The Predicament of Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa

Prof. Anna Bono
University of Turin

christians
The future of Christians living in Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and other Sub-Saharan countries depends very much on the global determination to counteract radicalism and terrorist groups. The will and capacity of Islam to defeat extremists is a crucial factor too, along with the need to address the major economic, social and political challenges that facilitate the spread of religious intolerance and terrorism.

Christianity has become the African continent’s first religion. The most recent data show that in 2012 Christians accounted for 46.53 per cent of the African population, Muslims for the 40.46 per cent and traditional African religions for 11.8 per cent. These figures are the findings of a study that has been presented on September 21, 2012, at the conference “Religion in a Globalized Context”, organized by CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) at the El Jadida University in Morocco. The study also states that in 31 African countries the predominant religion is Christianity. Beyond these percentages, the extent of the growth of Christianity in Africa is revealed by some other data. In 1900, when the continent’s population was approximately 133 million, Christians in Africa totalled ten million; in 2012 they were almost five hundred million out of about one billion people. In 1900 only 2 per cent of all Christians in the world were Africans; in 2012 the figure has risen to 20 per cent. If the present trend continues, in ten years time African Christians are supposed to become the largest continental bloc within Christianity, outgoing Europe and the Americas.

“These data have a profound historical, cultural and political significance – explained sociologist Massimo Introvigne, CESNUR’s founder, during the El Jadida University conference – there are now more practicing Christians in Africa than in Europe. In the long run, this will not only change Africa, but Christianity as well”.

“Of course, not everyone is happy about this development” Introvigne added “Some Islamic ultra-fundamentalists consider it scandalous that there are more Christians than Muslims in Africa and proceed to persecute and kill Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya. Ultra-fundamentalists believe that today the battle which will determine whether the world will be Muslim or Christian is being fought in Africa.”

Indeed, in the months following the El Jadida University conference, persecution of Christians has risen in at least five African countries, according to the World Watch List 2014 of the 50 world’s countries where persecution of Christians is most severe. The list is drawn up by Open Doors USA, an international NGO that since almost 60 years supports and strengthens oppressed Christians: “Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century – the NGO has noted – now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest”.[1]

In 2012 and 2013 Islamic terror groups have killed hundreds of Christians, extending their activities to new countries, favoured by the weapons spilling out of Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, and by the inefficiency, to say the least, of the governments, such as in Nigeria and Kenya, or their absence, such as in Somalia and Northern Mali. These groups also rely on the relative ease of transferring arms and fighters across borders, as well as on the international network that finances and interconnect terrorist groups, allowing them to exchange information and expertise, and in some cases to cooperate, as the presence of foreign elements from all over the world in the ranks of many terrorist groups shows. 

In a note published on October 12, 2013, International Christian Concern, a NGO campaigning for Christians’ human rights, has pointed out that after 2011 “the combination of ready access to weapons flowing from Arab Spring states in North Africa and the fact that the Sahel zone is outside the reach of most of region’s military and policing capability have allowed for the formation of a “petri-dish” for the breeding of extremist and terrorist groups. The lawlessness of the Sahel has allowed the groups operating from that zone to conduct operations against Christian targets with near impunity”.[2]

The influence of such groups in Sub-Saharan Africa is therefore felt all through the Sahel belt, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, including Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, as well as in the states lying below, from Nigeria and Cameroon in the West to Kenya and Tanzania in the East.

Extreme Persecution: The Case of Nigeria

No doubt Nigeria is the sub-Saharan country in which Christians are most severely suffering from terrorist attacks by Islamist groups. Since 2009 the major threat comes from Boko Haram, founded in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital city of the North-eastern Nigerian state of Borno, by Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf. The Hausa name “Boko Haram” means “Western education is forbidden”. The movement is hostile to democracy and it opposes not only Western education, but also culture and science as a whole. Boko Haram followers even refuse to wear wrist-watches as they believe that all Western behaviours and achievements must be rejected (with some important exceptions, it seems, such as the military technology). Yusuf, who was killed by Nigerian security forces in 2009, used to state, for instance, that, being contrary to Islamic teaching, the theory of a spherical Earth should be rejected along with the theory of rain originating from water evaporate by the sun.

Book Haram seeks to establish in Nigeria a pure Islamic state ruled by shari’a, the Islamic law, and to force the Christian minorities living in the Muslim Northern states of the Nigerian federation to return to their Southern home states, were the majority of Nigerian Christians lives. Therefore the target of its terror attacks are Christians and other religious minorities as well as government institutions and Muslims deemed too moderate in their beliefs. Since 2009 the armed group has carried out hundreds of attacks to churches, schools, police stations, private houses and even whole villages and towns, killing thousands of people. In the meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have fled the Muslim states, due to the fear of terrorist attacks and, for the Christian minorities, due to the increasing difficulty of working and living a normal life.

In 2014 Boko Haram has changed tactics by holding on territory. By October 2014 it held control in North-eastern Nigeria over an area more than 20.000 square meters large – about the size of Wales in the United Kingdom – that is home to more than two million people and comprises many villages and at least 25 towns.

On August 2014 Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video released after seizing the big town of Gozwa declared that the group had set up an Islamic state, a Caliphate, in the territories under its control. Militants imposed shari’a in the Caliphate and started to carry out public executions and amputations. Previously, in April, they had kidnapped almost 300 girls, mainly Christians, from a boarding school in the town of Chibok, in Borno state. In October Boko Haram leader said that they had been all married off and converted to Islam.

Yet many Christians hold out. As Bishop of Maiduguri Oliver Dashe Doeme declared to Aid to the Church in Need on August 1, 2013, after a bloody week that had costed the lives of almost two hundred people, the Faithful “are very brave and have no fear”. Even shortly after terror attacks on churches, people still go in great numbers to attend the religious services. Priests as well stay in their parishes and perform their service, despite constant mortal danger. Also the number of people taking up the vocation shows the strength of the faith: “In the seminary of Maiduguri – Bishop Doeme said – there are currently 30 seminarians. Just recently, eight priests were ordained”. People also commit themselves in the rebuilding of churches and ecclesiastical buildings after terror attacks and in the pastoral care of widows and orphans.[3] Youth volunteer groups, a civilian joint task force, have also been created to protect the Faithful and the religious buildings and structures with checkpoints and to organize house-to-house search for insurgents.

In certain periods, almost every week Boko Haram terrorists hit some churches and Christians really need to be brave like martyrs to attend the mass on Sunday and give open witness to their faith. In 2010, 2011 and 2012 Boko Haram has targeted several churches during Christmas celebrations with bomb blasts, murders and mayhems, killing hundreds of people. Moreover terrorists have succeeded in extending their range of action from the north as far as the capital Abuja, which is located in the centre of the country. The worst attack in Abuja occurred in 2012, at Christmas, when a bomb exploded just outside of the St. Theresa’s Church in Madala, a satellite town about 40 kilometres from the city centre, while people were inside.

So also in the central and Southern states Christians are not safe at all anymore. “The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought”: such troublesome words were pronounced by President Goodluck Jonathan while attending a church service in Abuja, on January 8, 2012. “During the Biafran war – President Jonathan added – we knew and we could predict where the enemy was coming from. You could even know the route they were coming from, you could even know what calibre of weapon they would use and so on. But the challenge we have today is more complicated. Boko Haram is everywhere, in the executive arm of government, in the legislative arm and even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies”. 

Nigeria itself highlights some major features of the Sub-Saharan African context that make awkward the relations between Islam and Christianity, and threat a peaceful coexistence between them, providing the extremist and terrorist groups with a fertile ground to exploit.

