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close this bookThe Courier N 123 Sept - October 1990 - Dossier Higher Education - Country Reports: Barbados - (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)
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View the documentHuman Rights - equal ones!
View the documentReligion in Africa
View the documentPopulation growth - can it be slowed down?
View the documentDevelopment report 1990: lifting 400 million people out of poverty

Human Rights - equal ones!

In 1948, the United Nations adopted an International Bill of Rights laying down the fundamental human rights to which every individual is entitled and all the members of the Organisation agree with the principle of them. But although all the countries in the UN subscribe to the Declaration of Human Rights in theory, do they do so in practice? This is a question which anyone can answer, regardless of degree of development or instruction.

The prime intellectual and human concern of peoples and individuals in many parts of the world is their fundamental rights, which, contrary to what some say, come before all others - the rights to food, to clothing, to shelter and so on. The events in Eastern Europe in 1989, the permanent state of affairs in Central and South America and the tides which are beginning to turn in Africa reflect people’s increasing awareness and maturity about their claim for human rights.

Look at the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and you may well wonder why there are still places where these natural and seemingly obvious rights do not apply. But there are...

The end of the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s have been, typically, a time of great concern about getting human rights recognised in parts of the world where they have long been denied. There is a manifest desire for this elsewhere, too, and the UN is hopeful about this wish - everybody’s wish - being granted one day.

A constant concern of the Lomegotiators has been the “promotion” of human rights and, after an opening in LomI, the subject was taken up in LomII as being inseparable from the aims of development. It comes into its own in LomV.

In view of the way in which Lomas evolved, we print the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here.


Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

1. Everyone has the right to own property alone, as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22. Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organisation and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.

Article 29.

1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of these rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Religion in Africa

by Bernard Nkuissi

Periodically, African religion hits the headlines, usually because of the appearance (or disappearance) of personalities such as the “prophetess” Alice “Lakwena” in Uganda or sects such as Joseph Kony’s “Army of the Holy Spirit”, another Ugandan phenomenon, but with “guiding spirits” from elsewhere - two Sudanese, a Zaan, three Americans and two Chinese. Many of these sects tend to mix forms of belief.

Another side of African religion is its cultural appropriation from non-African faiths. The “ Zaan rite”, for example, long posed a problem to the Catholic authorities until, in 1988, a decree from the Curia of Rome recognised most of its liturgical practices - dancing (by priest and congregation alike) during the mass, the playing of instruments like gongs and tam tams (but a ban on ceremonial spears), the inclusion of “ righteous “ ancestors in the litany of saints, pagne cloths used as liturgical garments, and particular positions adopted (not standing up for the gospel, for example, as in Europe, but remaining seated, as if listening to the words of a traditional chief).

There are two barriers to the study of traditional religions - the absence of written sources and the close link between local faith and tribe. As J.S. Mbiti said, “There are about a thousand African peoples and they all have their own religion”. Faith and everyday life are indeed so closely linked that any investigation of religions must take in all the individual, family and social practices as well.

But it is worth the effort, apart from considerations of philosophy, theology or sociology, for religion affects the economic, social and even political life of the nation. As the geographer Daniel Dory said, religious factors “ help shape the land and carve the landscape... There is a correlation between religions and settlement (types of housing, the rural exodus and urban development), the overturning of the productive forces and changing socio-economic relationships (the introduction of a money economy, changing agricultural techniques, industrialisation)... It is interesting to see the effect Christianity has had on the process of modernisation in contemporary Africa. Although much has been made of its role in health and education, far less attention has been paid to the ultimate consequences of such things as the encouragement of smaller families (by abandoning polygamy) and the emergence of individualism that is at variance with traditional community behaviour “.

Lastly, the link between religion and politics is clear. It was apparent at the time of colonisation and at the time of independence and it is apparent again now, in such things as the action of the churches in South Africa.

This, then, is the scene in which the following article by Bernard Nkuissi is set.

The old idea that Africa, particularly Black Africa, is a continent steeped in religion and that the Blacks are incurably religious should be taken with a large pinch of salt. It would in fact imply something else, that Africa is (still) the last bastion of religion, with all the pejorative connotations that go with it - which is why it seems advisable to make a preliminary remark on the religious phenomenon in general, a better grasp of which can be obtained by dividing human life into the profane (which man masters through science and technology) and the sacred (which he neither understands nor controls but is influenced by), two concentric circles, with man in the middle. When the profane circle tightens around man, he comes into immediate and permanent contact with the sacred and when, thanks to progress in science and technology, the profane circle expands, the sacred withdraws and fades into an ever more distant horizon, although without disappearing altogether. And as it withdraws, the demarcation line (the circumference) between the sacred and the profane gets longer and the sacred is less present and less pressing, but vaster. Religion (from the Latin word “ religare”, to bind) has to manage relations between the sacred and profane, providing a response to man’s deep-seated aspirations as a complement to or replacement for the solutions put forward by science and technology.

