Lundi 15 juillet 2024
jeudi 18 juillet 2013

Expansion of Pentecostalism in Cameroon Amidst Tension

Though religion is quite widespread in Cameroon with Christianity being the most represented, very little research has been carried out on the subject. There has been a remarkable proliferation in religious movements following the advent of Independence. In 1960, most Churches were of foreign origin, established by missionaries. Current statistics show that approximately 65% ​​of the population identify themselves as Christians. Catholics and Protestants considered “traditional” or “classic” trends numerically outnumber all the others. Despite the upsurge of “new Churches”, over the years, the numerical superiority of the established Churches appears to be growing. However, many “new” Churches, belonging mostly to the Pentecostal movement manage to overtake the “senior” traditional Churches thanks to their entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. In doing this, they alert government authorities. Entrepreneurial and innovative spirit may not be the problem, but the methods and their social impact. The purpose of this review is to discuss one aspect of this multiplication despite the tangible tension with administrative authorities.

Issues concerning the proliferation of prayer groups were addressed in Gilles Seraphin’s publication entitled: L’effervescence religieuse en Afrique. La diversité locale des implantations religieuses chrétiennes au Cameroun et au Kenya (2004). This author showed that the freedom of association, which was granted in several African countries in the early 90's, gave rise to various forms of social change including the rapid growth of Pentecostal Churches. The founders of these new movements took the opportunity to set ablaze the religious field. Indicators of this expansion in the present decade include: an increase in the number of church buildings, increased religious and sometimes open air programs, the creation of Christian focused media (radio and TV), the regular occupation of public space by billboards, etc. The situation in Cameroon is no different. Pentecostalism is perceived everywhere as the most expressive spiritual movement.

The expressive and even imaginative talents of the founders of Pentecostal churches are demonstrated amongst others by the names given to chapels, churches, cathedrals or ministries. These names are often unusual, snooty and even mysterious: The redeemed Christian Church of God, the Holy Temples, Church of the Holies, Holy Church of the true and living God, Christian Assembly of the 12 Tribes of Israel, True Church of God, New Jerusalem, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry of Awakening Nations, The Ministry of the Called, The Cathedral of Faith, just to name a few. Also, meeting schedules are quite peculiar: Deliverance and Miracle Crusades, Fire and Power Baptisms, Promo Christ Christival, Christade, Miraculous Powers Recipes, Heaven on Earth, God taken Hostage, etc. The construction and manipulation of new concepts, such as Christival, Christoconscience, Démonoconscience, prayer tridum, prayer rain, heavy rescue, aggressive vigil, also enhance this effervescence. It is quite obvious that proselyte momentum underlies these modes of deployment. The motto seems to be: “Recruit the greatest number”.

As a result of these dynamics, a great number of people are mobilized. The largest gathering was estimated at fifteen thousand. Between 2009 and 2010, every first Friday of the month, ‘‘Va et Raconte’’, a local Ministry, mobilized a huge population at the Sports complex in Yaounde during ‘‘all night prayers’’ described as spectacular and miraculous. These large gatherings contrast with the proliferation of small-sized gatherings called "house churches" or "home churches" which constitute a totally different dimension of this phenomenon. These make-shift sites for Sunday services, stuck between houses at the bottom of slums are neighbours to luxurious Pentecostal chapels. Worship sessions are sometimes held under tents and even in the open air. “Radiotrottoir” rightly mentions "one can’t move for more than 100 meters without encountering a Pentecostal church" in the main towns. These are all indicators of the ‘‘bossy’’ evolution of the religious phenomenon pertaining especially to the new religious movements.

It therefore seems that, many of these church founders could just be "dream peddlers" whose stick in trade is promises, miracles, deliverance, healing, and prosperity. Founding a church with about eight thousand members in five years, creating five cathedrals in three years, such are the exploits reported through the media about "Doctor" Tsala Essomba Martin of the Ministry named “Va et Raconte International” in the Mvan Tropicana neighbourhood (Yaounde) and the "Prophet of Nations", "Doctor" Dieunedort Kamdem, founder of Cathédrale de la Foi at the Yaounde Omnisport neighbourhood, respectively. In the end, the numerical increase in churches only compounds the issue of the proliferation of religious denominations in cities.

