As religion grows, so does inter-faith conflicts in Africa
Posted Friday, February 17 2012 at 10:02
With both Muslim and Christian populations in sub-Saharan Africa growing rapidly, issues of inter-faith relations will become increasingly explosive if measures are not taken to address growing tensions between the two major faiths in countries across Africa.
The January 20 bombings and gun battles in Nigeria’s second largest city of Kano have added urgency to efforts to seek a lasting solution to religious conflicts on the continent. The Boko Haram militant group, which claimed responsibility for the attacks in which up to 165 people were killed, has in the recent past gone for an all-out campaign of terror in its efforts to establish Sharia rule in Nigeria.
Last Christmas, the group was responsible for a wave of bombings that claimed over 80 lives.
But Nigeria is not an isolated case, though arguably the worst affected by religious animosity. Egypt has also experienced a wave of attacks on churches over the past year; sectarian violence between Muslims and Orthodox Christians protesting against the attacks claimed 24 lives last October, according to reports. Ivory Coast was effectively split along religious lines in the aftermath of its insurgency. In Kenya, Al Shabaab propagandists have attempted to portray Kenya’s foray into Somalia as an attack on Islam.
Even in Tanzania, which enjoys a relatively high degree of religious harmony, tensions have occasionally run high; early last year, The Citizen newspaper reported that the Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata) had asked the government to form a special commission comprising religious leaders to explore the increasing religious animosity in the country. This kind of scenario described in these examples is replicated to a lesser or greater extent in countries across Africa.
But Christians have not merely sat back as lambs waiting for slaughter. Christian leaders in Nigeria urged their followers to exercise restraint after the Christmas attacks. It remains to be seen how they will react following the latest attacks, with fears of reprisals gripping the nation.
Indeed, following attacks by Muslim Hausa cattle herders on Christian ethnic Taroks in 2004, the latter attacked Muslim cattle-herders in the town of Yelwa in central Nigeria’s Plateau State. Wire agencies reported then that the Tarok ethnic group used machine guns mounted on jeeps, along with rifles and machetes, to attack the Muslim community. Three mosques were damaged and at least 67 people were killed, with hundreds more fleeing or unaccounted for.
A close look at the statistics shows that Africa could be headed for a conflagration of mammoth proportions unless national and religious leaders spearhead a sober, reasoned approach that will ensure the followers of the two faiths can live together in harmony.
Sub-Saharan Africa has more than 500 million Christians, which makes it the region with the third largest number of Christians worldwide, says a new report. The continent has 242.5 million Muslims.
The study, Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population, was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life in the US.
An earlier study on Muslim populations released early last year and conducted by the same firm forecast that the Muslim population will grow at about twice the rate of the non-Muslim population over the next two decades – an average annual growth rate of 1.5 per cent for Muslims, compared with 0.7 per cent for non-Muslims.
According to the report, “The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030,” the Muslim population in Nigeria is projected to increase by more than 50 per cent in the next 20 years, from about 76 million in 2010 to about 117 million in 2030. If current trends continue, Nigeria – arguably the country worst affected by Africa’s religious wars - will have a slight Muslim majority by 2030. Muslims are expected to make up 51.5 per cent of the population in 2030, up from 47.9 per cent in 2010.
The projected increase in Nigeria’s Muslim population is primarily due to high fertility rates. Although the rates vary considerably throughout the country, the average fertility rate for Muslim women in Nigeria is between six and seven children per woman, compared with an average of five children per woman for non-Muslims. High fertility rates among Nigeria’s Muslims are related to factors such as lower levels of education and lower use of birth control.
This sorry state among Nigeria’s Muslims has exacerbated the conflicts in the country. The reasons are partly historical. According to Nigerian scholars Eghosa E. Osaghae and Rotimi T. Suberu, “British colonial policy fostered the uneven socioeconomic and political development and mal-integration of the various Nigerian peoples.
The more damaging aspects of the British colonial policy of uneven development included the exclusion of Christian missionary activity and the highly prized mission-sponsored schools from the predominantly Muslim areas of the north, thereby creating a huge imbalance in westernisation between north and south, which continues to haunt the federation; the discouragement of any official political contact between north and south until 1947, when politicians from the two regions sat together for the first time in the central legislative council; the official promotion of segregated residential settlement patterns and inflexible land tenure systems, both of which reinforced discrimination against migrant communities; and, the lopsided recruitment of Nigerians into the army and police.”