In Summary

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni told the clergy to stay out of politics as they urged him to abandon his political project of removing the age limit (which he has signed into law)

The relationship between religion and state has always been complicated even more so in states where state institutions are still fragile and the many conflicts between the state and other centres of influence within it are yet to be resolved.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni told the clergy to stay out of politics as they urged him to abandon his political project of removing the age limit (which he has signed into law). In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the influential Catholic Church is at the forefront of the efforts to see President Joseph Kabila headed to the exit door.

In Kenya the clergy is accused by some of conniving with the political class while in Tanzania the threat by the government to revoke licences to any religious organisation that veered off into dangerous territory that is politics was thrown to religious leaders as the government warned them to stay out of politics.

The role of religion in temporal affairs long preceded the rise of the nation-state in Western Europe. At some point the two; religion and state were in the same hands but as socio-economic realities changed and the relationship of people and their Maker became complicated and diversified, it became clear there were dangers of mixing the two and secularism was the offered alternative.

However, that did not settle once and for all the exact role religion should fulfil in temporal matters which is why a state like Iran is a theocracy and there are many religious political parties around the world and the state continued to rely on religious leaders in fulfilling nation building projects and religious leaders lobbied political powers for things which are close to their missions and interests.

Tanzania is a secular state. However, given the influence of religion to its citizens that has inevitably allowed for a contradictory response from the state to religious leaders and made it possible for religion to influence politics and the laws of the land. Abortion laws in Mainland Tanzania which permit abortion in certain circumstances only are heavily influenced by religion and not the secular mindset.

In 2015 when there was a proposal for establishing the Kadhi courts, the Church was up in arms against the move and some of its leaders went as far as telling their followers how to vote in a proposed referendum which never materialised.

The state had no business meddling in religious affairs and religious leaders had no business telling their followers how to vote in temporal matters.

Back in 2005, when some religious leaders told the country that a certain presidential candidate was God-chosen, we did not hear the government warning religious leaders against meddling in politics.

What makes the state jumpy when religious leaders criticise it or voice certain concerns at the displeasure of the government? And it is for the same reason political leaders rely on religious leaders to ensure that the government is supported by their followers.

Religious leaders have an authority that political leaders can never even dream of: They claim their authority comes from God, and political leaders in insisting their authority be respected by the people they (mis)rule remind us that Holy Scriptures command us to obey the powers that be on earth for they are God ordained.

Given the complicated nature of one’s relation with their Maker, it is irrelevant how a religious leader or religious organisation in question is perceived by the rest of the public because they lay claim to an authority that none of us mere mortals can comprehend.

This element of the unknown is what troubles states when it comes to religious leaders. Their followers while heeding words from a mortal they consider such words to come from a greater power and the mortal uttering them as merely a messenger.

Which is why religious leaders will always have the moral upper hand unlike politicians who even when they work hard will always be viewed with suspicion by those they lead because politics is associated with all the dirty tricks in the book.

The state and religion have a symbiotic relationship which is not going anywhere and this is true even for the most secular of states in the world which in some cases has been a source of religious tensions to the rest of us.