The African churches are facing new challenges. During the early 1990s, the African continent underwent a phase of political transition. What was unthinkable a few years ago became a reality: Until 1990 only one ruling party failed to be reelected (the conservative Labour Party of Mauritius in 1982), but in 1991 several democratic changes took place simultaneously: on the Cape Verde Islands, in Benin and Zambia1. The multi- party system was introduced in Tanzania in 1992 and in 1995 there were first elections. Although some of the changes were only short-lived and others appear to be mere window-dressing, these years nevertheless mark a turning point. Since the end of the East-West conflict, military and dictatorial regimes find it more difficult to finance and to legitimise their rule; the pressure for reforms has increased.
In this context, the role of the church has received more and more attention. The debate about civil society, decisively influenced by J. F. Bayart2, has led to widespread acceptance of the view that a democracy cannot survive if it consists only of a democratic constitution, elections, parties as well as a largely independent judiciary. Other institutions are also needed to act as intermediaries between the government and the parties, between the state administration and the citizens: namely, unions, civic action groups, women's associations, cooperatives and of course religious communities too.3
Another factor for the increasing significance of voluntary organisations is the serious economic crisis which has forced many African states to restrict their activities in those areas for which they had
1 Evangelische Zentralstelle fur Entwicklungshilfe, Demokratie in Afrika, Kirchliche
Slellungnahme zum politischen Wandel (Bonn, 1992), p. 5.
2 J. F. Bayart, “Civil Society in Africa”, in: P. Chabal (ed.), Political Domination in
Africa. Reflections on the limits of power (Cambridge, 1986, pp. 109–125). An overview of
the recent literature on the debate is given in: J. von Soosten, “Civil Society”,
Zeitschnift fur Evangelische Ethik (37/ 1993, pp. 139–157).
3 G. Grohs, Bemerkungen zur Bedeutung religiöser Fakloren für die politische Entwicklung in
Nigeria, unpublished manuscript (Berlin, 1992).