Africa: Churches – new political actors in the region

Africa: Churches – new political actors in the region

13.08.2015. During the last year we were witnesses of the growing number of the discussion concerning the homosexual rights in many Sub-Saharan African countries. In some cases, political parties have acquired this topic as their own, however in most of the cases it was Catholic Church who stood as the protector of the traditional values and strongly opposed the process of opening towards homosexuals in Africa.

 

I argue that this activism of the (not exclusively) Catholic Church was not present few years ago and Catholic Church, but also other churches operating in Sub-Saharan Africa, are becoming the relevant political actors. However, even in some cases the position and campaign of the churches is understandable and coherent with its teaching, in some cases, their political activism might be considered going beyond its legitimate agenda.

 

Church activism

The activism of the Catholic Church concerning the homosexuality has been prevalent mostly since the last year. One of the most spoken and publicized cases has been the anti-gay law adopted by Ugandan parliament in February 2014. Even the Catholic Church did not support the so called “Kill the Gays” law, which imposed very strict punishment to gay sex, it stated that it is strongly against homosexuality. The second famous case of 2014 was the support of the anti-gay law in Nigeria by the local Catholic Church. Nigerian bishops congratulated the government for adopting the law which punishes the gay sex by 10 years in jail. The latest event proving that the topic of homosexuality is becoming an important issue in Sub-Saharan Africa is the last-week visit of Barack Obama in Kenya which invoked a wave of protests against its pro-homo campaign in this region.

 

NGOs vs. churches

It is not surprising that the church has become the protagonist of this topic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Political party systems in this region are not developed and the only cleavage along which the political parties have been established is the topic of democratization process. Political movements which would place themselves as liberals vs. the conservatives are missing in the party systems. Therefore when the pro-gay activists, mostly NGOs, started to spread their campaign in this region, churches stood up as their main opponents. By this mostly the Christian Churches have become the actors in political development of the Sub-Saharan African countries.

 

The basic and common repeated arguments of the representatives of the Catholic Church in Sub-Saharan Africa is that acceptance of gay sex and gay marriages is in the opposite of traditional “African“ values and that the agenda of pro-homo NGOs can cause the dissolution of indigenous African culture. Similar arguments can be often heard also in Western Europe where the Churches also support the campaigns of conservative parties

 

Going beyond “protecting the traditional values“ agenda?

However, the Church activism has gone, in some cases, beyond it´s traditional, expected and legitimate position. The most published cases of such events is the strong opposition of the Kenyan Catholic Church against the tetanus, and recent polio vaccination in Kenya.

 

In September 2014, Kenyan bishops stated that the tetanus vaccination planned and organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) contained the birth-control hormone and is an evil plan to population control aimed on African countries. Although the WHO and UNICEF (United Nation Children´s Fund) denied any allegations, the activism of the Church has caused higher distrust towards the vaccination in Kenya. The similar case is the last week´s refusal of polio vaccination by the Kenyan Catholic Church who required the vaccination to be first tested to prove that is does not content any dangerous additives.

 

In both cases government has stressed that the vaccination should be left on experts and has asked the church to respect the and not to spread doubts and panic among the population. However again, these statements can support irresponsible behavior of the population and led to inefficiency of the vaccination campaign.

 

The Church in Sub-Saharan African has become an influential political actor and this position of the Church should be recognized in the political analysis of Sub-Saharan African states. This development is understandable as pro-homosexual activism has been spreading also among the African states and the political parties protecting the conservative values have been missing in the party systems in Africa. However, is should be clear line between the topics which can be considered as the legitimate agenda of conservative forces in political systems and the topics which can endanger healthy development of the population and society. 

 

Mária Kučerová