Munamati, S. (2022, September 29). Community development projects as panacea for bringing communities together: A case study of the Christian and Muslim communities of the Rupike Irrigation Project in Masvingo District, Zimbabwe [Conference presentation]. The 7th Annual International Conference on Ethnic and Religious Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding, Purchase, New York, United States. https://icermediation.org/?p=69461
Religious antagonism is a real phenomenon which has led to devastating conflicts between Christianity and Islam in Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. In most cases these conflicts have led to numerous deaths as well as the displacement of many people around the world. It is against this background that this paper seeks to ascertain why a positive relationship between Christians and Muslims is manifesting in Masvingo District in Zimbabwe. In this area, Muslims and Christians participate in community development activities under an irrigation project called the Rupike Irrigation Scheme. The members of these two distinct religions partake in all the activities together without any hindrance. This paper interrogates why these members work together for the betterment of their lives whilst others are fighting. This research is part of an ongoing effort to promote unity amongst Muslims and Christians in Zimbabwe, Africa, and the world at large.
The study focuses on the success of the Rupike Irrigation Scheme in Masvingo and unpacks the politics surrounding religious antagonism between Muslims and Christians with specific reference to Rupike Irrigation Scheme members. In addition, this study interrogates the traditional movers of religious schism between Christians and Muslims and highlights the unity between Muslims and Christians who are working together in peace for the development of their families and the community at large.
Olupona in Phiri & Werner (2016) opines the contact and encounter among Muslims and Christians in Africa as multifaceted, extensive, and fascinating, evolving out of the conditions and aspirations of ordinary local people. Notably, early Christianity and Islam both took refuge in Africa and were nurtured there. This assertion is supported by the fact that when King Herod intended to slay the Christ child, his parents Mary and Joseph took him to Egypt for safety. Similarly, argues Olupona, when Prophet Muhammad was escaping persecution in Mecca, he sent his followers to the Christian King of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) called the Negus. Ultimately however, Muslim-Christian relationship on the African continent is contentious and uneven (Phiri &Werner, 2016; Pew Research Center, 2010). Since Northern Africa is heavily Muslim and Southern Africa is heavily Christian, the great meeting place is in the middle with Somalia in the east and Senegal in the west (Pew Research Center, 2010). Some observers view this meeting area as the most volatile religious fault line exemplified by the bombing of U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the more recent ethnic and sectarian bloodshed in Nigeria, where hundreds of Muslims and Christians have been victims.
It should be noted that before the 1960s, which some scholars refer to as the Golden Age of African Independence, Muslim and Christian citizens co-existed with tolerance despite occasional skirmishes and violence. But by the 1970s religion steadily became an instrument of divisiveness in various African states (Olupona in Phiri & Werner, 2016). This complex Muslim-Christian relationship is further linked with global extremism (ibid). The competition and unhealthy religious rivalry between Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria for example, seem to arise as the call for politics of pilgrimage takes center-stage supplemented by the struggle of influence and control of the state. Sadly, religion has become an open ground of struggle for competition between rival groups in which Muslim and Christian communities are caught in these political and economic crises.
The Pew Research Center (2010) carried out tolerance and tension research between Islam and Christianity in 19 Sub-Saharan African nations and found that both religions are fighting for membership as well as practicing extremism. Their findings show that while both Muslims and Christians tend to hold favorable views of each other, both groups also assume the other is hostile towards them. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center found out that the pool of potential converts from outside Islam and Christianity has drastically reduced and while both religious faiths are rapidly growing in Southern Africa, relatively small percentages of Christians have become Muslims and relatively small percentages of Muslims have become Christians. The report also noted that Africa has other problems other than religious antagonism between Christianity and Islam, including: poverty, human rights abuses, unemployment, greediness by the rich, and dictatorship to mention a few (Mutangi, 2008).
