TO regular listeners of Moafrika FM’s news bulletins, one line has come to dominate: finding a place for Christianity in Lesotho’s Constitution.
The station’s insistence on this happening has been relentless and has almost become an obsession.
Owing to Moafrika’s new-found popularity across the country, even our politicians — in the run-up to the 2012 elections —were rather coy to boldly confront the controversy of advocating for Christianity in our supreme governing document lest they antagonised the station’s management or alienated voters; most of who are Christians.
A few preliminary questions may be helpful: Where does this drive to christianise Lesotho come from? Is it really necessary and what are the implications? Have we observed any sidelining of Christianity in state functions and ordinary public life? Can we learn anything from countries where religion (especially Islam) threatened to creep into the sphere of governance? Could it be that the isolated incidents of Satanism locally are making us panic?
The role played by Christianity in day-to-day affairs of Lesotho is worth highlighting as part of understanding whether or not it can claim to be sidelined.
For starters, Lesotho has a prominent and nationally recognised Christian structure in the name of the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) which comprises leaders of all the major Christian denominations in this country.
The CCL estimates that approximately 90 percent of Lesotho’s population is Christian.
The remaining 10 percent is said to be represented by Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i and followers of traditional indigenous religions.
The CCL — through the different Christian leaders — has, for many years, played a significant role in a variety of national affairs such as political conflict resolution, advisory of prominent national leaders, blessing and praying for the King and other leaders and officiating at state functions like swearing-in ceremonies.
Not to forget the number of Christian-owned schools, health centres and orphanages in the country. I am not aware of any other religion that seems to threaten this limitless monopoly enjoyed by Christianity in our nation; at least not now nor in the immediate future.
The pivotal role of Christianity in the mainstream of Lesotho’s socio-political and educational landscape is unquestionable.
Christianity can therefore be said to constantly maintain a healthy influence in Lesotho’s collective make-up.
Practice and tradition can be more powerful than we think. The language situation in the United States of America is a good example.
The US Constitution does not state anywhere that English is the official language despite it being the predominant language in the country. That Christianity is not catered for in Lesotho’s Constitution does not diminish its significance.
Our Constitution duly respects freedom of association and states that citizens can “associate freely with other persons for ideological, religious, political, economic, labour, social, cultural, recreational and similar purposes.” Do we really want the state to maintain a firmer grip on some of these freedoms?
Countries such as Egypt give us a glimpse of what often is the outcome when religion and state drift towards formalisation of their association.
While Lesotho may not be as religiously and politically volatile and polarised as Egypt and many other parts of the Middle East, we can still draw important lessons on religion and statehood.
The recent fall of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi — just a year after Egyptians had extricated themselves from the thirty-year rule of Hosni Mubarak — may help us understand the danger posed by a state that attempts to control citizens’ religious freedoms.
It became obvious just prior to Egypt’s second revolution which recently toppled Mohamed Morsi that the Muslim Brotherhood was leaning towards a more Islamic state.
The revolution received further impetus from the rampant unemployment which makes mass rallies and gatherings easy to convene as many people spend time just idling due to lack of jobs.
This statement by Muna El Shorbagi who lives in Cairo sums up many Egyptians’ attitude towards attempts to control their religious sphere: “Egyptians are known to be rather religious people, but the traditional notion of religion emphasises life, tolerance, spirituality and human values. The people are exhausted by poverty and certainly don’t want religious leaders to interfere in their private lives. Many are beginning to feel that they must protect their understanding of religion against those they call ‘traders of religion’.” (Source: Development and Cooperation, Vol 40, May 2013)
While Egypt has recognised Islam as the state religion since 1980, their Constitution has not been islamised despite the country being predominantly Muslim (94.7 percent of the population as of 2010).
Religion is a matter of individual choice. This becomes apparent even in the religious choices some people make upon becoming adults; once they feel they have been weaned from parental influence. Any move to make it part of how people are governed can create resistance and animosities we could certainly do without.
Religion can also be a very sensitive issue if not treated with care.
Hostilities resulting from religion abound in many parts of the world; Nigeria being a case in point where the militant group Boko Haram wants to create an Islamic state across the country and has waged a deadly insurgency since 2009.
Al-shabaab militantants who want to islamise Somalia, is another such group and has conducted its campaign of terror both at home and in neigbouring Kenya and Uganda.
So what could it be that Moafrika FM is aware of and which some of us are oblivious to?
Why fix something which does not seem broken?
lMahao Mahao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho