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How might religious contention derail attempts for a conflict-free future?

Posted By Sarah Skidmore, Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program evaluates the role of religious contention in destabilizing peaceful futures of Africa through her ninth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The Sahel is a leading region currently experiencing religious conflict. Keep in mind, the Sahel is the belt spanning across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea in northern Africa. Within the past five years alone, religious contention has been a leading factor influencing most conflicts in the Sahel. Amid the religious disputes, the area is home to harsh desert climates, drought, food insecurity, and poverty. As climate change continues to escalate in the coming years, the trajectory for increased conflict seems inevitable. With climbing temperatures, increasing droughts, and diminishing rainfall, food insecurity compounds the instability the Sahel faces.

Though instability and violence in the Sahel are not a modern phenomenon, the situation's caliber and extremity continue to rise exponentially. Specifically, the influx in ideologically-fueled conflicts – including armed conflict, religious violence, and religious extremists – is increasing at an alarming rate. Religious discrimination is on the rise, and discriminatory thinking certainly influences the thought of the groups initiating and prolonging, armed conflicts in the region. Marginalization. Frustration. Aggression.

Understand that, customarily, Islamists inhabited the northern portion of the Sahel with fundamentalist Christians in the southern part. With climate change progressing rapidly, food insecurity is an influencer spurring violence from militant Islamic groups. Also, realize that people living in the Sahel may fall victim to recruitment, kidnapping, or killing by Islamic extremist groups. Without immediate intervention, a future of religious warfare and the escalating violence will be the cyclical reality of the millions of Africans living in the Sahel.

The contention is not limited to interactions between opposing religions such as Islamists and Christians. Disputes are ripe within religious groups as well, consider the distinctions between Catholics and Protestants. In sub-Saharan Africa, just over 60% of Africans identify as Christian. Within this 60%, over half identify as Protestant, and roughly one-third of Christians identify as Catholic. Nuance and differences between catholic religiosity and protestant evangelical leanings demonstrate one area of growing hostility. The second area of growing hostility within Christianity is the rub between African religious interpretation with other aspects of the global Christian church. In the next three decades, as population growth in Africa expands, the African Christian church is projected to be the leader in numbers of the global Christian church, including the branches of Protestantism and Catholicism. This dynamic further opens doors for further religious hostilities. The African Christian church clings to more traditional and fundamental religiosity than Western religion, which leans more liberal in comparison. Consider attitude and beliefs toward the LGTBQ+ community regarding marriage equality and clergy ordination as one example.

The religious contentions that exist among African groups compounded with global religious contentions do not foster a foundation of a conflict-free future; in contrast, they do the opposite, and seemingly uphold hostilities and conflict in the continent. With these ideological and global influences at work, is it possible to have shared vision across an entire continent? What are the odds that there is buy-in on the shared vision being a conflict-free future for the African people? Is a conflict-free future merely a fleeting idea and utopian dream?

© Sarah Skidmore 2020

Tags:  Africa  Christianity  religious contention 

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