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What happened to African liberation theology?

I’ve been puzzling over this question for a few weeks now, ever since reading about the connection that Samuel Huntington drew between the evolving Catholic church (with regard to Vatican II and liberation theology) and democratization in Latin America.  Liberation theology sprang up from the 1950s – 1970s as an intense critique of the church’s role in abetting oppression and poverty, of which there was plenty in both Latin America and Africa at the time – but whilst it left a lasting impression on both faith practices and (selon Huntington) politics in LatAm, it didn’t seem to spread across the Atlantic in any meaningful way. (The exception appears to be South Africa, where “liberation” had an unusually clearly defined sense.)

This might go back to the general debate over why Africans don’t protest more (see here and here), but I’m also wondering about the specific political facets of religious life in Africa that might have incentivized religious leaders not to adapt and adopt this type of faith-based social movement.  Were organized faiths regularly co-opted by by the state during this period?  Or did religious leaders & laypeople face the same incentives against rebellion as any other citizens?  Science Encyclopedia offers some stylized facts about religion and the state in Africa, but nothing systematic enough to draw conclusions.

With regard to Catholicism specifically, January Makamba points out that this tradition was not nearly as deeply entrenched in Africa as it was in Latin America, which could be relevant if theologians are less likely to adopt new ideas across denominational lines (or across different faiths all together, given that there are estimated to be more Muslims than Christians in Africa).  Check out Worldmapper’s depiction of the distribution of Catholics around the world:

For comparison, here’s a map of global population distribution:


Latin America clearly has a greater-than-proportional share of Catholics, although central and east Africa also appear to be holding their own, making it less immediately obvious that “lack of Catholicism” is a good explanatory variable.  Thoughts and recommendations for further reading would be welcomed!

What to read on Rwanda

Having received a few requests recently for books on Rwanda & the genocide, I thought I’d list those that I’ve found most valuable in understanding the peri-genocidal state.  (I’ve since updated this post several times since publication, most recently in June 2015.)

What else would you recommend?  (Update: see the comments for some additional recommendations!)

Resources & the ease of doing business in Africa

Afrographique is well-worth checking out for its gorgeous representations of various African statistics.  Take a look at this graph of foreign investment in 2009 (original post here):

Investment levels seem strongly correlated with natural resources (no surprise there), but don’t appear to have much relation to the ease of doing business in a country.  Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, and the Republic of Congo are all major oil exporters, even though of the 46 African countries the World Bank included in its 2011 Doing Business rankings*, they were respectively rated #17, 25, 31 and 40.  Chad, at #46, had more investment than Botswana at #3. And Somalia, a failed state that didn’t even make it into the Doing Business rankings, had only a touch less investment than vaunted reformer Rwanda.  Fascinating stuff.

*Only the current year’s data are up on the Doing Business site, and some countries have shifted rankings between 2009 (for which we have investment data) and 2011 (the business rankings).  For instance, I know that the DRC went from 183 of 183 in the world in Doing Business 2009 to a less whopping 175 of 183 in 2011.  That said, with the exception of unusually rapid reformers such as Rwanda, I doubt the investment climate has changed that significantly (with the exception of political unrest) in most countries over the last two years.

Fukuyama on state-building

A powerhouse duo came to SAIS to speak on state-building in the DRC a few weeks ago: Frank Fukuyama (on the “state-building” side of the equation) and Severine Autesserre (on the “DRC” side).  Whilst Fukuyama admitted to not having any particular experience in the DRC, he’s obviously done a great deal of thinking on state-building, and mentioned some general precepts that seemed applicable here.

One of his first points was that state-building is essentially the process of “getting to Denmark” – but this is complicated by the fact that even the Danes don’t necessarily know how they got to Denmark.  Generally speaking, the Western liberal state is characterized by three things: a monopoly of violence (or “state-building”), the rule of law, and accountability between the rulers and the ruled.  Fukuyama’s take on success stories like Denmark, and Europe more generally, is that these are places where the rule of law developed alongside or preceded a monopoly of violence by the state.  He cites both Catholic canon law and feudal order as placing constraints on the power of rulers well before they could fully exert power & monopolize violence across all of their territory. (Based on this review, it looks like he’s going to develop this thesis more fully in his upcoming book.)  From this perspective, attempts to solidify state control of ungoverned areas before building up the rule of law is going about state-building backwards.  (Autesserre, as I’ll write about later, seems to agree in the specific case of the DRC – as does this recent HRW report on whether there should be “justice before peace” in the Congo and Burundi.)

Fukuyama also raised the interesting point that many contemporary strong states explicitly focused on nation-building alongside or after state-building – but before they began to work towards accountability.  (The classic African example is that of Tanzania, with its unique national language and de-emphasis of tribal identity, vs. Kenya, where tribal identity is still highly salient.)  He feels that the importance of nation-building is underappreciated by contemporary theorists of state-building, although (in my opinion) much of this is a warranted backlash against the type of cultural imperialism that delegitimated “local” and “native” cultures in the Western mind for the past few centuries.  More generally, Fukuyama points out that the increased push towards democratic accountability at all levels makes any nation-building project much more difficult.

Lots of future post ideas coming out of this talk, for sure!  I am in the end of two minds about the nation-building point.  But the focus on promoting the rule of law before the expansion of state territorial control seems well-founded.  It makes me think here of Bull’s The Anarchical Society and its point about social order developing independently of formal governance; of Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed; and of whether there’s some type of principal-agent problem in the justice-vs-territorial-control debate, where people might value the rule of law from any entity more than participating in a formal state, but the state naturally wants to focus on expanding territorial control and subsumes the idea of justice within the projection of power…  Will hopefully write more on this soon.

NB: Thanks to James Wilson for catching a typo in an earlier version!