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Do African Religions
Hold the Answer?

According to one argument, the terrible inter-ethnic conflicts that have raged throughout some countries of Africa in our time are in large part due to Western influences. When European powers overran Africa a century ago, they staked out colonial claims according to their own imperial interests, drawing boundaries without respect to indigenous cultures and age-old systems of social organization.

The new movements for independence that emerged following World War II arose within the artificial boundaries created by the colonial powers -- and were often led by men who were locally born but Western-educated. As a result, the peoples who achieved independence were not nations in the Western sense, but haphazard amalgams of communities, primarily tribal, who happened to live within the boundaries of the new states. Subsequent history appears to confirm this, as genocidal wars have ravaged Nigeria, Somalia, and Angola, among other countries.

Rwanda and Burundi: exceptions?

Genocidal war also swept through Rwanda two years ago and now threatens to engulf Burundi. These countries suffered from the oppression of imperial rule by Germany and Belgium, but unlike such countries as Nigeria, Rwanda and Burundi were reborn after World War II within the boundaries of historical indigenous kingdoms.

One can still make the argument that the Western powers, with their foreign political concepts and institutional structures, have had a negative effect on Rwanda and Burundi. And certainly one can argue that Western military inventions and weapons technology have vastly increased the destructiveness of local conflict.

The Solution?

African god
One answer to the tragic problem, according to some, is a return to true African forms of societal organization, a genuine rebirth of African culture, and a return to the spiritual forms of African traditional religions.

There has been some renewed interest in African culture and religions, especially among the African diaspora -- people of African descent living elsewhere in the world. They often find Westerners hostile to the idea of taking African religions seriously, but two years ago they were given a boost when Pope John Paul II publicly affirmed the value in traditional African beliefs.

At the same time, there are African Christians who, while maintaining their Western-based faith, have rediscovered the spirituality in their ethnic heritage and are attempting to find connections between the two religious cultures. One such person is Emmanuel Twesigye, a Ugandan-born Anglican priest and scholar, who has written a book titled African Religion, Philosophy, and Christianity in Logos-Christ: Common Ground Revisited.

One must hope and pray that Africans can set aside their inter-ethnic hostilities and seek the common ground.


The Magellan Internet Guide recommends African Genesis, a site dedicated to discussions of cultural issues concerning the African diaspora. You can find more online resources on religion, myth, and spirituality, indexed and rated, in the McKinley Internet Yellow Pages and the McKinley Magellan Internet Guide.

Posted July, 1996.
© Copyright 1996 OBS