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Religion and Conflict in Africa

Utter disgust with the repetitive global political and economic crises, as well as the complete failure of ‘Marxism-Leninism’ as a political alternative to capitalism, has made many ordinary people in Africa embrace Christianity or Islam.

In Africa the word ‘socialism’ has been associated with single-party political dictatorships and as such remains resented. But this is a matter of Lenin’s misunderstanding the political and intellectual designation of scientific socialism.

Many ordinary people in Africa still believe that the economic underdevelopment of Africa is a product of neo-colonialism, meaning that it is a deliberate political and economic strangulation of Africans by the developed nations.

The legacy of the slave trade has a negative impact upon the racial and political prejudices of Africans. Ideas like gender equality and same-sex marriage seem to be alien from an African cultural and traditional perspective. Thus religions portraying  God as an all-powerful and knowing authority above the conventional political systems do find fertile ground in African communities today.

A glimpse through African political and social history reveals that Christianity and Islam only came to Africa during the period of the slave trade. But this is not to underplay the fact that African diverse tribes had some form of worshipping God or Mwari (Shona word for ‘God).

Islam, or Mohammedanism, was the religion of the slave traders. The European missionaries followed in the wake of European explorers. They built schools and churches and restrained people from practising witchcraft, slave trading, ancestral shrines and so on. Christianity could be said to have had a positive impact on African communities in the sense that it was the missionaries who first brought a formal education to Africa. At the same time Christianity laid a preparation for the colonisation of Africa by European imperialist nations.

Islam originated from an Arabic culture, supposedly by the prophet Mohamed and no-one else. Its teachings are vested in the Koran. Islam is the religion of most Arabs and in Africa, outside the Arabic north, it is also found practised in communities in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Islam has come to characterise itself as a militant and anti-western type of religion in Africa today. It is a fact that Islamic fundamentalists tend to be politically autonomous and this gives rise to conflicts. Militant Islam as a religion in Africa is enmeshed in terrorism, a political and cultural nostalgia against west European political and economic ideals (democracy and Christian values). The practice of Sharia Law in African countries in which Islam is a major religion is a naked and orchestrated reaction against Christian morals and ethics.

Islam today appears as a political rather than a spiritual Jihad. In Egypt the conservative military generals had to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood of President Morsi because of the spiralling clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians. In Nigeria the Islamic movement called Boko Haram has increased its attacks on Christian communities, oil installations and government institutions.

So-called Islamic insurgents are on the loose in the African countries where Islam is a major form of religion. In this sense Islam as a religion has brought much pain and suffering upon Africans.

Both Islam and Christianity anticipate the end of capitalism as it currently is and its replacement by a hierarchical structure. Whereas to Christians the spiritual revolution is expected to originate in the consciousness of the individual, Muslims believe that it can only be realised through a political Jihad.

It appears strange to Christians in Africa that church attendance has been on the decline in European countries, where the role of the church has been relegated to the pulpit. It is only in the USA where Christianity is a flourishing religion. There Islam is associated with Islamic terrorism and the two are not separated. Indeed, the American support of Israel in its role in the political conflicts in the Middle East seems to be the major factor that has given impetus to the Islamic political Jihad.

KEPHAS MULENGA