Religion and development in Malawi

There is a movement that seems to be gaining ground in Malawi. This movement advocates that, if Malawi is to develop, Malawians have to get rid of religion.

President Mutharika with members of the clergy at Kamuzu Palace

President Mutharika with members of the clergy at Kamuzu Palace

The groups argue that: there is a correlation between poverty and religion; religion and social ills; economic growth and dropping religion.

For countries to develop and to end social ills, we have to get rid of religion. The proponents of anti-religion argue that if countries want to experience economic growth, they need to remove religion from development work.

It is not the aim of this article to argue that the fact that there is correlation does not mean that one is caused by the other (causation). However, in this article, I plan to focus on the implications of calling for the removal religion and its impact on human rights and development. I will also talk about the linkages between religion and development.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’

Article 8 of The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also states that ‘Freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.’

The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi also recognizes the right to freedom of thought and religion. Section 33, states that ‘every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, belief and thought, and to academic freedom.’

It is, therefore, clear that teaching, practice, worship and observance of religion and beliefs are a human rights issues. This means that anyone who stands in the way of one’s freedom of religion is infringing on the inalienable right of a person to practice his or her religion and beliefs.

What about the right to religion and development?

We are now living in a time where human rights and development do no exist as separate concepts. Human rights and development work together. In fact, the talk now in development discourse is now about human rights-based approach(HRBA) to development. That is, all not some, human rights are at the heart of development. This is done to address among other things discriminatory practices in development work that have seen development work standing in the way of people to enjoy their human rights.

The human rights covered under HBRA do not exclude freedom of religion and consciousness.

Professor Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize-winner, argues that development goes beyond possessions and infrastructure. That is development is about freedom to make a choice. It is freedom to choose what makes someone happy.I can, therefore, argue that if people get their happiness from religion, and someone deprives them of religion for material possessions, that is not development.

Matthew Clarke the author of ‘Development and Religion Theology and Practice’ argues that each religion offers useful insights into various issues concerning development that should be considered by donors, NGOs, and others seeking to improve the lives of the poor.

The culture that ignores religion or pretends it doesn’t exist in the context of development organization(local and international organizations) is what is leading to interventions that do not benefit the beneficiaries.

They are development activities run by religious institutions in Malawi that are promoting education, agriculture, good governance, and advocacy among others. A recent example is the “Church Response to Floods” program that was launched in response to assist 2015 floods victims which helped to raise money, clothes, food and non food items valued at over MK1 billion for the short-term sustenance of human life. Religious institutions also offered shelter to victims of the 2015 floods. Churches have been temporary shelters for people when there is a humanitarian crisis.

The linkages between the right to development and freedom of consciousness and religion, shall we argue that development cannot take place while people are enjoying their to freedom of religion and consciousness?

  • Chimwemwe John Paul Manyozo, is a Malawi Student at University of Sussex, in Brighton, UK

 

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2 thoughts on “Religion and development in Malawi”

  1. Achimphamba Oyera says:

    Dear Chimwemwe, I do believe that you introduced such an important topic that needed a little more time and space to expound and bring about real arguments. Religious development may not be simply diluted to a simplistic response to relief for flood victims. Yes, that was a remarkable gesture. But some people did it even without thinking about religion or God.
    I thought that you would explain a little bit about the existence of the movement in Malawi… that is gaining ground. It is not substantiated. You should back it up with empirical evidence, back it up with an authoritative research or study that would justify such an existence. By the way, it is not big news! There are people in Malawi whom we have known to advocate that God does not exist…they say that they are atheists.
    I suggest that people must look at the contributions that some of the Churches have made to integral development: the schools, the hospitals etc. Look at history in the so called developed countries. Then let people judge for themselves.
    People must work hard, should be respected and respectful and love their country to develop. Religion is as old as the human persons themselves. To suggest the contrary might be a cheat. I never would want to be “overdosed” with religion. A balanced lifestyle in me is what I wish. Osazitengela pa mgong’o. Thanks Chimz.

  2. Trendex says:

    WELL ARGUED ARTICLE. RELIGION IS LIKE AN ONION BULB. YOU TRY TO REMOVE THE OVERLAPPING COVERS, YOU END UP WITH NOTHING. IF FOR EXAMPLE, WE REMOVE RELIGION IN MALAWI, BELIEVE ME OR NOT, IT CANNOT TAKE A WEEK TO HEAR OF BLOODSHED. RELIGION ACTS AS A CUSHION IN ANY AVENUE OF DEVELOPMENT.

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