Saturday March 31, 2018
By Isaac Mwangi
East African News Agency, Arusha
It is Easter season once again, and Christians will be falling over themselves with exaggerated expressions of piety.
But does this do anything to advance the wellbeing and interests of the people of East Africa?
Granted, many within the religious brigade would cry foul at any proposal to scrap their religious holidays and public displays of piety.
Naturally, they would invoke the freedom of worship that has been entrenched in many national constitutions. Yet, such arguments miss some critical points.
First, religion is a deeply personal matter. Even within Christendom, for example, numerous strands of faith do exist.
There are those Christians who do not observe public holidays such as Easter and Christmas that mesmerize the majority of believers.
And while the majority holds their weekly gatherings on Sundays, there are groups that meet on Saturdays.
These, among other peculiarities, make it clear that Christians are hardly a homogeneous group of believers. This also applies to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other faiths.
In the circumstances, it seems quite unreasonable that a society would provide some advantage to one group over the other, or appear to sanction the beliefs and practices of one group over another.
Such a policy would appear to declare, albeit unofficially, that one religion or a sect within it is state-sanctioned. And that, certainly, cannot be the intention of any of the partner states.
This brings us to the second point – that no religious group should enjoy privileges from the state not extended to all other faiths.
Of course, it is simply impossible that any country would grant all religious groups the public holidays they desire, for this would lead to a proliferation of religious resting days that no country can afford.
The saving grace is that, unlike countries in the Middle East and North Africa that openly acknowledge Islam as the state religion, countries in East Africa are secular in nature.
Yet, this secularity is undermined when these states observe religious holidays. The state, in other words, exists to protect and advance a country’s collective interests.
Within any country, there will be numerous religious groups with competing interests – including such groups as atheists.
Regardless of one’s opinion about any other religious groups, the fact is that all citizens are taxpayers and deserve to be treated equally.
Such equality before the law demands that no faith or religious observance should be accorded superior consideration over any other.
But there are also other more compelling reasons. East Africans should be wary of aping everything foreign that comes their way.
In the same manner that Tanzania advanced the use of Kiswahili at the expense of English as a language of national discourse and official communication, it is possible to ignore our colonial past and do away with public observances that add no value to our lives as citizens.
This would not in any way mean disrespect to any religion or its followers; rather, it would be a way of reasserting the fact that religion is a personal matter that should be observed in a private manner without involving the state at all.
Additionally, there is little doubt that religious rules and public rituals have never significantly contributed to the moral uprightness of any society.
Those who brought us Christianity were the same people who enslaved Africans for centuries, later dividing the continent among themselves like a piece of cake.
To date, they take all measures to ensure that the continent remains subservient to their interests, including going to the extent of using military means to enforce this.
Within our own countries, politicians and public leaders who want to be seen on television attending church fundraising efforts and services are generally the most corrupt and rotten lot, who will not hesitate to kill, maim, and loot public assets.
The public display of religious belief therefore serves little purpose beyond providing a wicked form of entertainment.
In order to develop, the religion will have to turn its back on the nonsensical structures, beliefs, practices and other vestiges of our colonial past.
We ought to redefine our own interests and pursue them, rejecting the values imposed on us by those who only wanted – and still seek – to extract everything they can from the region and continent.
Banning religious holidays from our lists of public holidays would be a good starting point.