It would be wrong to approach African religion as something to be eradicated. This would be failing to understand that the religious phenomenon is at the heart of the human phenomenon. All civilisations and all continents are marked by it, in different but very real ways. Religion is not a temptation, but a demand. Many an atheist is the Monsieur Jourdain (a posturing character in Moli’s play “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme”) of religion. The problem is not knowing whether to be religious, but how.

This article sets out to give a picture of religion in Africa today and to highlight one or two strategic questions related to it. There is little choice but to give a brief outline of what is a highly complex matter. The subject of religion is complex, individual religions are complex and Africa is - or maybe the Africans are complex, and such things as messianism and sects are worth more than a few lines.

Traditional religions in Africa

The piecemeal nature of culture and religion in traditional Africa is too obvious to deny, but there is some degree of religious unity, as modern Africa specialists are increasingly willing to admit, and we have it as our basic principle. What is it based on? There are several valid expressions of and approaches to it, but we have taken life itself as the unifying factor of the traditional religions of Africa.

Religions in Africa

“Vitalism”, the basis of traditional religion

Religion is often said to permeate life in Africa to the point where it is difficult to separate sacred and profane, and the reason for it is that the quest of the African soul is focused on life, a life that has to be preserved, extended and transmitted. This is vitalism or even pan-vitalism and it can be elucidated by reference to a number of its basic tenets.

1. Everything is life. Life is being. Inanimate beings and the dead are also living but otherwise. The way, the quality and the intensity of their living is different, but the life is identical.

2. Life is shared among individuals. Life is not a formless mass. It is divided into parts which individuals take and these individuals have features which distinguish them from each other, so they can be split into different categories and classes (tribes, races, etc.)

3. Life is never still. It moves among individuals, regardless of what species they may belong to, creating permanent solidarity. There are rules governing this movement - of which the various human activities (culture, feeding, teaching, curing, dying etc) are aspects - and they must be known and respected if disaster is to be avoided.

4. The aim of both the individual and society is to preserve life as well and as long as possible. This means being in the centre of a favourable network of solidarity - with the physical world and the cosmos and with the ancestors and the descendants - and using the appropriate techniques to close any gaps in it.

5. Religion is needed for two reasons - to manage the vital flows between sacred and profane and to make up for the shortcomings and inadequacies of profane science and technology. Myths and beliefs supplement or replace science, just as liturgical rites and magic supplement or replace technology. And sometimes, because prevention is better than cure, religion alone is used to ensure certain knowledge and effective action.

Elements of African religion

This basic element which defines African religion can be used to derive others reflecting other aspects such as beliefs, practices and organisation.

1. Belief in a Supreme God (Using the word God, Supreme Being or any other word is not important). All communities have one or more terms for this Living Reality which is looked upon as a person who is ultimately responsible for life, the Life Supreme, let us say, both the Distant One, the Transcendent and the Invisible, as well as the Near One, who can hear a murmured request and change life flows.

Religions in Africa

2. Man, who has a special, privileged status. The universe, i.e. the cosmic geographical space that this community has appropriated, provides him with elements which can be used a profound humanism to which rites and practices have blinded some European observers. These elements (air, fire, minerals, plants, animals and so on) are vehicles for or receptacles of vital energy. They are useful, but they can be dangerous and harmful if they are manipulated clumsily or with ill intent.

Man goes through several conditions of life successively, and sometimes simultaneously. He has a life on earth and a life beyond, before birth or after death. He usually lives his earthly life in a human body, although he may also live it in an animal body (totem), a plant body or no body at all.

The unity of the individual is fundamental. In some mysterious way, everything which has ever belonged to him maintains its links, which is why it is possible to affect someone from a distance, through things (blood, sweat, hair or possessions) taken from him, harming the living by violation of ancestral remains and disturbing the dead by doing evil to their descendants.

Man’s profound aspiration is life, a life of quality devoid of all evil, a long life on earth which is prolonged by the ancestors on one hand and the descendants on the other.

3. Evil - everything which interferes with the quality or the length of life. Quality of life may be impeded by sickness, hunger, some physical or mental handicap, natural disasters or ignorance (about, say, what has caused something bad) and length by dying young, dying suddenly without the opportunity for last words for people to remember you by, or dying without offspring or not knowing one’s ancestors. There is always a religious explanation for evil, encompassing and transcending the purely rational (valid, of course, but too short) explanation. The main causes are: punishment by god, vengeance by ancestors or the dead, ill will on the part of people or spirits; and it is important to see exactly what each cause is so that it can be remedied and prevented in the future. Religious and moral behaviour hinges on a search for the cause of evil and salvation (being kept or saved from evil).

4. Moral and religious practices. The effectiveness of all human activity depends on both the rules of the particular activity and moral and cultural precepts being respected. He who, say, tills his land on a forbidden day will have bad harvests or harvest evil, and techniques and know-how will only work if they fit in properly with moral and religious behaviour.

