Religious Entrepreneurs in Africa-do they help development?

Since I first went to the village of Uchira in Tanzania in 1996 I was struck by the building of an enormous Catholic church on the roadside.  On that first visit it was just a foundation but by 2007 was a cathedral decorated with stained glass.  By that time I was married into a family from Uchira and my daughter was baptised in that church.   However, my response to this building was annoyance- why was this structure being built here amidst visible hunger and when the government medical dispensary was in such bad shape?  How much has it cost and where did this money come from?  The answer to this was a mixture of funds some from the UK and much from local contributions.  So why did people prefer to contribute to this project rather than to the completion of the local government health facility?

Now I know this is a controversial topic but this question continues to puzzle me.  Perhaps people also wondered this in Europe as the powerful religious bureaucracies built their Cathedrals hundreds of years ago.  This led me to think about all the ways in which religious organisations and religion play a role in reducing poverty or exclusion- either through the delivery of public services or in shaping the identity, behaviour and beliefs of individuals. The public services provided by religious organisations in Uchira charge a fee to their customers and so seem to be behaving as social enterprises.  Starting your own church or becoming a pastor also appears to be a good way to improve your own livelihood- we can see an extreme examples of this in Nigeria.

The second JEFCAS working paper explores the connections between religion and development using Uchira as an exploratory case study.  It is a paper written to ask more questions than it answers.


3 thoughts on “Religious Entrepreneurs in Africa-do they help development?”

  1. The answer to this was a mixture of funds some from the UK and much from local contributions. So why did people prefer to contribute to this project rather than to the completion of the local government health facility?
    Actually is too surprising!! I do remember in my previous class studies in History, my teacher taught about (A book by Walter Rodney – How Europe Underdeveloped Africa) said “whites came to colonize Africa, they came with a bible in one hand; to me it implies that they discoursed he word of God so as to built the powerful belief and a culture of obedience to grand fathers and grand mothers, as our former chiefs like Mkwawa were against their intrusion” and a hoe on other hand, implies in Europe Industrialisation kept pace and hence marked industrial revolution, which needed raw materials and Africa sought to a source”.
    Notwithstanding the issue of raw materials, the church attendants also created a way to sustain themselves by the word of God, “Make a contribution for the Lord, and you will paid – for the heaven (Mtolee bwana, na utalipwa siku ya mwisho). Therefore through “SADAKA” they accumulated a working capital which at the end of the day, they continue investing and re-investing (charitable organizations) where they charges a fee as they render services to the public. So not only that charging fees from people who need their service but also they need exemptions from the African Government of not paying taxes like import duties and the like in the reason that they operating not for profit!!!1 Is this true? are they not for profit really? I wonder, if there are not, like what you saw at Uchira –


  2. Thanks for your very thoughtful comment- this is one area where I think much more discussion and debate is needed. It is interesting to consider how contributions to funds are used to create fee-paying services – with no taxation- that does seem a very favourable environment for business…Anna


  3. Sincerely it is hurting, for instance one church in Dar es Salaam called EFATA led by “Mtume na Nabii – Mwingira” has established EFATA Bank. One can ask himself or herself where does accessed the accepted amount of cash which in turn the Bank of Tanzania granted an authority for the church to operate bank services.

    It is high time now for the government to review its policies regarding operationalisation of religious or charitable organisations, though there are some Roman Cathoric churches through participatory decision making have contributed much and stimulated socio-economic development activities in various villages, eg. Nyabange, Kowak and Komuge in Mara region.


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