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Explosion of the Sacred


No one doubts that there is an evangelical boom in Tanzania at the moment. Everyday, we see a new evangelical movement/church up – and a new celebrity “bishop” or “prophet” dominating our small screens. The concept of a “mega-church” – think Kakobe, Rwakatare, Mwingira, etc – is emerging in Tanzania. Gospel music is becoming extremely popular and gospel musicians such as Bahati Bukuku and Rose Muhando are big stars. Basically, God is celebrated everywhere these days: from the EATV (Channel 5) to the Biafra grounds in Kinondoni.

All this is great stuff. But then what explains the parallel resurgence of armed robbery, rape incidents, witchcraft, older men taking their kids as girlfriends, corruption, proliferation of brothels, and so on?

Also, why particularly at this time, that we are seeing this explosion? There is an argument that when people are under extreme economic difficulties, with higher levels of uncertainty about the future, they increasingly resort to the belief in the “supernatural” to make sense of and justify their situation. Others are saying that this sudden evangelical boom - with its emphasis on the primacy of prayer - also socializes people into a belief that individual energy is insufficient to achieve one’s goal, it has to be supplemented by a moral stimulant – a religious fervor. Of course these are matters of faith...and one has to be careful.

Well, in the end, all this is harmless. If the rituals propagated by these latter-day churches are eventually packed with meanings designed to ease tensions of everyday life, to reduce anxiety about an uncertain future, to exorcise fears, and to chase away pain, I suppose society is better off irrespective of what one may think of these new players.

Thus far, the role played by these new religious and spiritual organizations in Africa’s socio-political transformation, has been marginal in many countries because the traditional churches have co-existed very well with the state and the political elite. With these new players (who are fast poaching members from the old churches), things are set to change. We saw how the evangelicals dominated politics (and influenced public policy) in the United States from mid 1990s.

January Makamba.

December, 2008.


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