The first feature is tribalism: that is, the behaviour and thinking that stem from strong loyalty to one’s tribe and as much strong wariness and hostility towards other tribes. In Africa it is responsible for the intra and inter ethnic conflicts that some historians regard as the very hallmark of the traditional African communities and economists a structural factor of the archaic economies [4]. For centuries Africans have been fighting both to prevent others from plundering their own tribe’s (clan, lineage) scarce livelihood and taking over its land, pastures and water resources, and to increase, in turn, their own tribe’s livelihood raiding other tribes and driving them out of their land. Nowadays, in addition, they fight to take control of the state institutions and get hold of most of the national resources.

“We, the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God”: this is the introductory statement of the Nigerian Constitution written in 1999, at the end of a long, awful era of military dictatorships. The text goes as follows: “and to provide for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people”.[5]

But there are more than 250 tribes living in Nigeria, having different cultures, languages, norms and values. Four are the main ethnic groups: Hausa and Fulani, prevailing in the Northern half of the country; Yoruba and Igbo, who are the majority in the Southern states. Neither Islam nor Christianity have succeeded throughout the centuries in overcoming the feeling of tribal belonging and the deep ethnic divisions. On the contrary, they have become a mode of them. Hausa, Fulani and the other Northern tribes are Muslim, while Christianity is widely spread in the South. That is why for 48.8 per cent of Nigerians “God” mentioned in the Constitution Preamble is Allah and for 49.3 per cent is the Christian God.

Since 1999 religion has become an increasingly critical factor and Islamic extremism has been hanging over unity, justice, equality and freedom values that the Constitution has declared sacred and inviolable. Ethnic and religious tensions, very often degenerating into bloody, ruinous clashes, are particularly frequent in the Northern states, where people from the South have formed minority communities, and in the “Middle Belt”, where Northern Muslim and Southern Christian tribes meet and fight in order to control the political and administrative local and federal institutions and to seize vital economic resources: pastures, fertile lands and springs in the rural areas, as they have been doing for centuries, and the most profitable economic activities in towns.

On October 25, 1999, the Northern state of Zamfara was the first to declare itself a shari’a state, despite that the Constitution explicitly states that neither “the Government of the Federation nor of a state shall adopt any religion as state Religion”. In fact, as all Nigerian customary laws, shari’a should only be exercised by consenting parties in civil matters. Nevertheless, by 2000, twelve Northern states had already adopted the shari’a law and those who voiced their disapproval at its introduction were portrayed as anti-Islamic. Anyhow, many Muslims have supported shari’a, thinking that it would ensure good governance and put an end to corruption and poverty that they ascribe to the Christian leadership.

Such a development, encouraging religious discrimination, has increased violence between Christians and Muslims: since 1999 there had been over 15,000 deaths in tribal religion clashes. Besides, it has trampled on the lay purposes of the Constitution, has undermined its legitimacy and has weakened the federal state.

Misrule and corruption, and a persistent general poverty as their direct consequence, are other factors contributing to tribal religion clashes and to the spread of terrorism. “Nigeria’s inability to consolidate her democracy – Preyre Kuro Inokoba and Weleayam Tina Ibegu explain in a paper – is blamed largely on the high level of corruption in the country” that “has become a major challenge to Nigerian democratic experience”.[6] In 2012 a World Bank report stated that Nigeria has lost over 400 billion U.S. dollars due to corruption, since 1960, the year it gained independence from the United Kingdom.[7]

Bishop Doeme has described Boko Haram as a “product of corruption”. He points out that Nigeria is a country rich in resources, yet the corruption as well as the one-sided concentration of the economy on oil extraction while other economic sectors are not fostered, especially agriculture, are impeding its development. Nigeria in fact is the largest oil producer in Africa. But after 57 years of oil production, 68 per cent of Nigerians still live below poverty line, that is with less than 1.25 U.S. Dollar per day.[8] And the Global Slavery Index 2013, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, lists Nigeria forth with about 700,000 people enslaved.

