The Church & the Challenge of Democratization in Africa

By Dr. Charles H. Kitima

Lecturer in Laws and Vice Chancellor of St. Augustine University of Tanzania 


 [Full Text]


Presented April, 2008




The western way of explaining different realities of man’s life dominated modern civilization. According to this mentality the only religion accepted by the people used to be Christianity. For Christianity the Church is the religious community that is capable of establishing relations with other communities, the political community not being an exception.


The religious situation has undergone a transformation in the world. Religious pluralism is accepted by most of the modern states. Under this pluralism, the long discussed subject of Church and state is accommodated to include those issues of religious policy of the state, religious freedom, the relation of law and religion, and the relation of religions and Government in the state. The Church-State terminology has an European origin and reflects a historico-juridical background which is different from that of Tanzania. In Europe, the Church was a single monolithic Church and Governmental power was centered in a single authority which had changed into a democratic one; in this case it was fitting to use the term Church without the inclusion of other religious communities. For our work an accommodation is necessary in order to concretize the subject where religious pluralism has shaped the Church-state relations right from the beginning of the states. It spells well for Tanzania, where the first organized religious to exist were different from Christianity. The first kingdoms in Tanzania recognized and experienced religious pluralism.


African religions were common in every kingdom, the king as the supreme authority of the kingdom guaranteed the freedom of every religion even to the new conquered tribes, provided they would promote the common good of the kingdom.


This was the basis for future religions to enter into Tanzanian societies without any objection by the people or the kings. Islam was peacefully received by the people in the tenth century. The same happened to Christianity in the sixteenth and in the nineteenth century. Having this in mind, it is not a mistake to represent religious bodies with the term Church, the term commonly sued in former times to signify the Christian community as an institution. In the Catholic Church the term can be welcomed for ecumenical reasons and above all for inter-religious dialogue. The non-Christian religions would accommodate this traditional western term to represent themselves without diminishing the importance of their religion for the sake of jurisprudence in Church and state relations. The basis of these relations is the human person with his fundamental rights, as an individual and a member of human society at the same time.


When the state is taken as an entry within the human community, the distinction between it and other associations of people is clear. The Catholic Church will shape itself in the state as an independent and autonomous community of persons with her distinct juridical system. At the same time the two juridical systems will manifest how they complement each other because it is the same citizens that are served by both systems for different ends.


Islam as a religion in Tanzania is organized in different sects having necessary structures for legal recognition. It is a religion with a national dimension as well as an international dimension. This has some influence on the state policy on religions. Christianity also is a well structured religion with various Churches, at national and international dimensions.


The relationship which has been established in Tanzania respects personal freedom of religion as a civil right and consequently the group’s freedom even at the international level keeping in mind that the legally well organized religions have their origin as visible institutions outside the country. The initiators of these new religions, Christianity and Islam, in Tanzania, are allowed to carry on their duty as before. We have to note that the relationship between the Church and the state in Tanzania is much influenced by the importance of each religion in Tanzania society.




Having analyzed the freedom of the organized religious community we discovered that it is upon the state to promote and protect this freedom with appropriate legal means. Still we saw that each institution is autonomous and independent from another. Now we are invited to justify the co-existence of the two in the same body politic. The Vatican II council considered this problem seriously and offered practical solutions.


The council indicated the absolute diversity between the Church and the state. That was not the end. Both Church and state must look for mutual understanding to be of help to the same men. The fictions of the state and those of the religious community are for helping the human persons to realize his personal and social vocation. Both are means for the final ends of man, temporal and spiritual ends respectively. At this juncture the freedom of any religious community is connected with the dignity of the human person.


It has been proved that the religion and state can easily work together for all matters concerning human dignity.


The Churches in Africa are charged with the responsibility of promoting human rights through their teachings. The religious institutions need governments which respect human rights in order to build the kingdom of God which is family of God’s children.


Since the goal of religious teachings is to promote human dignity, which is attained only through respect of human rights, there is no conflict for the church preaching its doctrines and Explicitly promoting between human rights.




Democratization of the state means Promotion of Human Rights. Religions played a big role in establishing democratic principles for political organization of societies. Indirectly the religious institutions are promoting human rights as their teachings touch most elements of human rights. All lawful religious doctrines helped the African Societies to promote and protect human rights during colonial powers.


Several cases can explain this fact:


i). It was through provision of social services by the Churches that colonized people recognized their right of equality with colonizers. Through this recognition of their rights African countries demanded and obtained their independences.


ii). The Churches preached the word of God who is One and Creator of all. People accepted their equal status before God. Hence, the unity of people was a result of common mission and vocation of religious communities.


iii). It was easy to tolerate the religious dissents (eccentrics) in Africa because God prohibited killing of fellow human being.


iv). The Church rendered social services without any discrimination. The spiritual education, therefore, was linked with respect of others.


v).The inclusive language in communicating about divine things is common to all religions e.g “God’s Children; Our Father; Our Creator”.


