The Future of the Atlantic and the Role of Africa in International Development

3. Health and Religion

(a) Religious Trends in the Atlantic Region

Marian Gh. Simion

In determining the particular role that Africa plays in the future of the Atlantic region, religion ought to be viewed in close relationship with socio-economic indicators such as human development, income, corruption, education, literacy, and access to the Internet. All these socio-economic indicators demonstrate that North America and Western Europe rank the highest, while the African continent ranks the lowest; it is mandatory that sustainable development in the South should be regarded by the North as an investment opportunity, particularly as North-South relations have become part of the everyday life of the globalized world.2

Today, on the African continent, religion is present in various forms, ranging from primitive forms of religious life such as animism, totemism, fetishism and ancestors’ cultism, to religious syncretism, agnosticism and atheism, with a significant presence of transplanted Hinduism. Nevertheless, the dominant religions are Christianity and Islam.

Considering the protracted ideological attrition between Islam and Christianity, religion and religious identity become a strong factor for discrimination and conflict. The strongest clashes between Muslims and Christians took place in the Republic of Sudan, which led to the 2011 independence of the Christian-dominated Republic of South Sudan, from the Muslim North. Nevertheless, these regional clashes in Sudan predate the arrival of Christianity and Islam, as North African Arabs have maintained close ties with Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africans through religion, trade, war and diplomacy. While the expansion of Islam in West Africa was largely peaceful, it was only later that Sudan became a theater for a “scramble for souls” between the indigenous religionists, colonizing Christian missionaries, and the hegemonic Muslims.3,4

As the current projections of religious demographics indicate, over the next 40 years Muslims are expected to increase significantly, and the Christian population will see a slight increase as well.5 Therefore, fear of poverty and destitution can only lead to further competition for resources, where, in addition to ethnic identity, religious identity can become a source for further discrimination and human rights abuses. North Africa is strongly subjected to the unpredictable results of the Arab Spring, along with a series of jihad movements and rebellions of nomadic tribesmen in West Africa. So, it becomes vital for the Global North to increase its involvement in Africa through sustainable development, both for humanitarian reasons, as well as for reasons of security.6,¶

(b) Health Issues in Africa

Jack Allison and Ryan Jackson

Ignorance, poverty and disease are intertwined in keeping Africa from emerging more rapidly as a third world continent.Poor health prevents one from working to full capacity and from receiving an adequate education; furthermore, improved education is associated with enhanced income and bolstered health status, so the vicious cycle in Africa is indeed ominous.

According to a WHO report in 2006, Africa’s health problems are actually getting worse: “Although Africa has 11% of the global population it has 60% of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases and 90% of the world malariacases, mainly in children under 5.”**

A major issue is that African governments do no deem healthcare expenditures a priority in terms of annual GDP.Another distressing concern is that malaria, HIV/AIDS, and many other health problems in Africa are preventable!

Two other pervasive public health issues are access to clean drinking water and availability of proper sanitation. Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people annually than most forms of violence, including war. ††

Worldwide, 800 million people do not have access to clean water, the majority of whom are impoverished…,and 84% of water-deprived Africans live in rural areas.‡‡

Sanitation is a tougher problem because universally it is discussed far less than access to clean water – it tends to be a taboo subject although all of us are naturally required to go to the toilet.It is estimated that 40% of the world’s population (~3 billion people) do not have access to toilets.§§ Andalthough both concerns of water and sanitation are approached separately, they are actually one enmeshed global issue – it is difficult to have one sans the other for optimal health.Unfortunately,funding for improving access to clean drinking water is easier to acquire than for sanitation-related initiatives.

In summary, Allison et al., provide cogent suggestions for improving health of Africans throughout the continent:

“Perhaps the awarding of the first ever Nobel Prize in Global Health awaits the prescient researcher who succeeds in bringing both camps [Western medicine and African traditional medicine] together to foster meaningful, focused, validated health education, i.e., the best educational vaccine, for the prevention of HIV/AIDS [and other preventable diseases], through utilizing music, dance, drama, poetry, painting, videos, and/or storytelling in combination with a titrated tincture of medicinal magic. Until that august time, hope does indeed continue to spring eternal.”7


¶ See also Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations (Ninth Edition) (New York, Longman, 2010).
** See
†† See WHO, “Global Burden of Disease 2004.”
‡‡ See WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation (2112) and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), 2010.
§§ WHO/UNICEF, “Diarrhoea: Why children are dying and what can be done,” 2009.
2. Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross, Atlas of Global Christianity: 1910-2010 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: 2009).
3. Francis M. Deng, “Scramble for Souls: Religious Intervention among the Dinka in Sudan,” in Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (ed.) Proselytization and Communal Self-Determination in Africa (Orbis: Maryknoll, 1999), 191-227.
4. Malise Ruthven and Azim Nanji, Historical Atlas of Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).
5. Johnson and Ross, Atlas of Global Christianity.
6. Ruthven and Nanji, Historical Atlas, 74
7. E J Allison Jr., L H Brown III and S E Wilson, “Using Music to Combat AIDS and Other Public Health Issues in Malawi” in
G. Barz and J M Cohen (eds.), The Culture of AIDS in Africa: Hope and Healing Through Music and the Arts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 92-93.

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