Despina Namwembe, from Uganda, is working for United Religion Initiative in Eastern Africa and Päivi Hasu is an academic from the University of Helsinki doing research on faith issues in Africa.
Faith and Civil Society are at the same time a heated discussion topic and an issue hushed in the North. Despina Namwembe said that in African societies faith is playing a significant role and churches are influencing the local and national politics.
Religious people are working in the grassroot level in African civil societies and church is present even at those places where no one else is.
Päivi Hasu, who has done her research in Tanzania, told that one of her driving forces has been the realisation of how powerful churches are in this country. She explained how she had got disturbing research findings related to the issues of spiritual warfare that some of the churches were bringing up.
Hasu told that these so called ”new churches” don't have social activities and they are not really interested on the wellbeing of people even though they have huge power over them. Sometimes churches are making use of the poorest of the poor when they are seeking for better life. On the other hand some of the churches are doing excellent community work, taking care of the poor and trying to develop local communities.
The discussion came into conclusion that faith is going across borders and affecting countries as well as people. So, it is much more useful to be aware of the power religion has than to keep silent and try not to see the way it moves people from all over the world.
Religion is such a sensitive issue that both academics and civil society are very cautious on giving statements on it. For academics it is a question of mixing research and values and the civil society organisations tend to be cautious speaking about faith issues because of the development funding. It was noticed that in Finland there is a need to network more tensely with the different actors related to faith and development.