Islamic religious leaders and politicians accuse of poverty and underdevelopment Christians living in the Southern states, were all the oil fields lie. Instead of fighting against tribalism and religious intolerance, during the election campaigns many of them preferred to accuse their Christian adversaries of corruption, misrule and nepotism in order to win the Muslim voters’ trust. On the other hand, it is easy to convince Nigerian Muslims to be afraid of a government led by Christians, and vice versa indeed. So since 2010, under the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, who is a Christian and was born in the Southern state of Bayelsa, tension has increased in the Northern states and Boko Haram has gained growing consensus, especially among very poor people, successfully attracting followers from unemployed youth.[9]

“Moderate” Persecution

Misrule and corruption are widespread in African countries and Muslim extremists can achieve a high consensus if they denounce such behaviours, suggesting as a remedy a strict application of shari’a law. As it happened in the Azawad region of Northern Mali in 2012, they can succeed in taking power. If, on the contrary, they form minority movements and parties, they can use the political influence resulting from their followers among the unsatisfied and suffering people to put pressure on politicians for discriminatory and repressive laws against religious minorities.

Then those countries become very difficult and even dangerous places for Christians to live.

On the Open Doors USA World Watch List 2014, Sudan, Nigeria and Central African Republic are listed among the African Sub-Saharan countries where Christians suffer “extreme” or “severe” persecution. Mali, Mauritania, Comoros, Kenya, Tanzania and Niger are listed as countries where persecution is “moderate” or “sparse”.

In Mali, Sudan, Mauritania, Comoros and Niger, Christians form very small minorities: about 2.4 per cent in Mali, 3 per cent in Sudan, 2 per cent in Comoros and less than 1 per cent in Niger and Mauritania.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an NGO working for religious freedom, in Sudan, since the secession of South Sudan in 2011, freedom of worship has been under attack. During decades of civil war, Christians who were the majority in the Southern regions of the country have suffered from extreme persecution by the Arab-Islamic government led by president Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Sudan played a major role in the diffusion of Islamism since it independence from Great Britain in 1956. More recently, under the influence of the Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Tourabi, al-Bashir speeded up the process of Islamization, even hosting Osama Bin Laden from 1991 to 1996. Today, after the split, anti-Christian backlash is reported, even though al-Bashir has pledged to guarantee religious freedom. Many Christians are detained without charge and the Sudanese government has announced that it will no longer issue licenses to Christian churches, on the grounds that the existing ones can accommodate worshippers, since many Christians have decided or have been forced to emigrate to South Sudan.

Mauritania is an Islamic republic and Islam is the religion of the state. Law and legal procedure are based on shari’a. Freedom of religion is limited by government. Evangelization and diffusion of Christian literature are prohibited. The importation, printing, selling and distribution of Bibles are restricted by the government. However their possession in private homes is legal. Recently, Muslim extremists have become more influential and the country is facing a growing terrorist threat.

In Comoros the constitution guarantees religious liberty, but Christians are not allowed to witness publicly and are subject to social discriminations and the denial of many civil rights.

In Niger hostility against Christians comes more from society than from government. Yet, on the whole, interfaith relations have been good so far. But the number of Muslim extremists is on the increase also in Niger and the country is experiencing the threat of terrorism. In 2013 the government has supported the French intervention in Mali against the al Qaeda-backed groups that in 2012 have taken control of Azawad. The payback came on May 2013 with two suicide attacks to a uranium mine and to a military barracks: the first suicide bombings in the country.

Yet among the Muslim countries listed in the World Watch List 2014, the highest increase in Christian persecution has been recorded in Mali, a country that was unranked until 2013, when it appeared as one of the top 10 countries, ranking number 7. The Christian communities living in Azawad have been in danger since Spring 2012 when some Islamist armed groups have imposed the shari’a law in the Northern regions, taking control of Gao, Kidal and Timbuctu, the three main Northern cities. By August 2012, most Christians had fled to the South. At present, despite the international military intervention and a UN stabilization mission, MINUSMA, the Islamist threat remains. Jihadists have been expelled from the main Northern towns, but attacks have continued. Peace talks are underway in Algeria.