God and ancestor worship

a) Worshipping God. This is based on the feeling that God is absolutely transcendental and that man is entirely dependent on Him, but confident in His goodness and justice. It is also based on the need for protection against the precarious nature of the human condition. Worship, first and foremost, is prayer, calling on God to witness, praising Him and asking for His intercession. Ritual sacrifice, the counterpart of what man has received or expects from God, completes and accompanies prayer.

b) Worshipping the ancestors. This popular cult polarised all religious practices in many tribes, to the point where it became one of the biggest obstacles to the spreading of the word of Christ. It expresses the profound, permanent solidarity which exists between the living and the dead. There are indeed reciprocal duties, the living having to maintain their dead (with sacrifices and offerings), keep their relics, respect their last wishes and give them dignified funeral celebrations, and the dead ensuring the prosperity of the living and communicating their power and wisdom in dreams or through seers, magicians and healers.

The two cults are so closely linked that, in some tribes, God is considered to be the First Ancestor.

5. Organisation and ritual. Traditional African religions tend not to have separate hierarchies empowered to speak on behalf of the whole faith. Political leaders and heads of families also have religious power, although some jobs will sometimes be done by specialists (seers, healers, witches, priests etc). Monuments for ritual purposes are rare and the ceremonies are held on the public square or at a sacred natural site.

There are many rituals to mark the main stages in the life of the individual and important events in the history of the community - birth, for example, weaning, initiation, marriage, widowhood, burial and enthroning - and everyday activities such as eating, welcoming visitors, working and so on.

Importance of traditional religion

1. Numbers. There are an estimated 200 million people, slightly more than 33% of the population of the continent, following traditional religious practices at the present time - although, as with other religions we shall be looking at, these are only rough figures (the population of Africa was 555 million in 1988).

2. Influence. The idea that traditional religion was disappearing under the combined effects of Islam and Christianity was premature and, although some myths and rites have gone once and for all, it has to be admitted that traditional practices still have considerable influence. Islam and the African beliefs have had to support each other to ensure success and the Christian policies of today mixing deeply with local cultures - are working along much the same lines. Many a politician has seen traditional religion as a source of arguments with which to shape his doctrine and rally his compatriots.



The penetration of Christianity in Africa can be divided into three periods.

· 1st period: Antiquity. Christianity was practised in Egypt from the 1st century AD onwards and Christian fervour was considerable because of the troubles caused by the marginal sects (the gnostics) and of the dynamic nature of orthodoxy. Monachism first emerged in Egypt and Alexandria (made famous by Origene. St Cyril and St Athanasius) became the rival of Antioch and Constantinople, the other Christian capitals of the Orient. This church, the Coptic church, looked to itself after refusing the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedonia (in the year 451). By the 2nd century AD, Christianity was well established in North Africa (present-day Tunisia). Its leading lights were St Donat, St Cyprian and St Augustine and its main centre was Carthage the primate city in Africa - which hosted 32 Councils in the 3rd and 4th centuries. In the 4th century, two Syrian laymen took Christianity to Ethiopia and later on the Ethiopian church joined the Alexandrian church. This was the only church later to resist the Moslem invasion.

· 2nd period: 15th and 16th centuries. At the end of the 15th century, with the blessing of the Holy See, Spain and Portugal shared the conquest and evangelisation of the world outside Europe - which, in Africa, meant the islands and the coastal areas. Missionary activity was short on coordination and continuity and its often rapid success was always ephemeral.

· 3rd period: 17th - 20th centuries. This is the era of sound organisation, intensive evangelisation and massive conversions. On the Catholic side, Rome set up the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in 1622 and many institutes and missions were founded. On the Protestant side, Dr Thomas Bray set up in England the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1701 and the more ecumenical Missionary Society of London was founded in 1795. A century later, the Conference of Berlin (1884-85) both gave a free hand to the imperialist proclivities of the European powers and provided a framework and a logistical basis for the expansion of missionary work a situation which gave rise to breakneck evangelisation in a climate of (not always healthy) rivalry. There was a race between Moslems and Christians, Catholics and Protestants, various branches of the same religion and missionaries of different nationalities and the result was Christianity spread thin rather than in depth. Today’s Christianity in Africa, other than in Ethiopia and Egypt, dates from this period.

Features of African Christianity

The way it expanded has given Christianity some specific features.

1. It is rich and varied. Africa has inherited a multitude of ecclesiastic and spiritual traditions from its various evangelists and this diversity can conscience and the future Catholic be both an asset and a handicap, Synod in 1993 could well be an event depending on how it is perceived and to reckon with. managed.

2. It is fragile. This is because, on the one hand, the gospel is not properly rooted and, on the other hand, the churches of Africa are overdependent in terms of staff, resources and even, pastoral initiative on the outside world. Many of them are far from considering themselves, or indeed being considered, as adult. They are peripheral, they need to reassure and to feel reassured, they often refer to external models, and they have not managed to do away with the obstacles along their path to greater maturity.

