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Can the African Union tackle religion? – Dr. Glen Segell

April 1, 2017


Can the African Union tackle religion?

By Glen Segell

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 5 (April 2017)

The exercise and limitation of religious freedom in the African context is a problematic and controversial issue as it is in other regions worldwide. However in the African context with its tough colonial past, it can be argued that imperial religions have violated the individual conscience and the communal expressions of Africans and their communities. God, Glory and Gold were the 3 G’s of the colonial period now added by the 4th G, Globalisation.[1] Through subversion of African religions mainly by Christianity and Islam by these G’s, Africans have been robbed of essential elements of their humanity.

The African Union (AU) and its predecessors are regimes in their own right that have made attempts to tackle religion on a supra-national basis for many reasons to reinstate the humanity. On paper, at least the key normative document for the continent continues to be the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.[2] In the Charter, Article 2 has a non-discrimination clause vis-à-vis Charter rights where religion is one of a number of protected grounds. Not every state on the continent has accepted or implemented this.

Given the lack of implementation of many agreements and due to numerous desires in many areas the African Union (AU) has set out seven aspirations for the year 2063 set out in Agenda 2063 also known as “The Africa we want by 2063”. [3] It is not surprising that religion features in two of these given the above statement about the 4 G’s, imperial religions and the diversity of religions on the continent. These are Aspiration 5 and Aspiration 6.

Aspiration 5 of Agenda 2063 calls for an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics. This is elaborated as “Pan-Africanism and the common history, destiny, identity, heritage, respect for religious diversity and consciousness of African people’s and her diaspora’s will be entrenched.”

Aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063 calls for an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children. This is elaborated as “All the citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man will be left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors.”

To meet these goals the headings of issues that have to be addressed are endless. Many of the issues that have been identified are not unique to Africa. To be sure it could be said that Africa is a case of human nature when reading them. Nevertheless, they have been identified by the AU and therefore they are on the agenda.[4] These include:

  • The links between conflict with religion in Africa where religion is abused to justify oppression, violence and conflict
  • The role of religious and traditional practices in child marriage
  • The need to avoid stigmatizing any particular religion
  • Prejudice, intolerance and stereotyping on the basis of religion and culture
  • The prevention of genocides
  • Disadvantage based upon factors that include poverty, gender, ethnicity, culture, and religion
  • Human rights violations because of place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status
  • The need to ensure that all African citizens, irrespective of their religion, language, gender can participate in the economic, social, political development of the continent
  • Educate leaders to be responsible and not to hate noting past tragedies such as the Rwandan Genocide and in doing so to promote equality without regard to the colour of skin, background, or religion and not to exclude, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors
  • To manage diversity by respecting every race, gender, culture, religion and language, and build tolerance
  • Resolve conflicts, personal or community identity claims, that might be based upon or include religion, history, marginalization, exclusion and a host of other factors.

In addition to states who are members of the AU and their leaders – who will be their partners to implement “The Africa we want by 2063” and to address the above issues?

One answer is the African Union Interfaith Dialogue Forum, a permanent steering committee consisting of senior religious leaders and policymakers, tasked with advancing cooperation between the AU and Africa’s religious communities to reduce conflict and coordinate peace and development efforts.[5]

Another answer is leaders of religious faiths at the local level. Although neither Christianity nor Islam could be considered indigenous to Africa; there is no doubt that the African continent and its peoples, for centuries, have been home to the diversity of its indigenous religions, as well as to Christianity and Islam. The facts and figures are not precise though it could be said that 80% of all those living in Africa are either Christian or Muslim. [6]

One challenge to successful implementation of the AU intentions is the diversity of leadership that appear to lack tolerance of each other striving to be the sole faith and the singular leadership. That leaves the rhetorical question – Can the African Union tackle religion?  – or in other words – will Africa really get the “The Africa we want by 2063”!



[1] Giouroukakis, V. and Connolly, M.  (ed) Getting to the Core of Literacy for History, Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects,  (Sage 2013)

[2] Evans, M. and Murray, R. (ed) African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, (Cambridge University Press 2002)

[3] Baber, G. Essays on International Law, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2017)

[4] To be found in reading many reports on the Africa Union website

[5] Pioin, J. (ed) Africa futures: towards a sustainable emergence? (UNESCO 2015)

[6] The Encyclopaedia Britannica to be found debates the various sources each of which has a preference.

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