What is the correlation between religion and development in Africa?


State of the worlds religiousity courtesy of Gallup Poll

State of the world's religiosity courtesy of Gallup Poll

 by Sarah C.

This article on Gallup Poll’s website compares the religiosity of Americans to the rest of the world. Though not discussed, what’s glaringly obvious is how religious Africans are. For anyone who has been to Africa, this does not come as a surprise. Special holidays and events are celebrated with specially long church services, mosques call for prayer over public  loudspeakers and it is not uncommon to hear a DJ play a church song in a nightclub.

I just got back from church, the pews are much fuller than they used to be (my attendance has become frequent). Like everyone else, my list of needs has grown much longer in recent months.

This map has got me thinking. Africans are as religious as is the continent underdeveloped. In looking at the 2008 Human Development Index, Sierra Leone, Congo and Malawi which top the world’s religiosity list are among the world’s 20 least developed countries. At the same time, Norway, Sweden, Japan, France and Denmark are among the world’s 20 most developed countries, yet feature in the 11 least religious countries.

It is not my intent to sound blasphemous, but I question the relationship between religion and development in Africa. It’s more like a chicken and egg question? Are Africans more religious because as a way to cope with the hardships associated with underdevelopment or is Africa more underdeveloped because of religion? How does this correlation play out when comparing development of countries that practise Islam?


19 thoughts on “What is the correlation between religion and development in Africa?

  1. short answer: Yes, Africans cope and relate with hardships in a more spiritual way than countries such as Japan. Many Ghanaians adamantly believe in the Creators Will and thus tend to fall back on the reasoning that everything is in the Creators hands including the answer to our plight.

    In Japan, where I was educated and lived for over twenty-five years they foster and excel in a collective group mentality similar to Ghanaians. I find the two peoples very similar in many ways…I laugh all the time due to this.

    But where they do differ is when it comes to taking group action to solve a challenge or pursue an opportunity. Lets say on simple terms, if the roof leaks, Ghanaians would pray for Gods intervention while the Japanese pool their resources together and fix the leaky roof without depending on divine intervention. After the roof is fixed maybe they would give homage to the Gods but the key point is that they would act, first.

    Another point: many NGO’s and Aid organizations are faith based so when they arrive in a village, it is as if it was Gods second coming and everything is contributed to Gods grace & will…

  2. This is a great question that you raised. I don’t think Religion is the cause of poverty and under-development——- Religion is where people tend to turn during desperate times. It is within human nature to search for a greater force when the rest of the world appears to be against you—or if the world cannot provide any real answers or solutions to our problems. If you look at slavery in the United States and the civil rights movement, religion played a critical role. The key leaders of the Civil rights movement such as Martin Luther King were church leaders and clergy. The church was not only a place of spiritual healing, it became the foundation for social and political activism. It was the meeting place for the black folks and a foundation of the civil rights movement. The church message was very symbolic. The hymns that they sang while working on the fields and during the peaceful protests and the bible verses that were quoted in many of the speeches confirm the significance of religion to this movement. Religion symbolizes freedom and equality– that every man was created equal and in God’s image. I believe this is the reason why African Americans had a strong belief and attachment to religion during slavery—and I also believe it might explain why people from the less developed and impoverished regions of the world as shown on the map tend to have a stronger inclination to religion. People are looking for answers—— whether you believe in the— Bible/Koran/whatever you read– or not, it offers a lot of people with hope, optimism and comfort—– that things will eventually get better. I am not in any way suggesting that these are the only reasons why most people turn to religion or join their respective churches—but I think it is a big piece to the puzzle.

  3. Interesting observations Sarah C.
    However you need to make some distinctions and specifications before I would be able to come up with any sort of response for this!
    1) What exactly do you mean by “Religion”? Are u totally focusing only on Christianity and Islam? Remember that there are many African “traditional” religions also, hence there’s Shango, Amadioha, Erzuli, Lemanja, Asase Ya, Ngai etc recognised and revered as gods and goddesses in various specific regions of the continent. These “religions” are still in existence even though the two big boys from the West and the East are trying hard to run them out of town! Nevertheless, you can’t ignore them when u talk about Religion in Africa. So, are they included in your dialogue? and if not, why not?

  4. Whenever I think about religion in Africa I think about the Bible and the Gun. I was just listening to MPR and there will be an interesting talk at the Northrop auditorium today. British physicist, Richard Dawkins argues that Christianity, and religion by extension, is a hoax. His quote “Jesus is an imaginary friend” teehee. For those interested, he will be speaking about his book, God Delusional, at the U of M’s Northrup Auditorium today at 7:00pm .

  5. Lets be real, Religion for Africans is used to channel our spiritual connection with the creator, in the West however it is used as a political tool of control and occupation. Look at colonialism it came under the guise of spreading Christianity and look at the crusades in the middle east, same thing. Unfortunately the majority of Africans are under religious bodies used by foreign powers as strategic political tools, our problem is still the same as it was 30 years ago, we still do not control our politics, economy and even our societies. Every aspect of our lives must be African, from our religion to our political styles to how we observe social behaviors. until we do, our problems will still be here in the future.

  6. Wamutogoria, what is the difference between Religion in the West and in Africa? You say in the West it is used as “a political tool of control and occupation”, isn’t that the same in Africa?.

    The author of the topic, Sarah C. never gave me any clarification as to whether she was talking solely about Christianity and Islam when she talked of Religion in Africa. I will therefore assume that was what she meant- so to answer her question on whether Africa is more underdeveloped because of “Western” religion? My answer is YES! They screwed us good, and now “everything to God in prayer”!!

  7. Religion now serves as instrument of intimidation in africa used especially by power mongers who cuildnt find other means of mobilizing the majority to do their wishes.