3. It is living and expanding, in spite of its fragility. The various pointers to this (number of baptisms, people espousing a religious vocation, ordinations and religious practices) are fairly encouraging to the people in charge and no changes to the trend are expected in the near future.

Importance of African Christianity

1. Numbers. There are an estimated 168 million Christians (80 million Protestant, 74 million Catholic and 14 million Orthodox) in Africa, representing 30% of the population of the continent as a whole and more than 90 % in some places (Cape Verde, Za, Gabon, Congo, etc.). One of every 10 Christians in the world today is African.

2. Influence. This is far from related to numbers, either in Africa or in Christianity. It is often missing from important discussions (on such things as under-development, independence, democracy and racism) and has no influence over major decisions. However, there are signs that things are moving in the right direction - the South African churches (and particularly Archbishop Desmond Tutu) are making a stand against apartheid, the Church of Za is reacting to President Mobutu’s policy, the bishops of Africa and Madagascar are concerting and cooperating in their Symposium and African theologians are getting together in the Ecumenical Association of African Theologians. The visits which Paul VI and Jean-Paul II made to the continent stirred many a



Here, too, there are three periods.

· 1st period: 7th and 8th centuries. This was the time of the Islamisation of Mediterranean Africa from Egypt to Morocco with the holy war (Jihad), which was a success thanks to the favourable circumstances of the collapse of the Roman empire, division amongst Christians and enthusiasm on the part of the Moslem believers.

· 2nd period: 11th - 18th centuries. Islam penetrated Sahelian Africa at this period, via Mediterranean Africa, either through the Sahara or the Indian Ocean, in the most varied of ways, with the influence of traders and local preachers on top of warfare. And the fear of being enslaved also provoked conversion, as Moslems could not be reduced to slavery.

· 3rd period: 19th and 20th centuries, Islam has become more warlike over this period, a factor in the constitution of great empires down to the edge of the tropical forest. These empires and their chiefs (Mahomet Ali, Ousman Dan Fodio, El Hadj Omar Samory, etc) formed bastions of resistance to European imperialism.


1. An impression of unity. Paradoxically, in spite of schisms, the many families, brotherhoods, schools and tribes and the fact that there is no centralising authority, African Islam gives an impression of unity. Statements of faith and religious practices are reduced to the strict minimum, but imposed and rigorously respected. You can tell a Moslem more or less by looking at him.

2. Adaptation. So, with the essentials safe and sound, Islam has been able to adapt to different outlooks.

3. Social immobility. By espousing the traditional framework, Islam has helped strengthen and fix it. Authoritarianism has increased in both society and the family, to the detriment of the weaker members (women and children), and there is greater resistance to everything new and “modern” - schooling, say, as the school attendance rates of 20% in northern (Moslem) Cameroon and 90 % in southern (Christian) Cameroon show. And this is only one example.

Importance of African Islam

1. Numbers. There are about 160 million Moslems in Africa, representing 29 % of the total population. One out of every five Moslems in the world is African.

2. Influence. In Africa, Islam is progressing faster than, and sometimes to the detriment of, Christianity. There are many illustrations of the effect it has had in the past and is still having today:

- The Moslem countries made a major contribution to resisting colonial influence and fighting for decolonialisation (the Arab League in Cairo).

- Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 and Ghadafy’s resistance to American threats are impressive and put down to their Moslem faith.

- So it is easy to understand why the Head of a State that is more than 90 % Christian converted to Islam (although profounder motivations are of course not ruled out).

What is at stake? Today’s answer

The problem. The religious map of Africa may be cause for concern. There are two blocs of more or less equal strength face to face - Islam in the north and Christianity in the south - and they are expanding. And beneath them, like glowing coals hidden under the ash, is traditional religion. What is at stake? Showing and demonstrating that one has the best, if not the only, solution to the fundamental problem of African man. It is the same problem, the age-old problem of how to live well and live long, but the context has changed. Social structures have exploded, territories have expanded and cultural intimacy has disappeared. What answers can religion provide today? They all seem to end with a question mark...

Challenged answers.

1. Islam sometimes puts itself forward as the ideal way to salvation for the whole of Africa. Its record is a fairly good reference here, but it has been a denouncer above all. It has not managed to remedy Africa’s ills in its political sallies - nor indeed could it do so without shaking off its immobility and striking out on the path to modernism?

2. Christianity is hampered by an original sin. It is seen as the Trojan Horse in which colonial imperialism rode into Africa. Yet elsewhere its message has opened the way to liberation, development and salvation. Has Christianity been disqualified from Africa once and for all? Of course not, but it will have to do something about the problem which makes it look like an outsider and an unweaned child. Can it? And does it want to?