This offshoot of the religious effervescence takes place against a background of "proliferation of youth assemblies and independent churches." In the absence of updated official statistics, the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINATD) reports through the print media several hundreds of religious denominations identified in Yaoundé (see Cameroon Tribune – CT – January 27, 2011). It is normal to come across several churches at the same place in urban areas. "Elig-Edzoa", a popular neighbourhood in Yaounde, is a case in point where you can easily count 23 churches within a radius of about a kilometer.  The most   amazing example in this area is  “La Venue de Jésus-Christ”, whose headquarters, a family home intended to gather just about 20 participants, hosts nearly a thousand members during biweekly ‘‘deliverance’’ meetings. In these churches, daily encounters are common to which are added a "combative" orientation to the rituals.

More than ever before, a variety of Pentecostal structures in Yaounde focus on deliverance and exorcism and address issues pertaining to witchcraft. Two ecclesiastic structures illustrate this reality: “Le Ministère Va et Raconte International” better known as the deliverance ministries of Spiritual Warfare are self-proclaimed experts in deliverance and "spiritual warfare". The name of this ministry comes from a revelation the founder claims he received elf: "Go and tell what I've done for you." This phrase is also the title of a book written by Dr. Tsala Essomba, founder of the centre of prayer and deliverance, in which he tells how he was delivered from witchcraft, which he practiced for more than ten years. ‘‘Le Combat Spirituel’’, one of the pillars of the Olangi Wosho Foundation (FOW) is an international non-governmental Christian institution of public utility with headquarters in Kinshasa. Installed in over fifty countries, this Pentecostal entity is prominent in issues of "deliverance" or "exorcism" for decades in Cameroon.

Socio-political liberalization is evoked. Law No. 90/53 of 19 December 1990 on the freedom of association in Cameroon seems to have paved the way for the  "cacophony" orchestrated by these fortune churches, commonly accused of disturbing public order, causing uproars, disturbing the neighbourhood and nocturnal nuisances. These reasons are commonly cited to describe excesses perpetrated by these "living churches" most of which are operating illegally. This should explain the measures taken by Government as in "firm instructions for cleansing" some socioeconomic sectors, including the religious field.

In light of the above, and in less than two months, MINTAD reiterated warnings reported by the national news report (CT) a total of four times.  Some religious entrepreneurs criticized this regulation of the religious environment as a "restriction of the freedom to worship". On 10 November 2010, the Divisional Officer (DO) for Mfoundi Division suspended a dozen churches. The list of these churches is not available at the DO’s office. According to the CT edition published the next day, all the churches suspended were Pentecostal. Among them were “Mountain of Fire and Miracles”, “Ministry of Divine Fullness” also known as “The Fullness”, led by an apostle and a prophetess.

Moreover, in CT of February 2, 2011, the news on religion in Cameroon was presented by journalists both from the public and private sectors as "a war waged against awakened churches" by State authorities. In addition, on 4 February 2011, a meeting with the prophetess coincided with the investigation of a journalist assigned to interview leaders of “The Fullness” for feedback following the closure of the chapel. Great was her surprise on realizing that the DO’s service was not aware of the reopening. This story was published in CT of February 6, 2011 in which the MINATD reasserted its firm opposition vis-à-vis unauthorized religious movements. This tension continued for several years. As proof, during the week of 17 to 23 June 2013, the closure of six Pentecostal churches was announced.

On the whole, administrative authorities are bent on addressing this religious phenomenon while on the other hand, the leaders of Pentecostal churches invoke the ‘‘freedom to worship’’ to advocate for the reopening of churches. In the face of the difficulty encountered by state authorities to find the mediane between authorization and repression and the difficulty of church leaders to resist the temptation to function though without a legal permit, administrative tolerance was till present the watchword for managing complex situations. But from now hence, the State/Pentecostalism relationship seems to be at stake in Cameroon.

Sariette Batibonak (Aix-Marseille Université, CEMAf Aix-en-Provence). 

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