Religion and African Civil Wars

Niels Kastfelt (editor)

Hurst and Company 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2007
Kastfelt's introduction looks at cliches about African barbarism, historiographical trends, and broad themes such as rationality, legitimation of war, and the role of religion in reconstruction and healing. Religion and African Civil Wars isn't, however, any more than the sum of its seven papers, whose connections and overlaps are merely accidental.

In "Spiritual Fragments of an Unfinished War" Sharon Hutchinson begins with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, its breakup into rival factions, and Nuer-Dinka ethnic conflict. She focuses on the widespread introduction of guns and resulting changes to homicide regulation, the spread of a "segmentary" Christianity with different churches or units within churches for each community, and the introduction of the "double standard" and restriction of options for widows.

In the same region, Andrew C. Wheeler presents seven vignettes of Christianity in the lives of individuals, communities, and the "Red Army" of young men taken into camps in Ethiopia. There is a wide variety in the ways people have appropriated "elements of the Christian faith in their struggle to survive the upheaval and horror of war".

Timothy Longman chronicles the failure of the churches in Rwanda and Burundi to oppose the 1994 genocides. He describes their history of support for government, dating back to the earliest missionaries, and their role in the creation of ethnic identities. Their overriding concern has been to retain government support, with maintaining a popular base a secondary consideration; only a few isolated members of church hierarchies spoke out for human rights and against violence.

René Devisch contributes a brief but jargon-laden look at the disillusionment of Kinois — inhabitants of Kinshasa — with the state, and the increasing role of local community "villagisation" in controlling violence.

Paul Richards looks at the Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front from a neo-Durkeimian perspective, finding a millenarianism inspired by the Green Book of Colonel Gaddafi but moulded by the social experience of RUF forest camps. He includes the story of a woman who was abducted by the RUF and worked in their camps.

Examining the role of mask performances in conflict between the Loma and the Mandingo along the border between Guinea and Liberia, Christian Kordt Højbjerg argues that "gruesome and spectacular violence" is less a result of traditional religious practices than a driver of change in them.

And in the rural Katerere area of Zimbabwe, David Maxwell surveys the effects of the liberation war and subsequent events on religion, focusing on traditional spirit mediums and new Pentecostal churches, and on local politics and social conflict between a male gerontocracy and women and youth.

September 2007

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%T Religion and African Civil Wars
%E Kastfelt, Niels
%I Hurst and Company
%D 2005
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1850654557
%P 203pp