3. Is traditional religion the last resort? Should Africa come back to it? If it is a question of restoration pure and simple, then illusion could well be added to ineffectiveness. But if it is a question of finding the soul of this religion - the importance of and respect for life, the transcendental nature of God, the central position of man, ethics in all things again - then it is vital. It would put Africa back on its mettle, give it a second wind. Is it still possible?

4. Should we look elsewhere? The inadequacy of religions leads the individual to look for alternatives, and the belief in a Messiah is one refuge. It has cropped up all over Africa (but in the Christian regions especially), as the examples of Matwanism (200 000 followers in Congo) and above all Kimbanguism (3 500000) in Za show. Such departures, marriages of a kind between Christianity and tradition, are a protest against the breakdown of traditional structures caused by colonisation and evangelisation. They were one of the first forms of anti-colonial struggle. But now they are prisoners of their past and seem unable to provide any solutions for the future.

Sects - which, disquietingly, are mushrooming, particularly in the towns and amongst young people - offer the individual an alternative to isolation and insecurity but it is an expensive alternative, for it is no solution for the community.

Capitalism and Marxism, announcing miracle answers, were received like religions. But the miracles never happened. Capitalism, offering goods that were either inaccessible or insipid once acquired, proved hallucinatory, and the enchanted dawn of Marxism was late to rise after an all-too lengthy night.

All in all, religion may, unless we are careful, be an added source of complication rather than a dynamic contribution to an answer to the problems facing Africa today.

In search of a new religious deal

If religion is to go on playing a positive part in Africa today, it has to agree to be used in another way, while keeping its essential values, in the light of the new situation. This means it has to:

- take account of the irreversible upheavals in the traditional world and the impossibility of recreating this world as it was. The most important thing is to accept the fact that the geographical reference area is multiethnic, which means trans-ethnic solidarity;

- accept modernism, a term to be treated with care. Above all, this means recognising the density and autonomy of the “ profane “ and calls for rationality and a scientific and technical spirit to be applied in the geographical reference area;

- affirm the preponderance and transcendental nature of an ethnic order and a scale of values, and do so all the more strongly for the scientific and technical field having been respected;

- fit in with the culture - i.e. agree to belong to an African world of today rather than to something which has been imported or belongs in a museum;

- lastly, accept a new climate and new relations, based on freedom of conscience and a spirit of dialogue and collaboration in the quest for truth and respect for life, between religions.

Africa cannot afford the luxury of a religious war, even a cold one, in the already bitter fight it is waging for development.


Population growth - can it be slowed down?

Being used to the alarming annual reports of the UN Fund for Population Activities is one thing, but the heightened pessimism of the latest one is quite another. The UNFPA’s recent outline of the state of the world population in 1990 is indeed particular cause for concern, with its claim that mankind is doomed to disaster unless it manages to slow down its rate of growth (which itself determines the rate and extent of damage of the environment). And it has to do so fast; in the final 10 years of the millenium. Now is the time to take steps to ensure that the world population merely (!) doubles over the next century before stopping its expansion altogether. Otherwise, under present trends, numbers will treble in this time with dramatic consequences for the environment. As the UNFPA so uncompromisingly puts it, the earth’s future as a home for mankind is at stake over the next 10 years.

But what are these highly alarmist predictions based on? On rates of population growth. There are something like 5.3 billion people on the planet today and every second sees the birth of three more - a quarter of a million a day, 90-100 million a year and a billion (the equivalent of the present population of China) in the nineties. The reason for this is that birth rates have failed to decline as the UN predicted in 1984. Six years ago, population growth seemed to be on the wane everywhere outside of Africa and parts of South Asia and demographers were already rubbing their hands at the idea of the world population stabilising at around 10.2 billion by the end of the 21st century. But such optimism is no longer the order of the day.

The same experts are now predicting a figure closer to 11 billion than 10 billion, because some countries which had enjoyed conspicuous success with their family planning policies in the sixties and seventies failed to keep up the good work in the eighties. This happened in India, the Philippines and Morocco, all of which got their birth rates down by a point a year between 1960-65 and 1970-75 but only managed a tenth to a third of a point p.a. over the following decade. For India, the UNFPA report says, this probably means a population of 1.446 billion intead of 1.229 billion by the year 2025 - 217 million more than if the improvements had been maintained. And Pakistan will have 267 million inhabitants instead of the predicted 210 million by 2025. This, the report says, is the price of delaying our efforts to control the population.

Capacity not unlimited

The situation in Africa is cause for even greater concern. Situated there are 13 of the 15 countries where the birth rate, far from declining, actually increased between 1960-65 and 198085 and it there that the biggest population explosion is to be expected. The increase is already considerable - 2.7 % p.a. is commonplace on this continent - and it will be speeding up further over this decade to 3 %, an unprecedented figure for a whole region. Every year, 10 million more people join the ranks of a population whose density already poses a very acute problem of land (the fields have been subdivided so often) in some, essentially agricultural countries such as Rwanda and Burundi.