  8. It is very challenging to us Afrrican today to take our underdevelopment and poverty as having a strong link with our religiosity. As a matter of fact, the question raised by the world to our lagging behind should be fatefully answered by our selves as regards the way we take things forgranted. Our assumption that religion will help us is not a pragmatic one and will lead us to doom. what if we all die of hunger and diseases that we could prevent. shall that mighty one not ask us for accountability. Please, lets wake up and start a new introspection and rightfully put religion in the faculty of moderation our behaviours and social relationships other than the economic dimension which is so vital in the life and the future of humanity. lets us begin to sweep our backyard before calling others to help us.

    Best wishes as we begin to think and shape the face of the world.


  9. I think the abandonement of ‘faith based thinking’ during the enlightenment is a major factor that allowed Western Europe to become dominant economically and militarily. So it does not surprise me that the places that are still in an economic rut are the places that have a pray first and act later mentality (pray to any spirits; not just Jesus or Allah). GrowGhana’s leaky roof example illustrates the problem perfectly.

    I also think places that blame everyone but themselves have a tough time developing. No one is saying colonization was good for Africa, but it is not the root of every problem; it’s not like Africa was a bustling civilization before the Europeans got there. The problems now are the result of massive population growth without ever becoming more efficient at using resources.

    The questions now are how do you build the education, health, agriculture, banking, and manufacturing institutions necessary for prosperity. Praying certainly won’t help; yet religion and population size seem to be the only things moving upwards in Africa these days.

  10. On the contrary, I strongly hold the view that genuine religion and development in all areas of life are inseparable. Development in the true sense of the word, for Ghana, has been the product of religion, particularly, Christianity, not forgetting the process of it. Check out more on this as I research more into this.

  11. The variables, religion and development are not enough to explain the underdevelopment of Africa. In the African context other variables like society, the state and traditional African religions should be included as intervening variables in the analysis . These variables should be looked at as a process of transformation. It seems to me many of you tend to look at religion and development as cause and effect phenomenon, which to me seems mechanical approach to studying society.

  12. africans underdevelopment is due to our laziness, we dont want to use our effort and mental faculty effectively. No religion teaches about laziness, we can only progress if we change our negetive attitude. Religion is never a problem to our development.

  13. Even though i did not agree with karl marx to some extent in his definition of religion as”opium of the pple”(that is the material used by the rich to consol d poor)seeing what we do in the name of religion am compeled to agre wit him,lets take a pratical example,chritianity for instance,go to the adoration ground,only the needy wil be seen,others who are wel to do manage to attend sunday service or the like,in ATR,ppl are active when they want to get power and the like.my point is that if true religion wil be praticed in africa it wil contribute to our development.dat not witsanding,religion is nt one of the major factors of development(under)jerad d. Sugest geography,others world view/ideology,etc.i wish to say that religion per se contribute to dev

  14. Olinga charles-UGANDA-Katakwi
    I want to agreee with all the panalist above and later specialise on my personal opinion on religion and develpment basically on their corrolation. we are all aware on the wise saying that “THE FLAG FOLLOWED THE CROSS”. Europeans disguised in the name of spreading religion(christianity as per say) to soften the hearts of so called dark continent dwellers of that century towards colonisation process. it shuld be remembered that it was uppon their victory that they indoctrinated africans to think that they had received their liberator from the poverty. on contrary ,however, church development currently surpases any government development because of what i would call neocolonisation where they wholesomely rely on donations to implement most of their activities which range from fostering education,health facilities,fighting “poverty”. i beg to rest my case as i take on acomprehensive research on this matter.

  15. The issue of underdevelopment and religion, particularly in Africa is no rocket science. It is logical. Europeans arrived in Africa carrying – a gun, knowledge, money and religion – and the only thing they gave to the natives is religion. The Africans, among the colonised peoples are the only ones who abandoned their religions and accepted foreign mambo-jambo which continues to addict them. Can any African who is prepared to apply a little bit of thinking answer this question – Europeans who came to the continent, and took people into slavery, stripping them of their identity, dignity and brutalized them at every opportunity in the plantations; wanted these same victims of their cruelity to go to heaven? Please, Africa WAKE UP !!! Religion, discourages critical thinking – why would anyoner bother to do research on the origin of species when the “holy book” gives a “definitive and divine” answer? Religion, in Africa is responsible for the inability of Africans to extricate themselves from underdevelopment. It is no wonder that the 10 top developed countries in the world are the least religious, while those stuck at the bottom of developmental food-chain are the most religious. The more ignorant a people, the more religious they become. There is, obviously, an inverse relationship between intelligence and religiosity. If you do not believe me, come to my township, I will take you to any church and the profile of the congretation will confirm my assertion. The dumbest idiots in every class – who fail to decipher the quadratic equations and therefore, can make no further progress in any science career – migrate to religious studies which any retard can manage. The last era when religion ruled the world is dubbed the “dark ages” and we all know where has that taken humanity – thousands of years behind development.

    Loyiso from South Africa

  16. It is not in the bible what Europeans introduced to Africans taht we should close our eyes while praying. This is what they want to achieve, blind fold people’s eyes while they have free day doing their will. I believe that we do not need to bemoan the past but rework the history. Priioritise education, promote science and technology from Kindergaten schools and legislate against unbriddled and senseless religiousity like holding church services during official working hours, public registration and financial auditing of churches and mosques, abolish state funding of religious elites pilgrimages, promote public school teaching of civic and enforcement of family piety.

  17. i thinlk religion plays an important role in development,but my question is Is Africa realy that religious in the sence that the religiosity of the people has turn out to be “poison?”

  18. Pingback: Session: 3 – ThinkingPoliticallyAboutDevelopment

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