For more than a decade, individuals and groups in Africa have been making efforts and fighting tirelessly to promote the ideas for a free society within the continent. These include a borderless Africa where citizens and goods can freely move without restrictions and harassment, freedom of trade among citizens and member states, reduction in taxes and business levies, human rights and individual liberty, good and accountable governance, etc. And with success being recorded here and there, including the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) that is being ratified by member nations of the continent. However, not much attention has been given to the importance of religion in the fight for liberty.
It is true that religious issues are quite sensitive in Africa, and have been the root cause of many conflicts, including the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, however, it is however possible that we cannot move forward in the promotion of individual liberty or freedom in Africa, if we keep ignoring how central religion is to the African society.
Usually, when we think religion, we think of the two prominent religions of Christianity and Islam. These two religions have managed to push indigenous traditional African religions to the background, to the point where they are almost seen as a taboo. But the traditional beliefs right from the start laid the foundations for the Africa we know today, before the Europeans came with Christianity and the Jihadists, with Islam. Yes, these two religions are foreign to Africa, but have managed to influence and shape the culture and way of life in Africa. And that is the reason why there is no African nation today without some religious influence, no matter how subtle.
As a member of the Libertarian community in Africa, I discovered that there is little or no discourse on how religion can be a powerful tool in the promotion of freedom in the continent. Conferences, workshops and trainings are held on various topics ranging from free market economics to individual sexuality, but we seem to shy away from religion as a social force to be reckoned with in Africa. This is one of the reasons Global African Christians for Liberty Initiative (GACLI) exists; to bridge the gap. However, when social issues bordering on religion in Africa are swept aside by the larger community of Libertarians, we cannot but ask ourselves if we are actually making impact.
There is a general agreement that the private sector is more effective in shaping economies, especially in a capitalist system. In many cases, religious institutions and even individuals, have proven beyond doubt to be champions of change in the continent. Historically, we attribute Islamic education to the Jihadists who came into Africa hundreds of years ago, Christian schools to European Missionaries around the 15th Century, while our traditional medical healers continue to wax strong from the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. These religious institutions continue to hold sway in our societies, most of the time standing in the gap between governments and citizens, and providing basic amenities where they are lacking.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Johannesburg’s first Black Anglican Bishop, is renowned for his work on Human Rights, especially for the sexual minority in South Africa, and all over the world. There are many Islamic leaders in Africa who fight against radical Islam and terrorism, and also stand for religious tolerance and peace in the world. Both religious institutions of Islam and Christianity have continued to provide education and shelter, while supporting entrepreneurship in Africa. Our traditional belief systems remain the pillar of justice and equality.
It is important to note that regardless of what we think of religion and adherents of faith, it may be difficult to make progress if there are no measures to make it a topic of discourse in our efforts for a free Africa. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that most of our leaders in Africa subscribe to one religion or the other, be it foreign or local. In Kenya and Southern Africa, there are African nationals of Indian origin who practice their own religion and have become part of the political and economic force. Though Hinduism, Buddhism, etc, may for now be considered minor religions in Africa, the fact remains that if Libertarianism is to effectively and quickly gain grounds in Africa, we should not fail to discuss individual faith as we discuss individual liberty.
As efforts are made to be objective in achieving the Libertarian goal of a free society, we have to remember that Africa is not Europe, neither is it the United States of America. The continent has not gotten to the point where faith does not matter, and unless there is a shift in approach to the issue of religion in our activities and discourse, there may not be Liberty in Africa.