The language of embracing everybody in the Kingdom of God is what the Media has to use to promote common values of the society.




The doctrines preached by religions will deserve the respect by the state if they do not contradict human dignity. This is the litmus of a good religion. Since the human dignity is maintained through the respect and guarantee of human rights it follows that the religious institutions have divine mission to educate, promote and respect human rights for the social cohesion.


The religious institutions have now dual responsibility for promotion of human rights:


1. Forming responsible citizens imbued with human values
2. Educating people about basic human rights.


Once people are so formed and educated they will be able to choose the type of their government which will respect and protect human dignity.


Are all Churches preaching and living the conviction of equal human dignity? The answer is supposed to be “Yes” because many poor people accept equality in human dignity. The problem is with those who do not believe in human dignity.


Democratic governance will help creation of united society and protection of human rights.


The Church in Africa has to reflect its role in the process of democratization.




Essential Democratic Principles


To have a working democracy, Tanzanians must ensure that our country is governed in accordance with the essential democratic principles. Citizens must be committed to making the system work by practicing these principles, for democracy is not merely a form of governance, but a way of life.


The following is a brief list of some of these core principles:


1. Majority rule and minority rights


Generally, in a democracy, the majority view or policy prevails. For example, if a presidential candidate wins over 50% (one-half) of the votes cast by voters, he/she will be elected to be the President.


However, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities whether ethnic, political, religious, or simply losers in a debate over a given controversial issue. It is neither fair nor just that 51% of thee population can oppress the remaining 49% not is it fair to allow 99% of the population to oppress the remaining 1%.


2. Active Civil Society


Organized groups in society (e.g. churches, business associations, NGO’s, charitable organizations, in dependent media, women’s groups, and labour unions) do not depend upon government for their existence, legitimacy or authority. Collectively, these groups constitute “civil society”, one of the most important means of giving voice to ordinary citizens who, on their own, would not be heard. Through such organizations, individuals can meaningfully participate in government and have more voice by speaking collectively. Civil society organizations often lobby the government to promote and protect their respective interests and hold government accountable for its actions. Through participation in peaceful NGO activities, citizens can have a collective voice influencing the government on the most suitable choice of action.


3. Protection of and respect for fundamental human rights


Democracy, or “rule by the people, for the people” emphasizes the dignity of every human being. Therefore, at the heart of democracy is the protection and respect for fundamental human rights of individuals and protection against abuses of power by the government.


Democracy creates space for open dialogue without fear of repression. It allows for peaceful expression of complaints and views, thereby eliminating the need to sue violence to be heard. In addition, it is important to understand that democracy is not static. Our democracy must continue to evolve overtime. For example, in the United States, less than 150 years ago, African were held as slaves and denied the human rights and freedoms that white American enjoyed. However, eventually slavery was abolished.


The beauty of democracy is that it responds to pressure from the people for favourable change. People are poor in virtually every country, but in a democracy, such people have the freedom to speak out against the government, petition the government, and organize politically to improve their quality of life.


4. Equality


Fundamental to democracy is the principle that ALL people are equal before the law. In a democracy, all individuals and groups may feely exercise their right to practice their right to practice their cultures, religious, and languages so long as that exercise does not infringe upon the rights of others or violate legitimate criminal laws.


This equality includes freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, color, ethnic origin, birth, religion, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability.


5. Political and Ethnic Tolerance


In order for our democracy to succeed, we all must be tolerant of the views, beliefs, and ideas of others, including those views, beliefs and ideas you might find to be objectionable or contrary tow hat you believe. Those in power must respect the right of those out of power to assemble, associate, petition, run for political office and otherwise participate in the affairs of their government. Those out of power are often referred to as “the opposition” because they may have ideas that are different from the majority. Divisive politics undermines unity in our democracy by alternating various groups.


In addition, our democratic society is one that is usually composed of people from many different cultures, racial, religious, and ethnic groups who have divergent views on many important issues.


Church has to participate in the process of educating people about these principles of Democracy as they make the religion relevant to the needs of the people/believers. Some of these principles link faith and deeds. Faith without action will not help someone to attain salvation. Promoters of human rights for the sake of protecting human dignity are like evangelizers.


The success of any religion is only meaningful if it promotes human dignity.




The democratic principles are the corner stone for evangelization. The Church in Africa has two books to use for salvation of mankind: The Bible and Universal Declaration for Basic Human Rights (1948). Government leaders and religious ones in their togetherness for protection of human dignity on earth have the Universal Declaration for human rights (1948) as their common tool.


Knowing, promoting, respecting and protecting Human Rights by the Rule of Law is the responsibility of the state (people, territory and sovereignty).


Thank you for listening.


By: Dr. Charles H. Kitima |  Lecturer in Laws and Vice Chancellor of St. Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) -

Africa, PoliticsAnonymous