A Brief Background of the Rupike Irrigation Scheme
The Rupike Irrigation Scheme in the South of Masvingo Province is probably one of the few farmlands that has remained productive, as most farmers in this drought-stricken province rue losses to the El-Nino induced drought which has wiped out most crops and livestock in recent years (Ziyambi, 2016; Nhodo et al., 2014). Established in 1990 through the auspices of the Renco Gold Mine as part of their company’s corporate social responsibility philosophy, it was founded with the intention to help poor smallholder farmers in the area under its jurisdiction (Ziyambi 2016; Nhodo et al., 2014).
The scheme is situated in Ward 23, Chief Nyajena area and sustains one hundred families via one hundred hectares of irrigated farmland which produces sugar beans and maize seeds among other crops. As reported by Ziyambi (2016), farmers who are in the scheme are engaged in contract farming requiring them to produce seeds for sale to agro-dealers. Moreover, the Rupike Irrigation Scheme sustains not only the farmers and their families but the wider society as well. The farmers grow seeds and prioritize selling their produce to the local community (TellZim News, 2016). Amongst the hundred families who partake in the scheme, nine are Muslim; fifty-six are Christian, while the remaining thirty-five are either practising African Traditional Religion or are none.
The Rupike Irrigation Scheme draws water from Tugwane Dam, which was constructed by Rio Tinto Mining Company as a benefit for the whole community. After some time, the scheme became self-sustaining and the Rio Tinto withdrew its support from running the project, and the Agriculture and Research Extension Department (Arex) stepped in to give technical support through its extension officers. As assessed by The New Farmer (2002), the government’s intervention programs have helped the scheme over the years through employment creation, infrastructure development, as well as solving the incessant food security quagmires bedevilling the Nyajena Ward 23 residents.
The major question which guided this study was: why are Muslims and Christians in the Rupike Irrigation Scheme of Masvingo Province in Zimbabwe working together for the betterment of their lives, while others in and outside Zimbabwe are fighting?
This question was explored through the following sub-questions:
- What are the primary differences between Christians and Muslims that encourage schisms amongst them?
- What is done by the Muslim and Christian members of the Rupike Irrigation scheme that enables them to live and work together in peace?
- What conclusions can we draw from the Rupike Irrigation Scheme that will help combat Christian-Muslim antagonism in Africa and beyond?
- What can be employed to promote unity amongst Christians and Muslims?
This study adopted a qualitative case study design within a constructivist paradigm in order to explore and present the Zimbabwean people’s perspective on how Muslims and Christians who are members of the Rupike Irrigation Scheme are promoting unity amongst themselves. In-depth interviews, focus group discussions and document analysis were picked as data collection tools. The case study approach was adopted to identify the reasons why Muslims and Christians who are members of the Rupike Irrigation Scheme are able to live in harmony. The case design study further enabled the researcher to gain an understanding of the participants’ views in their natural setting (McMillan &Schumacher, 2010).
Participants and Setting
The sample comprised twenty family representatives who were chosen from the Rupike Irrigation Scheme. The representatives comprised ten men and ten women, of which five were Muslims and five were Christians in each group. Purposive sampling was used to select Rupike Irrigation Scheme members who could provide rich descriptions and details of their experiences (Cohen et al., 2011).
The researcher administered individual interviews with four participants and utilized a focus group discussion with the remaining twelve. The focus group discussion lasted approximately two hours and it was audio-taped with the permission of the participants.
Findings were presented in line with the thematic issues drawn from the research questions. Data was translated into English, coded, and organized into themes through the use of the constant comparative mode of data analysis (Cohen et al., 2011). The constant comparative approach is the analytical technique of qualitative study, comparing and contrasting data from numerous data sources in a bid to develop categories (McMillan & Schumacher, 2010). The constant comparative method was compatible with triangulation, which was achieved through collecting data using interviews, document analysis and focus discussion methods.
