Conflict, epidemic and faith communities: Church-state relations during the fight against Covid-19 in north-eastern DR Congo

Sadiki Kangamina, Jean-Benoit Falisse*, Amuda Baba, Liz Grant, Nigel Pearson, Yossa Way, Emma Wild-Wood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: understanding and improving access to essential services in (post)-conflict settings requires paying particular attention to the actors who occupy the space left ‘empty’ by weak or deficient State institutions. Religious institutions often play a fundamental role among these actors and typically benefit from high trust capital, a rare resource in so-called ‘fragile’ States. While there is a literature looking at the role faith organisations play to mobilise and sensitise communities during emergencies, our focus is on a different dimension: the reconfiguration of the relationship between religion and health authorities impelled by health crises.
Methods: we analyse observations, interviews, and focus group discussions with 21 leaders from eight different religious groups in Ituri province in 2020-2021.
Results: faith institutions handled the Covid-19 lockdown period by using and redeploying structures at the grassroots level but also by responding to health authorities’ call for support. New actors usually not associated with the health system, such as revivalist churches, became involved. The interviewed religious leaders (especially those whose congregations were not previously involved in healthcare provision) felt that they were doing a favour to the State and the health authorities by engaging in community-level awareness-raising, but also, crucially, by ‘depoliticising’ Covid-19 through their public commitment against Covid-19 and work with the authorities in a context where the public response to epidemics has been highly contentious in recent years (particularly during the Ebola outbreak). The closure of places of worship during the lockdown shocked all faith leaders but, ultimately, most were inclined to follow and support health authorities. Such experience was, however, often one of frustration and of feeling unheard.
Conclusions: in the short run, depoliticization may help address health emergencies, but in the longer run and in the absence of a credible space for discussion, it may affect the constructive criticism of health system responses and health system strengthening. The faith leaders are putting forward the desire for a relationship that is not just subordination of the religious to the imperatives of health care but a dialogue that allows the experiences of the faithful in conflict zones to be brought to the fore.
Original languageEnglish
Article number56
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalConflict and Health
Volume16
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2022

Keywords

  • DRC
  • religion
  • conflict
  • Covid-19
  • health system
  • faith-based health provision
  • Ebola

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