But in 20 years or so, the annual increase will be up to the 15 million mark. There are expected to be 1.581 billion Africans by the year 2025 (there are “ only “ 648 million of them today), which will be almost a fifth of the world population (18.4%, to be precise, as against the current 9 %). Half a billion people are already hungry or malnourished and one dare not imagine what would happen if considerable economic progress failed to go hand in hand with this vast demographic expansion. The recent famines in Ethiopia, the Sahel and Sudan would pale into insignificance alongside. But the last 30 years give no grounds for optimism. Between 197981 and 1986-87, cereal production in 25 of the 43 African countries for which the FAO has statistics declined and the developing countries as a whole now import about 100 million tonnes of cereals every year - a figure which will be rising, some estimates suggest, to 200 million tonnes.

But the developed nations do not themselves have unlimited production capacity. No one has forgotten the 1988 drought, which brought down the American harvest and revealed just how precarious world supplies were - even though the world does have the resources to feed all the people who live in it. But what will happen when the population is three times its present size? How can the inevitable food shortages be handled? Kenya, for example, has 25 million people now and could well have 60 million by the year 2025 the maximum number its agriculture can feed, although only by applying European standards and growing food crops on every square metre of arable land. By the end of the next century, projections suggest, Nigeria could have 500 million inhabitants (as many as in the whole of Africa in 1982), or 10 people per hectare of arable land, while contemporary France, the report says, with more fertile land and less erosion, has fewer than three. And Bangladesh’s population of 116 million will be up to 324 million by the end of the 21st century, with a density on arable land of twice the present figure for the Netherlands.

Nor will the situtation be any better ‘ in the towns. The urban population in the developing world is expanding at the rate of 3.6 % p.a. four and a half; times the figure for the developed nations and 60% faster than in the rural areas. It has gone from 285 million in 1950 to 1.384 billion today and it will be 4.050 billion by 2025. Local and national authorities everywhere are swamped by the problems of heavier and heavier concentration, with water and power supplies and drainage becoming real headaches. The number of urban households with no drinking water on tap went from 138 million to 215 million over the 1970-88 period and private households without proper drainage from 98 million to 340 million which should come as no suprise, bearing in mind that 72 % live in slums and shanty towns. And, at 92%, the figure for Africa is higher still.

A climatic change

It is not just the quality of life on earth which is threatened by the ever-increasing number of people. It is, quite simply, that the earth as a home for mankind is at stake, if the UNFPA report is to be believed, because of the deterioration of land and forests and the global warming which comes in its wake.

Erosion ruins an estimated 6-7 million hectares of farm land every year. The FAO says that 544 million hectares (18% of all arable land) could be completely lost if nothing is done to protect them and the fertility of other areas could dwindle. Deforestation is one of the main causes of erosion. More than 11 million hectares (the size of Belgium and Austria combined) of tropical forest and woodland are cleared every year and a further 4.4 million hectares are exploited selectively for the timber trade, often endangering a third or more of the trees which remain. Is there any need to emphasise the fact that most of the cleared woodland in the developing countries is used to grow food for an ever-expanding population?

Deforestation also causes carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, making a SO % contribution to global warming and deteriorating the ozone layer with chloroflurocarbons (20 % of warming). Scientists say that world temperatures are already 0.6 °C hotter than they were a century ago and predict further increases of 1.5° to 2.8° by the middle of the next century. So the world will be warmer than at any time in the past 120 000 years and - most important - the climatic change will have come about far more rapidly than any other in history. The consequences are apocalyptic - whole areas turned to desert, the level of the oceans raised with some countries disappearing or submerged, disaster in farming and so on.

There is no avoiding the UNFPA’s conclusions. The more people there are, the more difficult it will be to give them all an education, health care, housing and a balanced diet. And the more pollution there will be, with damage to the environment and gas emissions bringing on the greenhouse effect. So the UNFPA suggests cutting the rate of population growth in the developing world. If present trends continue, there will be 9.4 billion people in the world by the year 2025, but if global fecundity can be reduced from the current 4.2 to 2.7 children per woman by 2000-05 and to 1.9 by about 2020-25, there will be almost 2 billion fewer people on earth in 2025, bringing the total down to 7.6 billion. But there is another hypothesis, currently the most likely, midway between the catastrophe scenario and the ideal, no doubt over-optimistic projection. That is one in which the average fecundity goes from 4.2 children to 3.2 in 2000-05 and 2.3 in 2020-25, with the population reaching 8.4 billion in 2025.


The achievement of this - or any other scenario depends to a very large extent on the attitude of women, who are crucial to the success of any family planning and birth control policy. Access to contraception has to be made geographically and financially easier. Target groups, such as adolescents, hitherto passed by, must be reached and given better information, as well as and education facilities so that they realise that there are statuses other than those involving large numbers of pregnancies. The effects of education on fecundity and family planning are obvious. Women who have had seven years’ schooling get married an average of four years later than women with no schooling. They also use two and a half times as many contraceptives (four times as many in Africa) and have 2.2 fewer children on average.

