that would cause disharmony could bring disaster in the physical world – specifically negatively affecting man. The opposite is also true. Maintaining good harmony and relationship brings about good tidings, well-being.

What is Human development in this context?

“Human development,” according to the United Nations Development Programme, “is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests” (UNDP website). Development in this case, thus refers to people’s resources beyond any purely material and technocratic aspect. It is now common understanding that most policymakers today agree that sustainable development can be achieved only if people build on their own resources. These include not only intellectual and social resources, but also spiritual ones, if and when these are available.” Author: Gerrie Tar Haar (internet article).

In effect, we are saying, peoples’ spiritual resources deriving/derived from their religious weltnannschauung (world view or outlook of the world) may hold the key to their human development (well-being, wholeness). Therefore, the reason why religion should be included within the broad concept of development; it provides a powerful motivation for many people to act in the way they do, it equips many of the world’s people with the moral guidance and with the will to improve their lives. But peoples’ religious outlook of the world could also work as a hindrance to their human development.

Here we can contrast two religious traditions to demonstrate the two sides of religion in respect of inspiring and spurring human development or becoming a hindrance.
First case: Christianity and its teachings on Creation and the role of man in this creation. Here we pick two texts among many other texts; one from the Old Testament (OT) and one from the New Testament (NT). In the creation narrative, Gen. 1:26-31) According to this text, It was on the 5th day of God’s Work: … After God had created everything else and saw that all was good, He said let us make man (male and female) in our image and likeness. Then in verse 28 … God blessed them “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it …. I interpret this to mean a call and challenge to man to be creative and innovative in enhancing his well-being and wholeness (while still here on earth) by “using the resources” that God has given him (intellect, will and all the natural resources). Adherents of Christianity in Europe and America (although most of them later largely abandoned religion) heeded this call and challenge and results are there to show – scientific innovations and as a result the HDI these countries record each passing year. The other text is drawn from the New Testament: John 10:10. “I have come so that you may have life and have it to its fullness.” A powerful message that has lately become the catch verse especially for the emerging new religious movements (the Pentecostals), compared to the more traditional churches that still preach humility and poverty as avenues to heaven (Blessed are you the poor, yours is the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5: The Beatitudes). The message in John 10:10 is clear: Jesus came to liberate his people from chains of poverty and want. He wishes everybody to live his/her life to the fullness. In practical terms followers are tasked to contribute to their pastor’s wealth creation and their own through generous donations to God. As we know this approach has both positive and negative effects).

Now we compare this with one example drawn from the African Traditional religious belief and practice. Among the Bambuti people (the Batwa) who live on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. They strongly believe that God is the origin of everything and provides everything including babies. For example, it is reported that it is a common practice that when a Bambuti woman gets pregnant, she prepares food, takes it to the forest and at some designated place (could be near a rock, on the bank of a stream or under a big tree), she kneels down and offers the food to God saying: “God from whom I have received this baby, take and eat.”

While this may be a good religious and spiritual resource and practice, namely, acknowledging that man is co-creator with God in the production of children, the strong belief  that God provides everything could be a hindrance to their creativity and innovation to improve their well-being. Results are there to show. Today many Bambuti people still depend on what nature (God) provides.

The key question then becomes: Do religious and spiritual resources produce a type of knowledge that is, or could be, relevant to development? From the above comparative analysis the answer is both Yes and Not necessarily. In the final analysis each religious resource needs to be analyzed and treated in its own right. In each case it is important to explore the concept of development through the prism (lens) of the respective religion (Christianity, Islam, Budhism, ATR, New Religious movements, Pentcostalism, Owobushobozi, Kibwetere etc] to establish what is projected out/in there? What are they offering in terms of inspiring and spurring human development?

Having said that, on the whole, the notions of development and religion have so much in common. They both contain a vision of an ideal world and of the place of humans therein. In that sense, it is not difficult to find examples of the ways in which people’s religious understanding of the world may have a bearing on development.  Examples:

§  The traditional Hindu idea of humankind, for example, emphasizes harmony with the living environment. This easily translates into a view that economic growth should be integral to the well-being of the environment as a whole. 

§  Similarly, Muslims believe that the ultimate aim of life is to return humanity to its creator in its original state of purity.

§  In African traditional religions, the pursuit of balance and harmony in relations with the spirit world is paramount. In that sense, one can easily draw several life principles, for example, an injury to one is an injury to all, equated with the philosophy of interdependence. Man, nature (environment) and spirits interdependent for their being. (Horizontally - with the world: humans and environment; but also vertically - with the spirit world), generating the co-existence philosophy: I am because we are and since we are therefore I am (John Mbiti).

§  Charismatic Christians (of which there are large numbers in Africa today) believe that personal transformation – inner change – is the key to the transformation of society.

§  The Puritans and their influence on American politics, economy, democracy and culture is well documented and has been the darling of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda, especially when addressing religious congregations, in a way encouraging the latter to emulate them in inspiring and spurring development process in their own constituencies – church communities.

All of these ideas help to shape people’s views of development. They stem from intellectual traditions associated with particular religions that have been formed by local histories.

Religious Resources

For analytical purposes, religious resources may be divided into four major categories, which can be applied to all the religious traditions in the world, in different constellations of importance:
·         Religious ideas (what people actually believe);
·         religious practices (ritual behaviour);
·         religious organisation (how religious communities are formed and function); and
·         religious – or spiritual – experiences (such as the subjective experience of inner change or transformation).

All of these elements produce knowledge that, in principle, could be beneficial to a community for development purposes. Many communities in Africa make spontaneous use of their religious resources in a variety of ways to contribute to development or solutions to obstacles to development.

In more practical terms, what is there to show that religion has contributed to human development?

This subject needs no much labor to explain. Most religions have been involved in the following key areas of development, providing services at different levels and intensities. I shall just list the areas.
First and foremost: Spiritual well-being, education and health. More recently there are attempts to expand the base to include banking, and agribusiness. There is also an awakening to tap into the tourism and leisure industry as well. Those who have ventured into these services the results are not disappointing.

What needs to be done to make religion play more efficiently its critical role in human development?

On the negative front: Weaknesses that must be rectified (among others)
  • All to work towards minimizing on the fanatical and fundamentalist tendencies that may largely be responsible for the eruption of violent conflicts (both intra and inter-religions or between religious followers and governments): Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda too has had its share of intra and inter-religious conflicts and fanaticism.
  • Avoid abuse of religion by exploiting followers by religious leaders.
  • There is need to work for more harmony within different religious affiliations to avoid further splinter groups (sects) .
 On the positive side: Areas that need strengthening (among others)
  • Religious leaders to Play more centre roles in providing moral guidance and exemplified life.
  • Take more active roles in conflict mitigation and peace-building in a world torn apart by conflicts and violence: Conflict and general absence of peace hinder development.
  • Keep and guard their position in society as mouthpieces of the most vulnerable in society [should never allow themselves to be compromised by powers that be either in forms of incentives or bribes).
  • Consolidate and expand the services to improve peoples’ well-being and wholeness.

My assumption can be proven as a correct assumption. I have endeavored to demonstrate that Religion has such potential to inspire and spur human development. But that it can also be a hindrance. Both aspects need to be looked into: working to consolidate on the positive resources while working to minimize on the negative aspects.

I thank you for your attention.