Reflection on ‘Religion and Development in Africa’

This article examines the current focus of development enterprises in Africa, critiques these, and suggests alternative methods which incorporate religion.

The concept of human development has replaced the popularity of economic development in recent development practice. Human development emphasises aspects of people’s lives beyond the economic dimension, such as health and education. However, the authors note that economic growth and distribution of wealth remain central to development ideals and understandings.

The authors critique current development by stating that neither economic growth or state-building should be considered to be goals in themselves, that much development thinking has been too short-term and that the development enterprise has become complicated by the emergence of weak or ‘failing’ or ‘failed’ states.

A suggestion that the authors make for improving the efficacy of development enterprises is that the world of ideas of Africans, including religious ideas, need to be taken seriously. This means that policies ought to be modified to take account of traditional ideas rather than these policies simply imposing Western values and ideas on the people of Africa.

Religion is believed to be able to play a positive role in development in a number of areas. In terms of conflict prevention and peace building, it is thought that long-term reconciliation depends on religious notions of reconciliation and healing. Religious ideas can also play a role in wealth creation and production as they can influence people’s thinking on the legitimacy of wealth and on the moral value of saving or investing. The authors note that agriculture is a common means of income in many parts of Africa and suggest that it is important to integrate crucial elements of culture and religion associated with the prosperity of agricultural societies into agricultural policy. Regarding the governance of countries, it is thought that state and religious organisations ought to play a complementary role in order to effectively govern society and that religious groups should be instrumental in offering welfare. Religion is also believed to be important in health, education and the management of natural resources because traditional African religious ideas are used to understand healing and the relationships between people and their land.

Crucially the authors state that external developers need to form long-term relationships with members of religious and other networks and discuss with them what is required to develop African societies. They also note that African societies are not governable in the same manner or using the same techniques as other societies so Western officials need to change their mode of operation quite fundamentally.

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