Meanwhile, since the summer of 2014, there is evidence of a massive stream of armed men and vehicles from neighbouring countries. Addressing to the UN Security Council on October 2014, Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop warned that the region once again was running “the risk of becoming the destination of hordes of terrorists” and said that “urgent measures” were needed: “Perhaps the Council should consider setting up a rapid intervention force that would be able to fight the terrorist elements”, he said.[10] It seems that only few Christians are left in the North and it is unlikely that those now living in the South will return in the near future.

Increasing Persecution

Besides the countries in the World Watch List 2014, there are evidences of growing Islamic extremism and violence in other Sub-Saharan countries, both threatening Christian minorities and fighting what Islamists deem Westernization. Moreover a new, highly warring phenomenon has taken place: the diffusion and taking root of ultra-fundamentalism and of Islamist armed groups in Sub-Saharan countries with a very large Christian majority. Christians are particularly in danger in three countries.

In Kenya, Muslims are about 11 per cent of the population. The country has been the target of al Qaeda since 1998, when a truck loaded with explosives detonated just outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the country’s capital, killing hundreds of people (that same day also the U.S. Embassy in neighbouring Tanzania was attacked by al Qaeda). In recent years religious violence is on the rise in the country. Terrorist actions have increased most of all since 2011, when Kenyan government decided to send troops in neighbouring Somalia to fight against the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group. Then al Shabaab had sworn revenge on the “Christian troops” that had invaded the Somali soil and has kept its oath recruiting and training Kenyan youth in Nairobi and in Mombasa, the second-largest city, and launching deadly attacks against civilians, particularly against Christian targets. Some priests have been killed ever since and several churches have been bombed or burnt.

The deadliest terrorist attack after 1998 occurred on September 21, 2013, when al Shabaab carried out a bloody siege on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall that left 67 people dead and more than 200 wounded. Claiming on Twitter responsibility for the assault, an al Shabaab’s spokesman referred to the attackers as “mujahideen” fighting the Kenyan “kuffar”, a very derogatory term for non Muslims: “only kuffar have been killed by mujahideen – the spokesman wrote – all Muslims have been escorted outside”. In fact, the attackers shouted at Muslims to identify themselves. Hostages were given a test to determine whether or not they were Muslims. For instance, they were asked to recite a verse from the Qur’an. Those who passed the test were allowed to flee, but the others were executed, including children.

During the subsequent year there have been other deadly attacks and, for the first time, a Christian man was kidnapped and beheaded by jihadists. One of the most serious attacks occurred in June 2014 when al Shabaab struck in Mpeketoni, a town in the inland near the Lamu archipelago. Jihadists killed at least 48 people, targeting Christians. In November they stopped a bus travelling from the Northern town of Mandera to the capital, Nairobi, and massacred 28 people, sparing Somalis and Kenyan Muslims passengers. Mgr Emanuel Barbara, Bishop of Malindi, told MISNA press agency that gunmen shot dead only Christians identifying them from their cloths and looks. The Kenyan bus passengers were asked to read out verses of the Koran. Those who failed were shot in the head at point blank range.

Political and religious authorities, both Christian and Muslim, after every attack call on Kenyans of all faiths and creed to stand together: “The aim is to create conflict between the Muslims and the non-Muslims – Abdikadir Mohammed, a senior adviser of President Uhuru Kenyatta said, after the bus massacre – the aim is to create a religious war, religious strife”.

After the Westgate Mall siege, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims had urged all Kenyans “to remain calm and refrain from being divided on sectarian grounds”. And Mombasa county Senator Hassan Omar, a Muslim himself, during a press briefing in Nairobi said: “they are out to divide us along religious line so that we wage war against each other, but we shall overcome and they will be defeated”. [11]

But in Mombasa, on the Swahili coast were the majority of the population is Muslim, Christian leaders claim that freedom of religion is under attack and urge believers not to be cowed into abandoning their places of worship. In fact Islamists’ influence is increasing. They foster a secessionist movement and aim to a state ruled by shari’a. They easily find followers among the coastal people who complain of being marginalized and discriminated by the central government.   

