African News

The Islam-Christian, North-South Divide in Africa and False Gods (Part I)

18 July 2008 at 02:53 | 2961 views

In this three-part article, Dr. Charles Quist-Adade traces religious conflicts in Africa and contends, some African politicians, like their former colonial masters, have cynically exploited religion in their quest for power. Part of the problem, Dr. Quist-Adade argues is that Christianity and Islam, the mainstream religions in Africa today were imposed on Africans by outsiders while Africa’s own religions were destroyed through cultural genocide.


By Dr. Charles Quist-Adade, Vancouver, Canada.

Religion and politics are a dangerous mix the world over. Africa is no exception. From Nigeria to Sudan, from the Ivory Coast to the Gambia, and from Egypt to Swaziland, religious conflicts have left in their trail death and destruction. The civil war in the Ivory Coast is the latest in the long saga of religious conflicts in Africa.

But the most notorious religious conflicts are in Nigeria and the Sudan. In Nigeria, intermittent clashes between Christians and Moslems in the northern states over Sharia (Islamic fundamentalist laws) crises have claimed the lives of nearly 2000 people since Olusengun Obassanjo took office in May 1999. The Sudan conflict, which has been raging for more than two decades and has claimed tens of thousands of lives, was ignited by the dominant Islamic North’s hegemony over the largely Christian South.

What makes Africa’s case even most tragic and ironic is that none of the religions that are causing antagonism and wreaking havoc on the continent are indigenous to Africa, at least not in their current forms! The question is why two Nigerians who speak the same language and share the same substrate culture are slaughtering each other in the name of alien religion. The answers are legion. I shall try to explain some of them.

In Africa, a curious conspiracy of factors, including the colonial legacy, geopolitics, machinations of ruthless politicians and pervasive ignorance, accounts for this sad situation. The most important factor, I insist, is political economic. The so-called tribal-religious wars in Africa are masked economic wars. In other words, they are struggles over scarce economic resources and scrambles to control political power. Religion and “tribalism” are mere fronts for deep-seated grievances over economic deprivation. Politics is the concentrated expression of economics, as one social philosopher rightly noted.

The colonizers of Africa employed several methods to conquer, control and rule Africa. Divide and rule was one. The British were the most adept at this. They not only divided African countries along ethnic lines, they also created artificial schisms along religious lines. For example, in the then Gold Coast, now Ghana, the British turned the Moslem north into a labour trove for the Christian south. While southern Ghana was relatively developed, the north was largely ignored. The few social amenities and infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and hospitals, the British introduced in Ghana were set up almost exclusively in the south.

The introduction of a cash crop economy in Ghana meant that the northern population was turned into hewers of wood and drawers of water for the southerners - a seasonal labor force, migrating southwards to work on the cocoa plantations. With time, the northerners acquired a sort of ethnic specialization; they came to be regarded as “labourers.” With ethnic specialization came stereotypes. The same pattern was repeated in Nigeria, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and other African countries.

The pattern created by British and other European colonizers did not end with the political independence of African countries. With time, the colonial legacy led to a class of relatively well developed, well educated, more urbanized southerners, many of whom worked in the newly established bureaucracies, firms, and businesses. The northerners were mostly drawn into the military and police forces. It is not difficult to understand that in Nigeria, for example, almost all the military coups were plotted by northerners.

Islamic-Christian antagonism

The North-South religious divide in Africa is the offshoot of the Islamic-Christian antagonism that dates back to the Crusades. Africa was the staging ground for Arab-European rivalry for centuries. The religious map of Africa today is testimony to this fact, with northern Africa being largely “the spoils” of Arab conquest and Africa south of the Sahara populated largely by Christian “converts.” The introduction of Islam and Christianity into Africa has been described as the beginning of the “cultural genocide” of Africa: the best way to conquer a people is to control their “cultural mind.” Thus Africa’s colonization, partition and neo-colonization were accomplished first through religious and cultural enslavement.

Religion has always represented the essence of a people. In Africa, religion is synonymous with tradition and is inextricably linked with culture. Even in the so-called advanced Western industrialized countries that claim to have separated the state from religion, religious beliefs are, in fact, the central fulcrum around which moral and legal laws revolve.

Thus when a people’s religion is destroyed, their traditions die and culture atrophies. In his book, Africa and the World, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois described the destruction of African culture in graphic terms: “...The old religion was held up for ridicule, the old culture and ethical standards degraded or disappeared, and gradually all over Africa spread the inferiority complex, the fear of colour, the worship of white skin, the imitation of white ways of doing and thinking, whether good, bad, or indifferent.”

“By the end of the nineteenth century,” Du Bois continues, “the degradation of Africa was as complete as organized human means could make it. Chieftains, representing a thousand years of thriving human culture, were decked out in second-hand London top-hats, while Europe snickered.”

To be continued.

About the author:
Dr. Charles Quist-Adade(photo),is a Sociology professor at Kwantlen University College in Surrey, British Columbia in Canada. He teaches race and ethnicity, sociology of religion globalization, among others. He is the author of In the Shadows of the Kremlin and the White House: Africa’s Media Image from Communism to Post-Communism (University Press of America, 2001).