But tackling education, women’s status, health facilities and family planning all at once is a very expensive undertaking. Birth control programmes only get crumbs from the developing countries’ budgets. And in an Africa undergoing structural adjustment, with systematic cutbacks in social spending, where is the money to pay for these policies to come from? If the UNFPA’s average projection is to be achieved, $ 5.3-6.5 billion p.a. has to be ploughed into family planning services alone by the year 2000. Compare this with the $ 675 million put into aid for family planning activities in the developing world in 1988. Alarming reports on the world population are on the cards for some time to come.


Development report 1990: lifting 400 million people out of poverty

Each summer for the last 13 years, the World Bank has been publishing a world development report. With its economic data and its selected social indicators, it gives a true picture of the world economy region by region. This year’s report addresses itself to the most pressing issue facing humanity. how to reduce poverty.

More than one billion people - at least one quarter of the global population - live on less than $ 370 a year. What can be done to reduce the absolute poverty still rampant in many developing countries? This question at the core of development is the theme of the 13th World Development Report.

Its key conclusion is that the number of poor people could drop by 400 million by the end of the decade. To reach this ambitious goal, the report recommends that countries adopt a two-part strategy to generate income-earning opportunities for the poor and provide them with basic social services so they are able to respond more to new employment possibilities. Policies promoting this dual approach would open the way for the poor to contribute to - as well as benefit from economic growth. But this will happen only if the donor community supports those countries making serious efforts to reduce poverty. The report also stresses that progress in the developing world will depend on the soundness of economic policies industrial countries pursue in the 1990s.

The world economy

Despite a healthy 3.6% growth in industrial countries for 1989, external imbalances were slow to narrow. The U.S. deficit dwindled to $ 106 billion - down $ 20 billion - while the Japanese current account surplus fell by 27 %, to $ 58 billion. West Germany’s surplus at $ 56 billion - up 14% - neared Japan’s. Many industrial countries, including the United States, still have low savings and absorb a large share of the global capital supply, which contributes to high interest rates.

Developing countries’ growth slowed to 3.3% in 1989, compared to the decade’s 4.3 % average. Growth was strongest in South and East Asia - both regions with the largest concentration of poor people - but was lower than the average for recent years.

Prospects for the 1990s

A 3 % annual growth is projected for the industrial countries. Real commodity prices are expected to dip in the short term, but record an average 0.2 % growth rate for the decade. Real interest rates should ease to between 3 % and 4 %, compared to almost 5.5% in the 1980s. Developing countries should reach an average annual 5.1 % growth against 4.3% for the 1980s. Though all regions should have positive per capita income growth, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are unlikely to achieve their potential. The number of poor in Latin America is expected to remain the same. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, even with a projected annual GDP growth of 3.7 %, high fertility rates point to a rapid rise in the number of poor.

The outlook is brighter for the other developing regions. Per capita incomes in South Asia should keep growing at an annual 3.2% - nearly three times the 1965-1980 rate. East Asian countries should continue their successful macroeconomic policies to reach an annual 5.1 % per capita income growth rate. By 2000, average incomes in East Asia are expected to be 65% higher, virtually eliminating poverty. While China’s economy should perform well, per capita income growth is expected to fall from an annual 8.7 % to 5.4%.

For Eastern Europe, the outlook is cloudy as economic reforms and strong anti-inflationary measures will first depress growth - even with generous external assistance. In the medium term, a 1.5 % annual per capita income growth is projected, with a strong pickup due by the end of the decade.

The report cautions that continued low savings would slow the industrial world’s growth rate by about 0.5 % and maintain interest rates at roughly 5.5%. For the developing nations, an economic downturn in the industrial world would mean less demand for their exports, a heavier debt burden, a possible weakening of commodity prices, and probably less aid from the industrial countries. The report also stresses the need for a successful end to the Uruguay Round to set the stage for a “ truly global trade regime”’ to the benefit of both rich and poor nations.

Progress against poverty

Though the number of poor people remains staggering, much progress has been made. Between 1965 and 1985, per capita consumption in the developing countries rose from $ 590 to $ 985 (1985 dollars). Some countries saw dramatic improvements, especially in Asia. In most countries, social indicators - health and education moved up, even where incomes did not rise. Life expectancy lengthened from 51 years to 62 years, and primary school enrolment rose from 73 % to 84 %. But despite this progress, some 15 million children under five in developing countries die from causes not normally fatal in the industrial world. And some 110 million children still do not go to school at all.

A strategy that works

Countries that have reduced poverty adopted a two-part strategy enabling the poor to contribute to and benefit from growth. The first part promotes the productive use of the poor’s most abundant asset - their labour - through policies that harness market incentives, social and political institutions, infrastructures and technology. The second aims at providing basic social services to the poor - primary health care, family planning, nutrition and primary education. “ The main trade-off”, according to the report, “ is not between growth and reducing poverty; it is between the interests of the poor and of the non-poor”.