World Watch Monitor says that also Tanzania is “no longer being considered safe”, even though it once was a model of African peace. Christians’ persecution has dramatically escalated by the end of 2012. In Tanzania 32 per cent of the population is Muslim. But the Zanzibar archipelago is 99 per cent Muslim and it is there that terror actions against Christians have been concentrated, at first. Since 2001 Zanzibar has witnessed the rise of Uamsho (Awakening), an Islamist movement aiming at the archipelago’s secession from the mainland and the full adoption of shari’a law. Most of the 25 churches and religious structures destroyed during the last years were situated in the archipelago. In 2012, on Christmas Day, a Catholic priest was wounded near his parish by two men on a motorcycle who shot him. Then they went to the rectory turning the place upside down. A few weeks after, on February 11, 2103, a Protestant pastor, Mathayo Kachili, was beheaded by what witnesses called a mob of Muslim extremists. Then, on February 17, another Catholic priest, Fr. Evarist Mushi, was blocked by two young men at the entrance of the Betras church in St Joseph’s, where he was going to celebrate the first Sunday mass of Lent, and was shot dead. Two days later, in the town of Kianga, on the main island, some unidentified people set fire to the Evangelical Church of Siloam that was being rebuilt following an attack in January 2012. After the murder of Fr. Mushi, local bishops and priests received a message claiming responsibility signed by Muslim Renewal, a group tied to the Somali al Shabaab: “We thank our young men trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished, at Easter be prepared for disaster”. No attacks took place on Easter, but on September 13 the Catholic priest Joseph Anselmo Mwagambwa was attacked with acid: it was only the latest in a series of acid attacks taking place in Zanzibar. After throwing the acid, the terrorists run away shouting: “Zanzibar is only for Muslims, not Christians”.   

Many Christians are now afraid to attend church and are planning to move to the mainland. Yet Islamist extremism is spreading also across the mainland. The worst attacks occurred there in October 2012, when several churches were burnt or destroyed all over the country by hundreds of furious Muslims, following a reported desecration of a Koran by a Christian young boy, and in May 2013, in the town of Arusha, where three people were killed and 67 injured in a grenade attack on St Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Listed number16 in the World Watch List 2014, the Central African Republic is another country where Christians started to be seriously threatened recently and where there is growing concern over rising of religious tensions. Its 4.5 million population is mostly Christians, with about 15 per cent Muslims who are concentrated in the North. Since 1960, when the country gained independence from France, Christianity and Islam have coexisted peacefully, but now for the first time religion plays a central role. At the end of 2012 Seleka, a militant coalition of three anti-government groups that had been formed in August 2012, took up arms in the North, started to move to the capital Bangui and on March 24 overthrew President François Bozize and forced him into exile in Cameroon. On April 18, the Seleka leader Michel Djotodia became the first Muslim president of the country. Meanwhile, Seleka militants grew from 3.500 in March to 25,000 and went out of control.

An unprecedented and massive wave of violence has hit the country ever since: large-scale looting, murders, abductions, rape of women, torture and summary executions. Many or perhaps most of Seleka militants are Islamists from neighbouring Chad and Sudan. There is evidence that their target are mainly Christians while very often they spare Muslims. Many priests, pastors and nuns are among their victims, churches and Christian institutions, including, schools, hospitals and health centres, have been desecrated, plundered and destroyed. On September 13, 2013, president Djotodia announced that Seleka had been dissolved. Then Government asked its fighters to lay down their weapons. But most of them have refused so far.

