Africa and Faith-Based Development

Africa and Faith-Based Development








The last five hundred years have probably been the most traumatic years in Africa’s history. What might have started as an innocent search for those rich Eastern pastures of silk, spices and glittering splendours resulted in a Europe which had sent its tentacles into the bowels of all the other Continents – known and unknown. The Papal Bull which divided the world into a Spanish Western Domain and a Portuguese Eastern Domain, led to an insatiable and incurable European taste for the occupation of foreign lands. The rest, as they say, is history.

If we now move closer to modern times, the last fifty years have seen the majority of ex-colonial European powers unburden themselves of their colonies in what in retrospect we can say was an unholy haste. In fact, this hasty departure has resulted in as much (if not more) trauma to the African Continent than the colonial experience itself. This is neither the venue nor the time to enter into the polemics of post-colonial Africa. What most observers would agree, however, is that by and large the vast majority of African politicians have made a thorough mess of their countries. But out of the ashes of the political convulsions which have been taking place, one light in the tunnel has been the emergence of the Faiths as spearheads of community development. Perhaps that is not a fair statement. The Faiths have always assumed a critical role in community welfare even though the content has been different, the form has on the whole been much the same.

For at least 1200 years, Muslims around the East African sea-board have used a Wakf system to build and maintain Mosques and Madrassas. Medical treatment has always had a very nominal but fixed charge which is never demanded although it would be gratefully accepted by the Medicine Man or Medicine Woman were it to be offered. The concept of an old people’s home(s) is foreign to Muslims. Even today, one would be hard put to find a Muslim man or woman in an Old people’s home. While the concept of an Old People’s home is motivated by sincere concern, Muslims virtually in the whole of East and Central Africa would not budge from the belief that we have a divine duty to look after our old peoples to the very last breath! I am sure that there are Christians who would at the very least understand that sentiment. Equally, the idea of someone dying of starvation has never been tenable. One reason for this is of course, by and large, we very rarely have starvation in the EastAfricanCoast. It is more likely to happen in the hinterland of East Africa. But even then, it is common practice among many Muslim Communities to have an open door policy for friends, relatives and neighbours during meal times.

A number of these might be argued to be African rather than Muslim traditions and there are few who would argue with that. Christianity in Eastern Africa is a more recent phenomenon than Islam, this despite the fact that the first Muslim refugees had the protection of a Christian Ethiopian King Ashama Negus. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) conducted a funeral prayer for King Ashama Negus on hearing about his death. But despite this major discrepancy in the time that Eastern Africa had come under the influence of Christianity, Christian missionary community development activities have far outstripped those of Muslims in this entire geographical area. Indeed, in many cases, Christian missionary Community development activities have often put those of the Colonial Government to shame having in many cases spearheaded the provision of educational and medical facilities to the Communities they served before the Colonial Government had even thought seriously about doing that.

The truth, however, is that the general mass of both Muslim and Christian colonial subjects have tended to see missionary and Government Community Development initiatives as products of foreign inspiration and funding. While the Africans were direct and often exclusive beneficiaries of these initiatives, they had very little input into the intellectual or even theological conceptualisation of, and even less in the financial provision for, either the educational or the medical facilities they enjoyed. Both the Colonial Government and the Missionaries (both Catholic and Protestant) went ahead to implement their own visions of what the ‘natives’ needed and obviously could not fund. Some day – both the missionaries and early colonial governments would argue – in the distant future the African beneficiaries of these pursuits would understand in the light of which they will, hopefully, take over the pursuits initiated by their White co-religionists or Colonial masters.

Contracting time by providing well-intentioned Community Development to a people that have had very little input into either the vision or the execution essential for that development may produce the desired effects but it is no guarantee that it would be sustained by that Community once the foreign input has been withdrawn. In fact, in almost every case, the opposite has been the result. There are a number of reasons for this but today is neither the place nor the time to go into that. What we want to emphasize is that the essence of Faith-based Community Development is that the Community itself under the guidance of a Faith, has to take its own destiny into its hands. Although Christians in Africa have had a head start in Faith-based Community Development, indigenous home-grown Faith-based Community Development has not moved as far as it would perhaps be hoped for.

Fortunately for us, post-colonial African political ecology for the past fifty years or so has created the climate not merely of acceptability but really of necessity for the Faiths to stand up and do something about their Communities. The irony of it is that even though Christian and Muslim Communities have come from opposite ends of political fortunes, both have independently come to a point of no return and of zero tolerance against politicians. Rampant and blatant corruption – what Edward Clay, the British High Commissioner in Nairobi calls ‘gluttons vomiting over our shoes’ – and bungled management at the best of times in a morally vacuous framework has left the Faiths with no option but assume the responsibility of speaking out for reform. Throughout the Continent, democracy, justice, management efficiency, corruption, lack of both integrity, transparency, accountability and decency were seen more in the breach than in the observance. Civil society was fed up but had no spokesman. Opposition politicians (where an Opposition was allowed to exist) were tainted by the same brush. For any Civil Rights Movement to allow Opposition politicians to take a strong anti-government posture let alone leadership would be equivalent to taking the poison chalice. Faith groups began to speak up about the dictatorial manner of running public affairs. From being multi-party democracies at the beginning of Independence, we had sunk to being One Party States to being One Man Estates. The Constitution became a piece of paper which is constantly changed to suit the whims and fancies of the Head of State who became above the law and could do almost anything he wanted. Legality became more important than legitimacy. Indefinite detentions of dissidents was the rule of the day. As a consequence, there was only one group of society which had the moral conviction to speak out against these travesties of justice. These were the people of God. And in Kenya, they managed to pull together all the faiths into UFUNGAMANO which brought together Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Janis and all. UFUNGAMANO did a splendid job of turning political events which culminated into the acceptance of a thorough examination of the Constitution of Kenya and for the first time in African history to actually listen to the various peoples of the country – and not just a bunch of hand-picked politicians – to say the kind of Constitution they want. There is not a shadow of a doubt that this would NOT have come about had it not been for the voice of the Faiths expressing themselves unequivocally. And when they did this in unison, the chorus was formidable and irresistible especially when it was joined by the International Community.

But the Constitution is the tip of the ice-berg when we consider the role the Faiths can play at the grassroots level to manage the affairs of the people in a democratic, transparent and accountable manner – IN THE NAME OF GOD. It is this indigenisation and devolution of this Faith-based development that we are keenly awaiting for from both African Christians and Muslims. Built on the natural constituencies of the Church and the Mosque, these could be powerful organs of taking over the management of the Community and giving them self-confidence to tackle their own problems. The ‘Mother G Syndrome’ has tended to stifle both confidence and initiative among both Christian and Muslim Communities in Africa with Christians looking towards the West and Muslims looking towards the East for a constant infusion of funds to support them. Having crossed the Rubicon of the Government’s inviolability, the Faiths have to tackle the real problems of mobilization of the wananchi to initiate and sustain their own development in an environmentally friendly manner towards full education, gender parity, equality of opportunity, building food reserves and distribution; essential medical care and health education and, above all, wealth creation.

This Conference (which has made no pretence of being anything but a Christian exchange) has been an eye-opener to a Muslim observer. Mine is to say ‘THANK YOU’ for the wealth of ideas I am taking home with me. As you might know, I will be organizing a follow-up Conference in Mombasa towards the end of January for Muslims. The ideas which have been discussed here give us some rich pickings. Hopefully, we can return the compliment of inviting our Christian brothers to attend in his capacity as an Honorary Muslim! Thank you and God bless you all.


24/01/2005 15:44:00