The Church & Human Rights in Africa
Kitima, speaking to The Media Project’s conference on post-conflict societies in Burundi, laid out his vision of African democracy, one where the Church is the key player that advocates for human rights.
“The state and the religious community exist to help the human person realize his personal and social vocation,” said Kitima. “Both are means for the final ends of man, temporal and spiritual ends respectively.”
Kitima was careful to show that “the Church” includes more than only Christian churches. In order for the democratic project to succeed, the state and all religious institutions must agree on a healthy religious pluralism, he said. This promotes human dignity through the idealism found in all religions.
“Indirectly, religious institutions promote human rights because their teachings touch on most elements of human rights,” said Kitima. “…it follows that religious institutions have a divine mission to educate, promote and respect human rights for social cohesion.”
According to Kitima, Tanzania has a long tradition of religious pluralism dating back many centuries. Tanzania’s kings would welcome a new religion and guarantee that his subjects could practice the religion as long as it “would promote the common good of the kingdom.”
Islam came to Tanzania under this system in the tenth century, and the same process welcomed Christianity in the 16th and 19th centuries, Kitima said. By the time democracy arrived in Tanzania, Islam and Christianity already got along well and occupied defined spaces in public life.
This bodes well for Tanzania’s democracy, but Kitima warns that democracy can change, for better or worse. A vigilant Church, Kitima says, will ensure that human rights figure into any change.
“In a democracy, people have the freedom to speak out against the government, petition the government, and organize politically to improve their quality of life,” said Kitima. “The beauty of democracy is that it responds to pressure from the people for favorable change.”
By Richard Potts, The Media Project