Religion and development in Africa

Tipped from SSRC’s The Immanent Frame blog:

At African Arguments, Knox Chitiyo and Lucy Mbugua investigate the potential for faith-based groups to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa:

Could faith groups be a powerful driver in achieving the Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s) in Africa? Recent thinking and initiatives in Africa and within the wider African diaspora, certainly seem to indicate that faith groups can, and should, be seen as partners and/or drivers in pushing towards the 2015 MDG goals. The MDGS are particularly focused on the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, combating deadly diseases and improving maternal health. Continental and diaspora African faith groups, with their diverse constituencies and access to information and power networks, are uniquely placed to assist in fulfilling Africa and the African diaspora’s vision of development in the 21st Century.

The idea of faith groups as catalysts for constructive change is not a new one; but it is an idea whose time may have come. Within Africa, there has been increasing debate and real-world initiatives on engaging the faith communities regarding a transformative development agenda. For example, the Inter-faith Action for Peace in Africa [IFAPA] has, since 2002, been a focal point for a multi-faith dialogue which also engages key political and business decision makers on vital issues such as water security and conflict resolution – there have been a number of IFAPA summits which have also included national and regional decision – makers. Faith groups also play a major role in the African diaspora; the July 2011 ‘Communities of Faith; Agents of Change’ conference (hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Africa) was both an affirmation of the importance of African diaspora multi faith communities, and also a clarion call for better co-ordinated action for constructive change by the faith groups and policy makers.

Religion is a potent force in Africa and across the globe. Faith groups traditionally confine their ministrations to social interventions, but there is potential for religion and faith communities to play a deeper transformative role in upgrading or changing ineffective social/value systems; enhancing local best practice and capacity-building for development. Traditional religious emphasis on spirituality and rigour is important, but it needs to be allied to the real-world challenge of uplifting millions from poverty.