17. Faith Based Development in Africa – Nordic Perspectives

E-mail of panel organiser: paivi.hasu@helsinki.fi

In Africa, for many people, religious ideas are integral to moral values, experiencing and rationalization of poverty and making decisions about development. Classic theories of development paid little attention to religion because it was seen as an obstacle to modernization. During the 1980s, some of the first attempts explored the relationship between religion and development, and the gradual understanding of poverty as a multi-dimensional phenomenon has made it explicit that religion is an important dimension of wellbeing. Religion shapes people’s values and what they consider worthwhile and religion is integral to social, political and economic life as well as development.

Simultaneously with the changing understandings of the role of religion in development studies, several significant processes have taken place: Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity has been growing rapidly in Sub-Saharan Africa, churches have been increasingly involved in public life, and international development aid system has witnessed the growth of NGOs and faith based organizations. At the same time, major donor countries have changed their aid distribution policies. Donors have traditionally focused on supporting organisations associated with mainstream Christian Churches. However, various types of FBOs are important in the lives of the poor in many different faith contexts.

This panel welcomes papers that discuss how FBOs, churches and faith communities are involved in three core areas of development: 1) Poverty and human development, 2) political and economic reforms, and 3) Nordic and international aid systems. This panel discusses how FBOs engage with individuals and faith communities while implementing their development programs. It also examines FBOs as a part of the international aid system that appears to emphasize a “value free” or “secular” approach to development. This involves a critical examination of Nordic development cooperation, development policy goals and development policy coherence as regards FBOs and the partnership schemes.


1. Bringing mission and development together - Holistic approach in the work of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission

Author: Maria Palmusaari (University of Helsinki, Finland)


The so called modern development aid which started after the wars is described as the historical inherent of colonialism and mission. Beside this more or less recognized historical connection between mission and development aid it is important to acknowledge that the connection is still relevant in current development aid. One of its concrete manifestations is the fact that mission organizations are significant actors in development aid and in many countries they receive official development funding. In the Nordic countries, for example, mission organizations use a lion’s share of this funding. Government’s interest in funding religious NGO development work has been increasing over the past decade. Secular funders value the work of religious NGOs. Being religious is, on one hand, assumed to add value to development work but, on the other hand, funders insist on keeping the work performed with their money secular, i.e. separated from religious activity. Secular development aid funders’ attitude can therefore be described inconsistent or even contradictory. For religious development NGOs this means that they are left with large funding but also with a demand to separate a part of their work from religiously meaningful activities. How can these organizations use and secure the continuation of this funding and at the same time maintain their identities as religious organizations? Through the analysis of the written material of Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM) the following question will be studied: How does FELM combine its two roles as a mission organization and as the official partner organization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? This question is approached by analysing the rhetorical choices through which FELM constructs relationship with its two audiences: the religious and the secular development aid audience, and the rhetoric FELM uses to integrate secular development themes to its identity as a mission organization.


Author: Maria Ericson (Umeå University, Sweden)


The overarching aim of this paper is to identify how norms and values of hospitality might enhance peace-building and reconciliation in South and Southern Africa. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been criticised for narrowly focusing on the individual’s relationship to the state, it also states the right for everyone to participate freely in the cultural life of one’s community. Furthermore, state-centric efforts to promote human rights, e.g. through legal reform, might need to be supported by broader strategies for social and cultural transformation inspired by local cultural norms and values.

In addition to indigenous African traditions, Christianity is widespread in Southern Africa, and a study from these perspectives on hospitality can be of relevance to, and support, more state-centric efforts for peace-building, reconciliation and the protection of human rights. Hospitality, which has been highlighted as a core aspect of the African notion of ubuntu, and discussed by Southern African Christian theologians, can be a way of binding a community together, and a way of initiating new relationships that challenge prevailing divisions.

This paper is based on theological and philosophical writings in particular by African authors, as well as on explorative interviews in South Africa and Zimbabwe where a number of areas of applicability were suggested. Hospitality was seen as a concept that could open up discussions on sensitive issues in post-apartheid South Africa, e.g. land reform, restitution, integration, xenophobia, violent crime. It was also seen as applicable to peace-building and reconciliation between different ethnic or political groups in neighbouring states.

3. Creating ‘a new moral order’. The use of spiritual resources for social reconstruction and economic development in post-genocide Rwanda

Author: Anne Kubai (Uppsala University, Sweden)


In this contribution I examine the role religion that is playing in the post conflict reconstruction of Rwanda - in other words, how traditional social institutions, beliefs and practices are being used as spiritual resources for the reconstruction of the social fabric and economic development. I illustrate how, in the peculiar circumstances of post-genocide Rwanda, communities are responding to the need for reshaping their social, political landscapes and interrogate their relationship with the state and with one another on the issues of rights, duties and privileges in a post conflict situation. This situation is inherently difficult and fraught with contradictions and therefore, it is instructive to see how Rwandans have turned to spirituality not only as they deal with various challenges in the process of social and economic reconstruction; but also as they struggle to transcend the age-old social boundaries and build a nation, and a free and just society. The achievement of both social reconstruction of a fractured social fabric and economic development, is predicated on what Rwandans call “change of mindset” and the creation of a new ‘moral order’ through the use of its cultural and religious resources. Here I go beyond Christian spirituality and examine the use of the society’s traditional value systems to create governance structures and “culture-based development” policies; in other words the on-going process of creating a “new national narrative” for Rwanda.

4. Witch Doctors in Development - Discourses of Development, Christianity and the Occult in World Vision Area Development Programs in Tanzania

Author: Päivi Hasu (University of Helsinki, Finland)


This paper examines the discourses of development, occult and what is locally called “paganism” in and around World Vision development programs in Shinyanga Region, Tanzania. In its child sponsorship program, the Christian development organization World Vision works and collaborates in the communities together with local, non-Christian medicine men. One form of collaboration is the recruitment of children from such families to join the child sponsorship program of the World Vision Area Development Programs. Much debate around “paganism”, potential conversion to Christianity and the possibility of development is involved in these arrangements. Simultaneously, in this area, there is the on-going discourse around occult, “paganism” and the murders of people with albinism in which the medicine men are said to be key actors. According to the popular understanding, the local miners and the medicine men collaborate in their search of quick riches by way of killing people with albinism and by practicing a form of occult economy. These macabre incidents are connected to what is perceived to be “paganism” and lack of development. This paper takes the collaboration between World Vision and the local medicine men as a window between the Christian and the more traditional world view. It looks into the dynamics in the discourses on development, Christianity and the occult, and draws from research conducted on faith-based development organizations on one hand, and studies on occult economies on the other.

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