Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa.

Author:Chirot, Daniel
Position:Book review
 
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Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa. Edited by Terence O. Ranger. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 267pp. $99.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.

Sub-Saharan Africa does not have many functioning democracies, but it has a large and growing number of evangelical Christians. Can they help promote democracy and good governance? This set of well researched, scholarly essays by specialists on Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa, as well as superb introductory and concluding chapters by Terence Ranger and Paul Gifford answer, "maybe."

In Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, thousands have died in an acute conflict between Islam and Christianity despite long standing efforts at reconciliation. The problem includes the fact that evangelical Christians and Muslims are competing for converts among the many who still follow mostly local traditional religions. The state is so corrupt that the country's wealth has been squandered and hoarded by a fortunate few while the majority struggle in poverty, malting competition for scarce resources between various religiously and ethnically defined communities particularly bitter. Politicians have manipulated religious and ethnic divisions to hold on to power, thus exacerbating conflicts. In his chapter Cyril Imo is hopeful that the application of Sharia law in the mostly Muslim North has hurt the economy and diminished popular support for politicized Islam, and that the growth of democracy will solve many of the conflicts. Given the reality of Nigeria's fractured politics and the intensity of both Muslim and evangelical Christian efforts to grow, that may be more of a wish than a prognosis, especially as long as government fails to provide the protection and justice that now rest so greatly in the hands of religious and ethnic communities that thrive on reinforcing their identities against their competitors.

The other chapters are mostly on southern Africa where the Muslim question is much less prominent. Evangelical Christians, even in majority Christian African lands, have on the whole long tried to avoid politics, but more recently in many countries they have started to use their growing popular support to struggle against what amounts to nothing less than widespread, systematic banditry by their political elites. That has certainly happened in Zambia, and is happening right now in Zimbabwe. In Mozambique some evangelical churches have played a role in pacifying the...

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