Religion and Manipulation in Africa.

Kata Kata

Admin | Posted On : 15-08-2023


Religion has recently occupied such a central position in Africa that it has become an influential factor – positively, negatively – in the lives of many Africans. However, since Africa is a massive continent with a diversity of people, cultures, and educational, social and economic differences, it's important to emphasize that the influence of religion on Africans may differ; as such, the effect may not represent the entirety of the religious landscape in Africa. Considering the continent's complexity, it's necessary to approach this discussion with sensitivity and nuance, as the relationship between religion and manipulation is not uniform and can vary widely. 


Different Landscape: It's noteworthy that Africa has numerous countries, cultures, and religious traditions. How religion is perceived, practised, and manipulated can differ significantly from region to region. Generalizations should be avoided in favour of understanding the variations of each situation. Despite Africa's diversity and complexity, there are some ways in which religion and manipulation can be intertwined; and Africa is not an exemption. Let's start with the positive side of faith.


Positive Sides: Religion has played a significant role in African societies for centuries, providing people with a sense of identity, community, moral guidance, and a framework for understanding the world. Many Africans find solace, support, and purpose through their religious beliefs and practices. 

Since religion provides a sense of belonging and tools used to explain and understand the world, logically, one can use religion as a means of interpellation and coercion aimed at internalization. That brings us to another side of religious practice.


Power: To exercise attitudinal change and maintain control over someone, one must have the means and ability to influence or manipulate them. Hence power goes hand in hand with control as it relates to authority, influence, and dominance over individuals, groups, or situations. It can manifest in various contexts, including politics, relationships, organizations, and societies. Power can arise from multiple sources:


  • Positional Power: One can derive this from one's official or formal position, such as a political leader, manager, or CEO.
  • Expert Power: Expert power is based on knowledge, skills, or expertise in a particular field.
  • Referent Power: One can derive referent power from admiration, respect, or personal connection between the influencer and the influenced.
  • Coercive Power: We use coercive power, such as threats or punishment, to control others.
  • Reward Power: One may exercise reward power over others by offering incentives or rewards to influence behaviour.


Control: Control involves the authority to direct or manage situations, resources, or people. It's closely related to power, as those with power often have a degree of control over those they influence. One can exert control in various ways:


  • Direct Control: You can control one directly by explicitly dictating actions, decisions, and outcomes.
  • Indirect Control: By shaping behaviour through influence, suggestion, or manipulation without explicit commands, you can have indirect control over others.
  • Social Control: Our societies put mechanisms in place to maintain order and conformity, often through norms, values, and institutions. 


Some have argued that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely; hence if religion provides individuals with the tools to understand their surroundings and life, logically, it is equally safe to say that it can easily exercise power and control over its worshipers. How does religion achieve this? 


Exploitation: Sometimes, individuals or groups might exploit people's religious beliefs for personal gain. The exploitation can involve using spiritual teachings to promote financial schemes, fraudulent activities, or pseudo-religious rituals that promise miraculous results in exchange for money.


Imposters and Self-Proclaimed Prophets: There have been cases of individuals who claim to have unique connections with divine forces or supernatural powers. These self-proclaimed prophets or religious leaders may manipulate their followers' beliefs to gain power, influence, and financial support.


Political Manipulation: Religion has been used for political manipulation in various parts of Africa. Leaders might align with particular religious groups or promote certain religious narratives to gain support or legitimize their rule. The alignment and legitimization can lead to the exclusion or marginalization of other religious or ethnic groups.


Economic Exploitation: Religious leaders or organizations have sometimes manipulated their followers' faith for financial gain. The manipulation could involve encouraging excessive donations, selling miracle cures, oil, anointed water, or promising blessings in exchange for monetary contributions.


Fear and Control: Manipulative practices can involve exploiting people's fears or vulnerabilities. Some religious leaders may use fear of divine punishment or promises of salvation to control their followers, making them dependent on the leader's guidance and authority. The control can lead to intolerance towards those who don't adhere to the dominant religion or belief system, causing social divisions.


Miracle Claims: It is not uncommon for many religious leaders in Africa, as in other parts of the world, to claim to perform miracles or have supernatural abilities. These claims can manipulate believers' emotions and hopes, leading them to make extreme sacrifices or donations to the religious institution or leader.


Conflict and Divisiveness: Religion can sometimes be manipulated to exacerbate or create new rows. Manipulative leaders may stir religious tensions to generate division and incite violence between religious or ethnic groups, leading to tensions between other religious groups.


Cultural and Traditional Influences: Sometimes, individuals or groups might manipulate traditional African religious practices and beliefs to exploit cultural connections and reinforce control over communities.


Colonial Footprint: The legacy of colonialism can play a role in manipulating religious beliefs. Missionaries often played a significant role in introducing Christianity and other religions to Africa, sometimes to exert control over local populations.


Religious collaboration and Harmony: Despite the negative side of religion, many Africans and organizations are aggressively leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to create a harmonious religious environment and minimize spiritual manipulation. The measure includes promoting religious tolerance, supporting interfaith dialogues, and advocating for transparency and accountability within religious organizations.


It's important to emphasize that these points don't represent the entirety of the religious landscape in Africa. It's, therefore, essential to approach this topic with an understanding of the complexities and variations within the continent. There are countless examples of positive, genuine, and deeply meaningful religious practices and interactions across the continent. Religion can also provide comfort, community, and shared values for many people in Africa and worldwide. However, like in any region, manipulation can occur within the context of religious beliefs, and critical thinking is essential when evaluating the intentions of religious leaders and groups. 


Therefore, "Watch and pray… that you may not fall into temptation." Or become a victim.