From Canaanland to Redemption Camp, churches in Nigeria are building private cities and it is time to reevaluate the role of the church in the modern states of Africa. An African, faith-based urban development revolution could be brewing.
The Pew Research Center says by 2060, six of the countries with the top ten largest Christian populations will be in Africa, up from just three in 2015. As it stands, Africa is already host to the largest number of Christians of any continent, and this position will only be cemented in time. With the rise of Christianity in the continent has come the megachurch, with all its controversy and noise. Big edifices have sprung up in different countries.
More and more free to air television channels have found their way to sitting rooms all over the continent. Proponents and opponents have grown in number but so has the influence of Africa's pentecostal megachurches. Their leaders have featured on "Richest lists" and ultimately been accused of fleecing the poor of their hard-earned cash and preaching a transactional gospel of a God of commerce. However, Armin Rose, writing for First Things, says those who dismiss these churches do so at the benefit of distance and have never needed what the churches offer. Yet some of the megachurches are starting to offer lives inept governments are failing to offer.
The African Development Bank estimates that Africa's infrastructure needs are in the region of $130 - $170 billion a year, with a financing gap in the range of $68 - $108 billion. Almost 50% of Africa's urbanites live in slums and with a population expected to grow by 1.3 billion by 2050, the slums will only grow. In searching for solutions, thought leaders have considered governments and private players, with the most creative solution being public-private partnerships. Sadly, governments have been inefficient while private players have naturally sought profits over the public good. Very few people, if any, have looked at the church but this is a sad oversight. Redemption Camp, the Redeemed Christian Church of God's private city just out of Lagos is growing proof of how big a mistake it would be to ignore the potential of the church in African urban development.
Work on the Redemption Camp began in 1983 and the vision then was simple: provide accommodation for the church's annual convention. The Camp has since outgrown that vision and now has upscale housing estates, dormitories, schools, hospitals, an amusement park, a functional transport system, a post office and a 25 megawatt power plant. In one pastor's words, "The camp is becoming a city." It is not an overstatement. Even more interesting was his fair assessment of the reality in Nigeria and many African states, "If you wait for the government, it won't get done." No one is waiting for the government in Redemption Camp and in other burgeoning church cities like Living Faith Church's Canaanland. In Canaanland's housing estate Canaan City, residents will have their own police station, fire service station, shopping malls, parks and gardens, sport centers, swimming pools and Independent Power Plant (IPP).
While it is unclear how much churches can contribute to urban development due to their opaque finances, their potential to make substantial contributions will only increase as the Christian population grows and their congregants grow too. Sustainable development could be ushered into the continent through its faith. Rather than villify and thwart their efforts, governments should reevaluate the roles of churches and enhance their position as a potential avenue of infrastructural development.
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