Religious identities and local politics in Northeast Africa

This project addresses the growing public role of religion in society in the Horn of Africa, a region that has attracted the attention of both militants as well as regional and global concerns about security (War on Terror). Religion has a tenuous relationship with politics and ethnic group relations. Religious reorientation and mobilization in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia (with the rapid rise of the politically driven Islamic Courts Union), is occurring in the face of enduring political crisis and economic insecurity. We see both grassroots social process of revivalism and articulation against political threats and the loss of livelihood, as well as evolving counter-discourses against perceived hegemonism of governments and powerful non-African actors. With no dramatic improvements in sight regarding livelihoods, political freedoms and democratic rights, many people refer back to religious culture. Access to psychological and social security is enhanced through institutions and networks defined by religious adherence that can also marshal support from other countries. The role of Muslim organizations and new Christian churches, enhanced by conditions of economic and political liberalization, will be the subject of research and studied in their role of taking over or adding to that of more classic civil-society organizations like labour, peasant, student, teacher and ethno-regional organizations. The project will examine whether they have entered into alliances with any of these groups.

Senior researchers