On Sunday, 12/8/2012, I was fortunate to attend the Opening Session of the ELCT’s Northern Diocese 32nd General Synod. The Synod is held in every two years. The main theme for this Synod was ‘Make good use of your God given talent(s)’. The day started with the church service led by the ELCT’s Head Bishop, Dr. Alex Malasusa. Following that there was a session for speeches delivered by the Head Bishop, Dr. Malasusa, Northern Diocese Bishop, Dr. Martin Shao, and finally the Regional Commissioner for Kilimanjaro, Mr. Laurent Gama, who delivered, I must admit, an impressive speech. In Tanzania, the Regional Commissioner (RC) is the President’s representative for the region and he or she reports directly to the President. Other government leaders who were present were District Commissioners.
All of the speeches delivered by both church leaders and the government leader reflected the inseparable link between the church and state. Church leaders spoke about issues such as corruption and terrorism. Corruption was strongly denounced on the basis of the scripture. Dr. Malasusa used a scripture verse ‘Haki huliinua Taifa lakini dhambi ni aibu kwa watu wote’ i.e Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any (Proverbs: 14:34). He also talked about other national issues such as increased rate of road accidents and the need for the government to invest in railways as an alternative means of transport. This will reduce road traffic especially trucks, which are one of the factors of road accidents in the country. With regards to terrorism, the Bishop spoke of Boko Haram in Nigeria and also Uamsho in Zanzibar. Dr. Malasusa had been to Nigeria with the President’s delegation for the purposes of resolving terrorism issues and countering Boko Haram.
On the other side, the RC, who represented the government, spoke about the positive role that the church plays in community development. He mentioned a number of socio-economic services that ELCT provides. These include education and health. ELCT provides 15% of health services in Tanzania. Faith groups in total provide about 50% of health services in Tanzania. The venue of the Synod was another evidence of the role of church in development- the Synod was held in one of the ELCT’s owned Universities. ELCT engages also with economic activities such as Banks (UCHUMI) and various micro-credit finance institutions.
More than anything else the RC focused on two matters: environment and corruption. On environment, he commended the church for the good work that they have been doing in planting trees. Apparently the last ELCT Synod two years ago passed a resolution that every child who is taking confirmation classes should plant at least 10 trees before he/she get confirmed (the Lutheran Church baptizes children when they are young and when they get to teenage years they undergo faith classes for one or two years ,after which they have a ceremony in which they confirm their faith in Jesus Christ). The resolution has led to thousands of trees planted around the whole diocese. To emphasize on the importance of planting trees, the RC explained the risk that citizens of Kilimanjaro have with the nightmare of a melted Mt. Kilimanjaro. Lumberjacks and loggers have been depleting the forest that surrounds the mountain. So he asked and encouraged the church to keep doing a good job and promised to work hand in hand with them. On corruption, the RC insisted that to fight corruption in Tanzania there is a need to change attitude and behavior. This, he argued, starts at the family level, to schools’ classrooms, and to every institution in the country.
I personally agree with the RC on this issue. Removing someone from power will not solve the problem of corruption in the country. To deal with this epidemic disease, everyone should be responsible and act. There should be a change of attitude and thinking. Parents should teach their children to be faithful, teachers should teach students to be faithful, and churches should tell their followers about it, and so on…
So why did the RC spend 90 minutes speaking about environmental and corruption issues in the church synod? One obvious reason is the big constituency that the Lutheran Church has in Tanzania. There are approximately 6 million Lutherans in Tanzania. These are active Christians. They attend church services every Sunday. Tanzania has about 40 million people, which means that about 15 % of the population is Lutheran believers. Support from such a significant portion of the country’s population is needed for government policies. One of the findings from my PhD research, which analyzed the relationship between the UK government and faith groups, was that faith groups are considered important partners to support policy because they are a significant constituency. In 1999, for example, the UK’s DFID published a strategy paper titled ‘Building Support for Development Strategy’, which mentioned faith groups as one of the four key partners to work with. The other three were education, media, and trade unions. Thus, it is appropriate that the Tanzanian government is appreciating the role and the potential that the church can have in the fight against corruption and in protecting the environment.
One of the RC’s arguments that I did not agree with was his argument that there is no need to have a question on religious affiliation in the forthcoming census’ questionnaire. On the 26th August, there will be a national census which the RC pledged to the church goers to actively participate in. In his explanation of the national census he claimed that the government refused to include the question on religious affiliation on the grounds that it will lead to divisions and possible religious tension as it can potentially lead to one group threatening the other due to their numbers. This I do not agree with. One of the aims to have a national census is to have statistics on various aspects/characteristics of the population so as to cater for each group accordingly. I do not see it wrong to know how many people belong to each of the faiths represented in the country.
All in all, I am happy to see that the government is trying to work closely with the church to steer up community development. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and it is important that every stakeholder who brings about positive contribution towards poverty reduction should be actively engaged. The church should be supported and encouraged to continue carrying out the noble task development activities.
And to paraphrase Mr. Gama’s arguments that the fight against corruption starts at home….WOMAN! Be bold and ask your husband, ‘darling, where did you get all these money all of a sudden????’ ……remember ‘charity begins at home’!