Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Thomas Rogers Muyunga Mukasa gives insight into: Reassigning Religious Extremism in Africa into a tool for development and redress: with examples from Nigeria and Uganda

In this paper, I want to draw a line as far as extremism goes. I want to present this word as a descriptor of those forces of transformation. It is what made the ancient tribes dare to change. It prompted them to get out of their comfort zones. It stretched the goals, as it were. It is what equipped them with motivation to explore and understand the world around them. It was supposed to be a transition for positive transformation. It demands action, allegiance, results and accountability.

There is a type of extremism that employs violent means, it is used as an excuse to kill or abuse other humans e.g:
  1. The ‘honour killings’ in Pakistani (
  2. Racism, disenfranchisement e.g. by Ku Klux Klan (
  3. Discrimination and denial of enjoyment or pursuance of happiness e.g. by Boko Haram ("Western education is forbidden"), officially called Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'Awati Wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for Propagation and Jihad) (
  4. In Uganda the religious networks are behind actions intended to hound those they term ‘homosexuals’ (, sex-workers and people living with HIV. Activities in Uganda targeting these three categories of persons have led to abuses and unrest (; the shift in the Ugandan laws adopted from the British law system to the French Law, where suspects are deemed guilty until proven innocent will make difficult for many to even live peacefully in Uganda (

Africa is a continent where the model of transcendentalism, animism, liturgy and utilitarian aspects of religion had nascence. The tribes that populated the continents shared venerations and incantations about: the rulers, animals, physical features such as rivers, lakes, valleys, mountains, sun, moon and stars. The light, sound, smell produced stimuli that attracted the ancient tribes to design the prototype on which organized religions thrived. Africa was a garden from which these tribes arose to form communities from which civilizations arose. The networks so formed allowed for other forms of commerce. The commerce was in form of: exchange of agricultural skills and products; tolerance or mediation ceremonies; initiation; rite of passage; understanding differences; dress styles; artisanry; exchange of aspirations; technology; medicines; stories and folklore; skills exchange; and exchange of consumables. Religion encouraged these forms of amiable extremism as opposed to catastrophic extremism. Sub Saharan Africa was the nursery from which the build up of a repertoire of religious ceremonies in the Horn of Africa, Middle East and North Africa arose. The Egyptians borrowed from the other tribes keeping the Nile basin, so did the Ethiopians. These two civilizations, Egyptian and Ethiopian, enabled the extension of these religions to Asia Minor, Arabian Peninsula, the Syrians, Greeks and Romans. Abrahamic religions in turn have lessons they picked from this too.

Coffee is a commodity that is used in various religious and traditional rituals in Africa.

Some of the Artifacts from Sub Saharan Africa that were used to teach sculpture in Egypt and beyond

Ssezibwa is one of the falls on the Mighty Nile River. This  particular place is a shrine where many priests and priestesses from time immemorial have sought spiritual retreats from.

Animism was a major way Africans named, humanized, demonized and deified objects, experiences, events or non-objects. The rivers, lakes, rain, rush of wind, rapids, falls and other features drew many tribes to develop a Calendar or motif. The motif helped improve on the understanding of the world around them. There were those who reminded others of this Calendar. This produced a college of faithfuls. They were the ones who gave oration on all these wonders and from these, spiritual leaders were chosen. The phonic stimuli was copied by humans and repeated in form of animation. Thus began a ritualized event which could be packaged and taught to other communities. Religion became a public utility in which all could subscribe. These practices and mysticism spread all over Africa. As the ancient tribes were migrating from Africa to roam the world, they went with these practices. These religious practices had less entry complications and less apostasy. They were tied to a reigning personage, high priest or priestess. This was a model that has been reproduced ever since. Soon this led way to other leadership models of most African communities which became chiefdoms or kingdoms or empires after being practiced for many ages. With the advent of writing, three major religions: Christianity, Buddhism and Islam came up with a check list of do’s and dont’s.  Theocracy arose, Preachers were originated and spiritual leaders were made deities with supposedly stronger powers and authority. Minority demographies or those going against the preachings were denounced and abused in all manner of despicable acts.

Humans have treated each other in various inhumane ways over time. From the narratives of the Aztec, Chinese, Syrian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Zulu and Baganda ruling dynasties, one cannot fail to collect and write about those wrongs. Medieval and Victorian scientific thought promoted the cultural arguments of Western superiority which had a manifest destiny to subjugate other non-Western and inferior people with no punitive consequences! Africa suffered tragically because of this. The Spanish Inquisition era as well as the Portuguese Trade ships brought this kind of discriminative attitude to whatever shores they docked. Africans were shipped in big numbers to go and work as slaves. In his book, The Half has never been told, Edward E. Baptist, 2014, one sees how in spite of being those treated as the worst of the worst, people of the black skin or those who were categorized as negroes helped bring financial superiority to America. Capitalism and wealth in USA was created absolutely dependent on the forced labour of African-Americans. unfortunately, these kind of abuses have been institutionalized and can be brought into force by people who have the wherewithal once they feel threatened.

Catastrophic extremism may start in a small pocket but it destabilizes governance, public order and government functions. In many cases in Africa, there are armed groups behind these groups. It disrupts the way of life of people, enterprise and in case of epidemics, leads to absence of interventions. The groups promoting catastrophic extremism have a tendency of clinging on very destructive ideologues with ‘annihilation in tow’ such as: “Black people should be killed,’ ‘Anglo- Saxon races are superior,’ ‘Aryan are a master race,’ ‘this race or that is more intelligent,’ ‘the skin reflects higher or lower intelligence,’ ‘ certain people are poor because they are lazy,’……. In a world where we have been bold enough to scale Mt. Everest, forge the oceans, chart the lands and name planets, we still have un addressed race based anxieties. In his book, Myth of Race, Jefferson Fish, 2012, shows that race does not actually exist in human species. Instead, what exists is gradual variation in what people look like. This he termed biological race. He also categorized social race as a set of cultural categories for labeling people based on how their ancestors were classified, selected aspects of what they look like, or various combinations of both. These sets of categories vary widely from one culture to another.

Africa has its fair share of pockets of catastrophic extremism, whose consequences have been chronicled as follows: deaths, evictions, rape, mutilations and displacements. The people suffering most are: children, women, people of non-conforming gender/sexuality, Albino, poor people and those categorized as non-desirables (a description that depends more on whim of those wielding power). Catastrophic extremism sometimes elevates certain traditions while it does away with others.

The "Religious" in Uganda with President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni use all means to bring the issue of "homosexuality" to his radar. The religious in Uganda have made it a 'tradition' to parade 'homosexuality' as a slogan, bias and the movement builder.

Africa gave to the world the model of religious organizing so it will be defeatist if Africans do not refer to such evidence before remarks about ‘western’ religions are made. In his book, Egyptian Mythology, W. Max Muller, 2004 points out how the tribes on the Nile basin formed the medium and trainers of those who eventually came up with an Egyptian religion. 

I have 8 strategies I want to share:

1. The first strategy is to understand this kind of extremism in Nigeria and Uganda. There is a rise of power camps with resources to mobilize crowds to carry out decrees punishing the non desirables. The punishments come in form of: denial of services; naming and shaming; eviction; abandonment; lynching; and arbitrary arrests. There is need to have long term action plans against abuses.

2. There is need to provide provide logistics to rent space to be used to capture narratives from the persecuted persons. These narratives are to be printed in form of hard copies and soft copies which can be shared via social media. The narratives may include the fears, organization and interventions on the ground. When the world outside Uganda continues to hear these stories, it deters religious factions engaging in activities that would otherwise bring harm to those they think are undesirables.

3. In Africa the term ‘sexual minorities’ needs to be nuanced and made culturally sensitive to address sexual orientation and gender identity. This could lead to a more accurate understanding of their issues. The words “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” and “inter-sex” (LGBTI) are terms that need un packaging. In Uganda such terms like Gender normativity, hetero-normativity, homo-normativity, same sex, same gender and sexual- gender nonconformity (SGN) are used. These are more inclusive and take into consideration narratives and expressions derived first hand. They even point towards immediate or underlying psychosocial needs to be addressed.

4. Moderate Religious groups should be facilitated to start a dialogue on sexuality, orientation, gender, identity and health. Religious actions affect medical, employment, school and housing services. These in turn affect government procedures. In Uganda, Anti-homosexuality Bill gained notoriety following religious mobilization and denunciation of homosexuality under what was termed the “anti-gay agenda.” Same-sex sexual activity is criminalized under Uganda’s Penal Code, which prohibits “unnatural offences” and “acts of gross indecency.” Popular support for new laws imposing harsher punishments for persons believed to be ‘homosexual’ culminated in the movement to enact the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 see: ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY BILL OF 2009, 102 UGANDA GAZETTE 74, Bill Supplement No. 13 (Sep. 25, 2009) [hereinafter ANTI- HOMOSEXUALITY BILL], available at

5. Create a follow up platform on social issues in Africa. A culture of documenting activities creates evidence of interventions and experiences.

6. Religious and Social organizations should initiate education retreats, camps and embrace empowering communities in understanding diversity in all its forms. Community dialogues on hygiene, dignity affirming, development, sexuality, orientation, gender, identity and health should become inbuilt core and value sub-programmes for NGOs. NGOs have helped fill gaps where government is absent and have helped to raise voices of the poor; improve service delivery and fight corruption. NGOs are complementary with communities in addressing anti poverty drives. Where NGOs have failed is in accumulating utilities in form of vehicles, fancy offices and fueling status/symbol by exorbitantly paying staff huge salaries, allowances and travel expenses. These tendencies drain funds that would have otherwise helped in interventions. This capitalization is a metastasis of the good intentions of NGOs. There is need to address these flaws.

7. Students are looking for guidance outside their ivory towers. They are scared and do not see job opportunities after school in Africa. There are many uprisings, with this and many other reasons behind, taking place. Uganda(, Swaziland,  Gabon, Cameroon, Djibouti, and Burkina Faso  have seen massive student unrest and worker demonstrations brutally suppressed in most cases.

8. Africa should address the issues of its huge young unemployed population. This is where governments should put effort. It is this population that will use their income to live sustainably. Otherwise, this large young and unemployed population may be the next time bomb of discontent.

1 comment:

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