Religion and development in Africa

Tapiwa Gomo

develop me: Tapiwa Gomo

Weekends in Africa tend to be occupied by praise and worship by different religions.

Religion has always been part of human history in their quest for an interface with their creator.

But what role has religion played in the social and economic development of a society or lack thereof?

Religion generally comprises social beliefs, practices and rituals that are related to the sacred, to God, to the mystical or to the supernatural. It is an act of faith, as scientists argue.

Most people in the world concur that religious beliefs are at the core of human existence and constitute the stem from which the various belief systems and branches of life bifurcate and grow. These are some of the reasons religion is a sensitive subject, which either cushions it from criticism or makes it a cause for conflict.

In religion, there is an inherent obligation that humans must worship their gods, but also that people can turn to the same to seek solutions to their problems.

In spite of the myriad of rituals that characterise its practice, this worship and relationship has historically bound humans and their religion. However, the most dominant religions in Africa today were either imposed during the colonial times or spread from other regions outside the continent, thereby gradually annihilating our traditional belief systems.

Christianity and Islam are the main religions in Africa and are part of the way of life in many societies. In Africa, religion has an important role in defining the socio-economic and political life at individual and society levels.

However, this is different from western countries where Christianity, for instance, was transmitted to Africa during the colonial period. Western societies have succeeded in delinking religion from politics, economic and social development.

Institutions of accountability have ensured that religious and governance organisations can be held accountable. This has helped mitigate abuse of power by leaders of both organisations.

These differences have a huge impact on how the West and Africa have developed over the years. For example, societies in the West believe in being rewarded from hard work, which they consider fundamental to achieving development. They believe that a reward must come out of hard work and do not so much see that as a blessing from God, but a return on investment.

And that too underpins their problem-solving mentality. They believe human solutions are what is needed to address earthly problems and that explains the huge investment in research and innovation.

This is not to say they do not believe in God, but they do realise that human beings have a huge role in transforming their world by putting their minds and physical labour to good use.

This is contrary to the African context, where all human activities are performed, seen and experienced from a religious perspective. Religion is seen as being part of every aspect of life to the extent that it is not easy to separate one from the other. That bond influences judgments, decisions and practices of the majority of the people on the continent to the extent that the human element is seen as playing a passive role in the pursuits of social and economic development, with everything left in the hands of their gods.

An achievement in Africa is not seen from the perspective of the efforts invested into it, but as a blessing from a supernatural power or a god. Problems are not solved, but prayed over with the hopes that God will address them. Africa is seen as poor by most Africans because they think it is cursed and Western countries are developed because they are blessed. And in order to address the problem of a curse, time and effort are invested into prayer instead of implementing development programmes that can transform societies.

For that reason, religion cannot be exonerated from having perpetuated poverty and a docile mentality in Africa, where its people spend time and resources in prayers and investment in miracles instead of focusing more in productive activities.

It is for the same reason, that most of the people on the continent can easily be fooled by pastors and politicians into believing scandalous things because the general mindset is receptive to anything spiritual and religious.

While poverty persists on the natural-resource rich continent, church leaders continue to be wealthier as they reap from the desperate poor. Offerings are seen as voluntary contributions, but the coercion lies in the assertion that if one gives, it boosts their chances of being blessed. We all know that the real God has nothing to do with money.

If he needed it that much, he would have blessed Zimbabwe with a currency. It is an earthly fraud that has been left to flourish unquestioned.

African pastors easily become wealthy because there is an abundant belief that investing in religious practices is more profitable than investing in real business. So many people ‘seed’ their hard-earned money to their pastors with the hope that God will bless them and make the money multiply.

This is how those mind-sets are structured. Whilst the endemic problems of African poverty must first be blamed on the historical factors and current governance and corruption challenges, religion too has a major role.


  1. i agree with you my bro the more. we’re really fooled and fail to invest in meaningful businesses. you some of us who perceive themselves as “blessed” building some 30 to 50 roomed houses when they buy their groceries from tuckshops, sham

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