As transitional institutions, French troops and the African force MISCA deployed in the country proved unable to restore security over vast areas of the national territory, people started to set up self-defence groups called “anti-balaka”, “anti-machete” in Sango language, to stop pillaging and violence. So the risk of an inter-religious conflict between Christians and Muslims increased: the situation degenerated very quickly. Seleka rebels, even some of the few who laid down arms and had been integrated into the national army, continued to harass and terrorize the population. Anti-balaka groups started to attack and kill Muslim civilians in retaliation. In November the United States warned that the country was in a “pre-genocidal situation”. More than one thousand civilians have died since then, one million people, one fifth of the population, have fled their homes, more than two million people are in need of humanitarian aid.

Prospects

The future of Christians living in Sub-Saharan Africa will be partly decided outside the continent itself. Indeed it depends very much on the global determination to counteract radicalism and on how successful will be the war against local and international terrorist groups. The willing and capacity of Islam to isolate, overwhelm and defeat extremists are crucial factors too: religious intolerance and terrorism should be fought inside and by the Muslim world first and foremost. 

“We must not destroy this cohabitation that we had for more than 50 years – warns imam Oumar Kobline Layama, the president of the Islamic Community of the Central African Republic, echoing Kenyan Islamic leaders – I ask Muslims not to say ‘today it’s our turn’. There is no ‘turn’, we are all Central Africans. The leaders of Seleka must keep the principles of Islam. Islam does not encourage division or theft or looting”.[12]

On September 12, 2013, some 160 Somali religious scholars, at the end of a four-day conference held in Mogadishu, Somalia, have issued for the first time a fatwa, that is an Islamic religious pronouncement, against al Shabaab. The fatwa states that “al Shabaab has strayed from the correct path of Islam, leading the Somali people onto the wrong path. The ideology they are spreading is a danger to the Islamic religion and the existence of the Somali society”. The fatwa therefore forbids to join, sympathise and give any kind of support to al Shabaab and asserts that Somali officials have a religious duty to protect the Somali people from them.

These and other, similar statements are powerful and bold moves. They break the silence of “moderate” Muslims at last. But at present it is unlikely that Islamists, and the people who trust them, especially the young African people with no future, pay much attention to such calls. As the Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop has warned addressing to the UN Security Council in October 2014, many young Africans from Mali, Niger, Algeria, Nigeria and Somalia, are joining the Islam State, IS, the Caliphate established in Iraq and Siria in June 2014 by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

All over Sub-Saharan Africa, however, the destiny of Christians first depends on whether Africans will be able to face their major economic, social and political challenges or not. Lack of basic human rights, authoritarian governments or, on the other hand, the absence of the state, corruption, misrule, tribalism, social injustices, high poverty rates: all those factors foster the spread of religious intolerance and make it easier for radical groups to take hold.

11-27-2014

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[1] Melissa STEFFAN, “African Nations Surge Up Ranks of World’s Worst Persecutors”, www.christianitytoday.com, 1-8-2013.

[2] www.persecution.org, 10-12-2013.

[3] www.churchinneed.org, Thursday, August 1, 2013.

[4] Paolo SYLOS LABINI, Il sotto sviluppo e l’economia contemporanea, Laterza, Bari, 1983.

[5] www. Nigeria-law.org, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

[6] Preyre Kuro INOKOBA and Weleayan Tina IBEGU, “Economic and Financial Crime Commission and Political Corruption: Implication for the Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria”, Anthropolotist, 13(4): 283-291 (2011).

[7] www.nigeriaworld.com, Thursday, October 11, 2012

[8] Human Development Report 2013, UNDP. In the Human Development Index 2013 Nigeria is ranked 153rd out of 186 states.

[9] Abdulkarim MOHAMMED, “Analysis: Understanding Nigeria’s Boko Haram radicals”, www.irinnews.org, July. 18, 2011.

[10] BBC News, “Mali conflict: UN urged to send more troops”, October 8, 2014.

[11] Ramadhan RAJAB, “Westgate attack victim buried at Kariokor cemetery”, The Star, September 24, 2013.

[12] Patrick FORT, “Religious tensions rise in Central African Republic after coup”, www.africareview.com, March 31, 2013.