Religion to the rescue?

BY: Samuel Alesu-Dordzi

 The exact role that religion plays in the development of a country is not clear. There are some who castigate religion and would rather have nothing to do with it.

And there are some who extol the positives that religion has contributed to the world of work, business and by extension development.

Irrespective of the view that one holds, religion is never a neutral factor in politics and development. When harnessed properly, it has the potential of rallying men and women together towards an effective cause. When misapplied, it could be an inhibiting factor.

A perfect example is the case of religious organisations and sects that are against the immunisation of children in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Utah.

 

Sunday, October 18, 2015 was an interesting day in the life of the continent. A President rallied a nation of 14.54 million people to go on their knees and pray for the wealth and prosperity of the nation. 

The nation in question is a heavily dependent copper producing country, which is having a hard time staying afloat as a result of the slump in global commodity prices - Zambia.

And as though things were not bad enough, its credit rating has been reduced to reflect its status as a higher credit risk country. Zambia's debt-to-GDP ratio has grown from 20 per cent of GDP to more than 41 per cent of GDP in 2015.

 According to news reports, all football matches in the country were called off, with bars and restaurants forbidden from accepting clients for most of the day on Sunday.

According to President Edgar Lungu, “Anxiety and distress prevail throughout the land.”

He continued: "I personally believe that since we humbled ourselves and cried out to God, the Lord has heard our cry. I appeal to all of you to do your best and leave the rest to God."

But Zambia’s story is our story as well. We are an equally religious nation. According to the 2010 census, 71.2 per cent of Ghanaians profess to be Christians; 17.6 per cent profess to be Muslims and 5.2 per cent claim to be adherents of traditional religion.

Fasting and prayer sessions are a key feature of our national life. There is a national women’s group that prays for the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation. The president is an openly religious man; and every now and then there are front-page images or centre-spread stories of the president being prayed for.

The exploitation of religion for political gains and expediency is something politicians would always consider- just as they would in the exploitation of natural resources and other source of earnings.

Not long ago, an official of the New Patriotic Party, which is the largest opposition party, called for a prayer and fasting session to restore peace and unity in the party. There have been calls for prayers to ensure the rise of the cedi against the United States dollar.

In the midst of all these, it is only hoped that the deployment of religion into the political arena is out of a genuine and pure attempt to solve the problems that confront us as a nation; and not simply a gimmick to get the minds of the citizenry off the real issues that matter

 It is important to ensure that it is not a means of co-opting the religious and clergy (who when required must act as the conscience of the state and society) into some cosy and compromising relationship with the state.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” There is no better truism than that.

There is no point in organising grand religious ceremonies only for government officials and individuals in positions of influence to be seen and heard collecting bribes.

There is no point in undertaking all these religious activities and end up paying senseless judgement debts just because someone was either not on the job or was sleeping on the job.

There is no value as a nation in calling ourselves as a religious nation when the opportunity gap between the haves and have-nots keep widening like wild harmattan fires.

 There is no point in governments organising religious events if the best deal we can ever have is the ruling government telling us how the opposition some four or eight years ago did the same distasteful act that they are undertaking. The nation and its people deserve better.

The deployment of religion in aid of worsening economic and political fortunes can only be an admission of helplessness, incompetence, or both.

 Probably, it is a temporary means of evading accountability. But depending on how it is looked at, it can be a galvanising factor to rally a nation behind a common cause – especially in times of helplessness. After all, God is the final arbiter in the affairs of men.