To keep in step with the trustworthiness of qualitative data, the researcher focused on attaining credibility, dependability, transferability, and confirmability (Guba, 1981). For most qualitative approaches, reliability is improved and guaranteed by triangulation where data is gathered. Data for this study was collected using interviews, available documents and focus group discussions. In order to find out how participants would respond to these questions, similar questions were asked in both methods. Such an approach contributed towards effecting methodological triangulation to enhance the credibility of the study, thereby making the researcher confident of the research results.
Permission to conduct the research was granted by the Ministry of Local Government through the Ward 23 Councilor. Participation was voluntary. All information has been treated as confidential. In order to protect the identity of individual participants, pseudonyms were used instead of their real names. They were informed that their involvement in the study was voluntary, and they were free to withdraw any time they felt uncomfortable to continue.
The study sought to explore the rationale behind Muslims and Christians living together in peace and harmony whilst undertaking one project under the banner of the Rupike Irrigation Scheme in Masvingo District, Zimbabwe. After reading and analyzing responses from both the interviews and the focus group discussions several times, data was categorized into themes which were developed from research questions that guided the participants’ narratives namely: the conceptualization of the differences between Muslims and Christians which can promote religious antagonism amongst them; activities which are done by the Rupike Irrigation Scheme members that enable Muslims and Christians to live in unity; the specific principles which can be followed in combating schism between Muslims and Christians; suggestions about what can be done to promote unity amongst Muslims and Christians in and outside of Zimbabwe.
How do African people, with specific reference to Ward 23 of Masvingo District, Zimbabwe conceptualize the differences between Muslims and Christians which can spark religious schism amongst them?
Findings indicate that participants were of the opinion that it is ignorance of the other’s religion and that creates schisms. The following interview responses represent what was stated by many participants:
Being ignorant of my neighbor’s religion is the basis of numerous conflicts between Muslims and Christians. When a neighbor does not know how the other neighbor practices his or her religion, such people will usually be on each other’s toes. (Participant 9)
Being ignorant of my neighbor’s religion is a threat to religious unity in communities. (Participant 1)
The same sentiments were echoed by the majority during the focus group discussion, as illustrated below:
Being ignorant of my neighbor’s religion promotes religious schism in many ways. Firstly, when one is ignorant of his/her neighbor’s religion he/she will always be on the wrong side and such people will always be in conflict. Rupike Irrigation Scheme has a membership of a hundred (100) people out of which 56 are Christians whilst nine (9) are Muslims and thirty-five (35) are neither Christians nor Muslims. Irrigation Scheme members have developed a learning attitude of the two religions which are practiced by their members so they are always aware of what is happening to the other group. (FGD)
The above stated responses indicate that many participants concluded that people fight along religious lines because of ignorance about his/her neighbor’s religion. Although there are other ways which can promote religious unity among Muslims and Christians, having knowledge about the other religion proved to be the reason why Muslims and Christians are working together in the Rupike Irrigation Scheme of Masvingo District, Zimbabwe.
What are the Rupike Irrigation Scheme Muslim and Christian members doing that enable them to live in unity?
Findings indicate that participants viewed that the Rupike Irrigation Scheme members partake in community activities like road rehabilitation works, world AIDS day, international women’s day, ward meetings and consultations, funerals and others as illustrated below:
Rupike Irrigation Scheme members work together regardless of their religious affiliation at funerals, community/ward meetings. (Participant 8)
As Rupike Irrigation Scheme members, we work together in community road rehabilitation programs in our Ward. (Participant 17)
The same sentiments were echoed by the majority during the focus group discussion, as illustrated below:
Even if Muslims and Christians fight in other areas as we hear in the news, here at Rupike Irrigation Scheme, it is a different story altogether. The Irrigation scheme members work together in all community activities such as funerals, illnesses, Ward meetings, public holidays, and internationally recognized celebrations such as World AIDS day, World Teachers Day, International Women’s Day, watching soccer matches on television at the Rupike business center for those who like soccer and many others. This has helped to cement our relationship even if we have 9 Muslims, 56 Christians and 35 who are neither Christians nor Muslims. (FGD).
The above responses indicate that many participants concluded that the Rupike Irrigation Scheme members live in unity even if they are from different religious backgrounds which are Muslim, Christian as well as others who are neither Christians nor Muslims. This unity has been achieved by partaking in all community activities together without any segregation on the basis of religious affiliation.
What can be done to combat Muslim-Christian Schisms?
Findings indicate that participants saw community development, working together, and avoiding discrimination of the other as additional principles that can help alleviate Muslim-Christian fighting.
There are numerous practices that can be followed in combating Muslim-Christian antagonism. These are: working together in community development projects, avoiding religious discrimination in all community activities, listening to each other’s religious experiences, and helping one another regardless of religious affiliation. (Participant 3)
The same sentiments were echoed by the majority during the focus group discussion as illustrated below:
Even if learning about my neighbor’s religion is of paramount importance in promoting religious unity, undertaking community projects together and helping one another regardless of religious orientations is vital in seeking religious unity in communities. (FGD)
Religious unity among Muslims and Christians can be reduced through involving both in community development projects and teaching them to help one another regardless of religious orientation. (Participant 4)
The above stated responses agree with the fact that the members of the Rupike Irrigation Scheme are a unique example of religious unity in their capacity to live together as one people regardless of religious affiliation.
What can be done to promote the unity among Muslims and Christians in Zimbabwe?
The following responses represent what was said by many participants as recommendations to the Responsible Authorities in the quest to promote unity of religions with specific reference to Muslims and Christians in Zimbabwe:
Firstly, Muslim and Christian leaders have to identify the sources of religious antagonism amongst their members that are a threat to unity of religions. Secondly, the Muslim and Christian leaders have to work with local leaders in making sure that any form of religious schism is reported to their structures. The third action which the Muslim and Christian leaders have to do is to superintend over community gatherings with the idea of involving all community members in issues that pertain them at all cost. (Participant 2)
The Muslim and Christian leaders should have point persons who live amongst the people on the ground who make sure that all religious schism issues are reported to the nearest Muslim and Christian leaders. This should be done during religious related fights in communities. The Muslim and Christian leaders have to source resources which can be used in community development projects which benefit all people. (FGD)
It is evident that the participants were of the opinion that Responsible Authorities which are the Muslim and Christian leaders in this case, should mobilize personnel who live with the people and report all religiously based schisms in communities. They should also superintend over panels/community courts that deal with all religiously based fights in their communities. The Responsible Authorities should be proactive in harnessing resources which can kick start community-based projects where all members are involved. Moreover, the Muslim and Christian community leaders should work with their communities to come up with precautionary measures which can be undertaken during cases of religiously oriented schisms in their respective societies.
Discussion, Policy Implications and Recommendations
When religious antagonism strikes, this study concludes that the following mitigatory, preparedness and response measures are likely to be effective:
- Identifying of the sources of schisms.
- Establishing of community leaders from both religions who will constitute a community tribune where victims report their cases.
- Providing requisite information to all communities regarding any religious conflict which the community has encountered.
- Handling religious conflict issues by the Community Tribune of leaders chosen by the people.
- Making all community people aware of the beliefs of all the religions which are practiced in the community which they live.
- Initiate community development projects which will involve all community members, and this will in a long way thwart tensions amongst communities.
Researchers have shown that interreligious harmony is threatened by religious competition for membership, global recognition politics and pilgrimage issues (Pew Research Center, 2010; Mutangi, 2008). It is in rare cases where Muslims and Christians co-exist without fighting. In this paper, the researcher takes the case of the Rupike Irrigation Scheme where Muslims and Christians are living in unity as an example of the unity of religions with reference to Islam and Christianity in Africa. The Rupike Irrigation Scheme case study shows that through community stakeholders’ involvement in all community activities, as well as developing religious awareness of all religious beliefs which the local communities are practicing, stable and healthy Muslim/Christian relationships are possible. This practice will go a long way in promoting unity of religions in our communities.
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