Missions: Africa's biggest industry

African Christianity
December 11, 1998

One of the much lamented causes of Africa's plight is the lack of an effective civil society capable of crossing the public/political divide. With admirable accuracy, this book explores the public functioning of Christian churches as the major institution of civil society in contemporary Subsaharan Africa. The selection of the countries under scrutiny - Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Cameroon - is not justified, but the choice is dictated by the paradigmatic diversities between them. The obvious relevance of major countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda is the very reason for their exclusion. A text as densely packed as this could not accommodate their complexity and magnitude.

This volume provides a panoramic yet skilfully integrated view of how Christianities function as the conveyor of social and cultural processes within Africa. The mainstream, historical churches are discussed alongside the multifaceted mosaic of the African Independent Churches. The former would appear to articulate the plight of civil society against the often dispiritingly wanting political institutions. But it is the Independent Churches that enable Africa to progress to the next phase, where the modernist equations of the Protestant ethic do not seem to apply any longer. In this respect, the pages Gifford devotes to the description of the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, together with the vivid rendering of the activities of Faith Gospel preachers of all nationalities, are the most fascinating of his work.

Some people wonder why we should spend time understanding African Christianity in a world often described as disenchanted and secularised. The answer provided by this book is that "Christian missions are now perhaps the biggest single industry in Africa". Bear in mind that such "missions" now involve many more Africans than Europeans and that the terms of such "missions" have been successfully negotiated by Africans. The relevance of this volume for anybody trying to make sense of the African predicament is evident.

Cesare Poppi is deputy director, Sainsbury Research Unit for the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, University of East Anglia.

African Christianity: Its Public Role

Author - Paul Gifford
ISBN - 1 85065 340 2 and 335 6
Publisher - Hurst
Price - £35.00 and £14.95
Pages - 368

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