The essence of a human being encompasses the body, intellect, and spirit, necessitating a holistic approach to development. This paper invites the Church to embrace a comprehensive role in Tanzania’s public life, addressing spiritual, intellectual, and physical dimensions of human existence. The Church should not assume that other institutions will cover the aspects it neglects. Instead, it should explore innovative methods to foster spiritual, intellectual, and physical growth, thereby influencing the socio-economic landscape towards fairness and equality, particularly for low-income and voiceless individuals.

The Church possesses the necessary frameworks to undertake this role effectively, including Gospel teachings, the social doctrine encapsulated in the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” the Vatican II principles, and the call for a “synodal church” from the XVI Synod of Bishops. Combined with its extensive experience and historical examples, the Church is well-positioned to impact Tanzania’s economic and social development.

This paper outlines three main points: the specific tasks the Church should focus on, the strengths that make the Church suitable for this role, and strategies to achieve these tasks without causing political tension. It begins with a situational analysis to provide context.

Situational Analysis

In preparing for the Vision 2050 Government Document, CPT (Catholic Professionals of Tanzania)  highlighted the importance of bottom-up development versus top-down planning, a potentially contentious issue. Over the past decade, CPT has emphasized several critical subjects, such as the need for a Moral Revival Movement to establish a sound basis for social behavior, addressing growing inequality, advocating for people-centered development as championed by Mwalimu Nyerere, and promoting a caring economy that offers equal opportunities for all.

CPT has also identified small-scale agriculture as a key sector for transforming peasant farmers’ lives. Despite these insights, there has been little revolutionary action or change direction. This calls for rethinking the Church’s mission and the best approach to effect change in Tanzania.

CPT’s Efforts and Church’s Response

CPT’s reflections and proposals have had minimal impact, partly because the Church, including its leaders and lay councils, tends to focus inwardly on institutional needs rather than addressing the plight of the poor. The Catholic laity, active within Church circles, often avoid engaging with the reality of societal poverty.

The Social Doctrine of the Church emerged from past efforts by dedicated groups during the industrialization and Communist movements, pushing Church leaders to speak against exploitation. Tanzania faces a similar situation today, and the Church must take up the Gospel’s call to sanctify worldly life and influence society to align with God’s will.

However, the Church community has not fully committed to improving the lives of all Tanzanians, particularly the poor and vulnerable. Some argue that engaging in public life is political and not the Church’s role, but this perspective misunderstands the Gospel’s call to build a just society according to God’s plan. Neglecting this duty is seen as a sin of omission.

Questions and Societal Reality

Questions about Tanzania’s readiness and willingness for change reflect deeper socio-economic realities. Tanzania’s society is diverse, with various religious, cultural, economic, social, and political groups, each with its interests and interactions. The nation’s identity, formed through its history, language, and culture, unifies these groups despite their differences.

Post-independence, political leaders emphasized unity and national identity, viewing differences as threats. This led to uniformity, lack of initiative, and centralized decision-making, fostering passivity among the populace. The current push for bottom-up development faces challenges due to this ingrained passivity.

Proposal for the Church in Present Time

The Church should play a more active role in public life, addressing the societal issues that impede progress. This involves educating and forming people’s mindsets to resist passivity and abusive situations, promoting a desire for change, and providing concrete methods for managing it. There are signs of potential for change, such as movements for a new constitution and growing dissatisfaction among youth. The Church must harness these energies to foster social and economic development aligned with the Gospel’s principles.

Victor Missiaen, M.Afr 

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania