LATEST Horn of Africa Bulletin: Dealing with diversity

Timket, Ethiopia (2015) Life & Peace Institute

No state or society is mono-religious. As this special issue of Horn of Africa Bulletin illustrates, believers in mutually exclusive and competing confessional statements of faith, distinct and segregated ritualistic practices with different holidays on the calendar, demonstrative dress codes and mannerisms, and hostile perceptions and mutual suspicion of one another, live side by side in towns and villages across the Horn.

The opening article of this special issue—by Kindeneh Endeg Mihretie—describes the general public’s day-to-day life experience in Addis Ababa. The competition between the established Orthodox Church, Muslims and the relatively new Pentecostal movements to increase their sphere of influence, visibility in the public space and numbers of followers has become a permanent feature of urban culture in the Ethiopian capital. Ironically, as Mihretie notes, this scenario is partly a result of Ethiopia’s transition from socialistic and authoritarian regimes to a pluralistic-secular political order.

How clergy and leaders of different religious traditions portray the image of one another is the theme Michael Brislen’s article on Muslim and Christian perceptions of each other in Kenya. Stereotypical images based on religious and (in the case of Somalis) ethnic appearances create social friction, are used as symbols in the political arena and even as markers of nationalism and patriotism.

In his article on Kadhi courtscourts for Muslim only for jurisprudence in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance—Hassan Ndzovu focuses on a 2010 court judgment that had declared them unconstitutional, leading to challenges by both the Kenyan government and Muslim groups. This debate on the extent of religious freedom within Kenya’s secular constitutional dispensation—should it allow a sectarian judicial and legal system just of one group of citizens?—is the topic his paper.

The question of the role of religion in Kenyan politics is directly linked to its Somali Muslim population which, in turn, is inseparable from the conflict in Somalia. Markus Hoehne traces the evolution of Islamic movements in Somalia—from a predominantly traditional sufi-oriented culture to the emergence of groups and movements like Al-Shabab that stress a strict adherence to the original scriptures. He argues that despite apparent hostility and differences, these groups have the common goal of establishing an Islamic state. In that context, he asserts, the counterterrorism policy framework is simplistic and binary—extremists versus moderates—and has failed to take into account the full spectrum of Islam in Somalia.

As is evident from the scholarly discussions in this issue of the Bulletin, religious movements and organisations are multiplying in numbers and gaining political and social ground in the Horn region in a manner unprecedented in history. Terje Ostebo wraps up this issue with an overview of the dynamics of religious resurgence in countries in the Horn. From social media and globalisation of communities to the local cultural and political undercurrents, Ostebo identifies a number of factors that have led to the proliferation and enhanced socio-political role of religion in states in the Horn.

By Najum Mushtaq,

Editor of the Horn of Africa Bulletin (HAB)

The Horn of Africa Bulletin is a bi-monthly policy periodical, monitoring and analysing key peace and security issues in the Horn with a view to inform and provide alternative analysis on on-going debates and generate policy dialogue around matters of conflict transformation and peacebuilding.

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