Growth that improves income-earning opportunities for the poor requires policies to stimulate rural development and to create jobs in urban areas. Many past policies meant to benefit the rural poor have failed: land reform barely helped the poor, except after wars or revolutions; subsidised credit programmes not only benefited the rich much more than the poor but ran into serious debt-repayment problems; and excessive taxation of agriculture contributed to poor results.

Population and poverty in the developing world, 1985

There are more promising avenues, says the report, such as providing incentives, strong public support to develop rural infrastructure, giving small farmers more access to technical innovations via improved agricultural extension programmes, cementing the links between farm and non farm economies and developing rural financial institutions. Similarly, government intervention to help the urban poor - via minimum wage legislation, job security regulations, etc. - has often led to less formal employment and hindered investment and job creation. To help create jobs, governments should avoid distorting the product, labour and capital markets and provide urban infrastructure.

Poverty in the developing world, 1985 and 2000

Improved health and education would attack both the causes and consequences of poverty. Such progress depends on government policies and efforts - the main ingredients being political commitment, budgetary provisioning and developing institutions including decentralisation and building infrastructure.

Governments can take credit for progress achieved so far, but they are also responsible for failures, according to the report. Developing countries allocate an estimated 70% to 85% of their health spending on treatment, which mainly benefits the non-poor, rather than on preventive care which would make a real difference for the poor. The same holds true for education, where governments generally favour higher-level training over services to help the poor. Policies to improve the poor’s health and education would benefit the entire economy due to the tight links between education and economic growth, between education and agricultural productivity and between workers’ health and productivity. Family planning services are also vital for poverty reduction, especially where a high population growth rate, such as the 3% to 4% in sub-Saharan Africa, depresses per capita income figures and results in low wages and growing poverty. Where strong family programmes were implemented, birthrates and poverty fell sharply.

Not all the poor will benefit from the strategy. Governments should give extra help to the weakest members of the poor population - the old, the disabled, widows, orphans; many others, while benefiting from it, will remain vulnerable to natural catastrophes and macroeconomic shocks. A system of income transfers and safety nets is thus required, but the mechanisms need to be carefully selected. Formal social security schemes, for example, rarely benefit the poor. But experience has shown that targeted food subsidies often work better than general food price subsidies, and public employment schemes have also proved effective.

The shocks of the early 1980s forced most developing countries to restructure their economies - from adjusting their fiscal policies and exchange rates to liberalising their trade regime, deregulating industry and privatising state enterprises. Ultimately, this is consistent with the dual strategy. But in the short run, some poor people may be hurt, especially the urban poor if labour demand declines. Some countries, including some that restructured public expenditures, put national policies in place consistent with reducing poverty even in the short run. Generalisations about the adverse effects of adjustment on the poor are thus difficult to sustain, the report notes.

Prospects for the 1990s

The international environment: trade, debt and aid

Many trade barriers put up by industrial countries harm the developing countries, but the immediate impact of trade liberalisation would vary considerably. Most middle-income countries would gain, but many poor countries - mainly exporters of primary commodities would not, and might even lose initially because of supply rigidities, loss of current preferences and because the price of imported food might go up. But over the longer term, trade liberalisation would benefit even low-income countries, provided they adopt policies to encourage diversification. As this shift will take time, continued external assistance over the next decade is critical.

Severely indebted low-income countries with large numbers of poor people are still struggling under their debt burden, despite the recent international debt-reduction initiatives. Additional relief would help, but not much. Increased concessional assistance will be required.

The report recommends that aid be more tightly linked to a country’s efforts to reduce poverty. In countries not making serious efforts, external assistance should be kept to a minimum. But these are the countries where poverty is due to increase, so limited amounts of aid should be targeted to the most vulnerable groups through support to health clinics serving poor women and children, immunisation programmes for children, or targeted feeding programmes.

A solid case for a greater volume of aid can be made, but only if more countries are serious about poverty reduction and if donors learn from the lessons of experience. In 1988, aid amounted to $ 51 billion. It is projected to increase 2 % a year in real terms, according to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, which would amount to only $ 64 billion by 2000. But it could increase to as much as $ 144 billion if all donors attained the widely accepted 0.7% aid-to-GNP ratio.

Prospects for the poor

The report projects a sharp decline in poverty - from 33 % in 1985 to 18 % by 2000. The number of people in absolute poverty would drop from 1.1 billion to 825 million. The sharpest fall by far - of close to 400 million - would occur in Asia. In Africa, however, the number of poor could swell by as many as 100 million. Africa needs an annual 5.5% growth rate almost 2% higher than projected - to stop the number of poor from increasing. This will require extraordinary efforts by both African governments and the donor community.

Though these estimates are based on many variables and the risk of a downturn is high, the report maintains that lifting 400 million people out of poverty - which includes preventing poverty in Africa from spreading - is a realistic goal for the end of the century.