Projects in Francophone Africa

Equipping animal scientists to be agents of change in Rwanda 

Feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population is one of the global challenges of the 21st century. Global food insecurity currently affects more than a billion people. Animal science—the study of domestic livestock care and breeding—plays an important role in meeting this challenge. It can help find innovative and efficient farming methods which are much needed in the face of land, water and energy scarcity, especially in developing countries. 

Photo of Onesphore Hakizimana

Graduate student Onesphore Hakizimana’s project aims to create awareness among students, academics and professionals in the animal science field about the mutually enriching relationship between their discipline and Christianity. He will work with GBUR Rwanda, the IFES national movement, to lead a series of discussion groups, debates, and workshops on his university campus and will also develop a toolkit containing written materials and videos. All the project activities will combine scientific, theological and development perspectives with an African perspective on animals so that students and researchers are equipped to promote food security and fight poverty in Rwanda.   

— Onesphore Hakizimana is a graduate student in animal sciences at the University of Rwanda. 

Scientific and Christian perspectives on animist mining techniques in Cameroon  

Science tells us that the distribution and location of mineral deposits is a function of geological processes that took place over millions of years ago. In contrast, in mineral-rich Cameroon, many artisanal miners hold occult beliefs about where minerals can be found. Artisanal miners are usually poor, disadvantaged individuals who use hand-tools to dig for gold, diamonds and other precious stones. It is risky, dangerous work and they sell their finds on the black market.

Photo of Isaac Daama

Animist beliefs are common among the miners, for example, the belief that there are ancestors who plead with the gods to open the earth for you so that you can find precious stones. Daily prayers and animal sacrifices are part of these practices.   

These practices are a matter of debate among university researchers: some believe it is a cheap technique and that it is an “African science.” But the animist approach to mining has an environmental cost. Ecosystems are destroyed as miners move from site to site, following the will of the gods. 

Geologist Isaac Daama will work with GBEEC Cameroon, the IFES national movement, to lead a science, culture, and theology group for students and researchers. Through lectures, workshops and discussions, the group will promote dialogue among Christians and those who hold other beliefs about scientific and biblical perspectives on these controversial mining techniques.  

— Isaac Daama recently completed a PhD in petrology and metallogeny at the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon.   

Public engagement with a Christian approach to erosion control in the DRC 

Soil erosion is one of the problems that accompanies Africa’s urban transition—the development of peri-urban areas where the city meets the countryside. Erosion leads to pollution, soil degradation, habitat loss and human property loss.  

Photo of Johnny Ngunza

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Johnny Ngunza will use his expertise as an architect, academic and founder of a local university to lead a project about the prevention and control of erosion in the city of Beni. During his pilot project research, Johnny found that GBU DRC, the IFES national movement, wants to help its students follow the biblical mandate to care for creation. But without practical programs in place, Christian students often don’t know where to start.  

Johnny’s project will involve a demonstration project on his university campus, involving bioclimatic architecture (buildings designed for the local climate), anti-erosion construction techniques and fast-growing vegetation with strong roots. The goal is to enhance the soil, improve the quality of the space and raise awareness about innovative, low-cost, sustainable methods that could be adopted city-wide. Workshops, field trips and a conference will train students and local residents in these techniques. The trainings will also promote the Christian perspective on creation-care and foster engagement with theology and big environmental questions.  

— Johnny Ngunza is an architect, working as a lecturer and researcher at a university he founded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Empowering Senegalese students to be actors in their escape from poverty  

Senegal is poor partly because of its reliance on agriculture, vulnerability to climate variations and failed development policies, but religious attitudes also play a role. Research conducted by economist Albertine Bayompe Kabou suggests that religious beliefs (Islamic, animist and Christian) have a significant influence on poverty in her nation, and can be an important lever in supporting people to be agents of change in their own exit from poverty.  

Photo of Albertine Bayompe Kabou

University campuses are a microcosm of Senegal’s economic challenges. Albertine conducted a survey to determine the root causes of poverty among students. In terms of theological beliefs, 25 percent of students believed in the animist belief that one can’t escape poverty unless a curse is undone, 60 percent of students believed in the “theology of begging” (some traditional Islamic schools in Senegal encourage students to beg) and more than 50 percent of students believed in prosperity theology (faith will increase your wealth).  

In collaboration with GBU Senegal, the IFES national movement, Albertine will organize a conference that will bring together biblical and social science perspectives on poverty. The goal is to help students understand the factors that perpetuate poverty, and equip students with ideas and strategies that will help them exercise their human agency in their own fight against poverty.  

— Albertine Bayompe Kabou recently completed a PhD in economics at Cheikh Anta Diop University, the leading university in Francophone Africa.  

The origin of humankind: interactions among scientific, biblical and African cultural perspectives 

Understanding the origins of humankind and our place in the cosmos has been one of society’s big questions since ancient times. The debate about whether Christianity and biological evolution are compatible is well known but in Africa, there are also cultural perspectives on these big questions. 

Photo of Nou Poudiougo

In Mali, the Dogon are an ethnic people group with their own languages, religious beliefs and knowledge about the cosmos. According to Dogon creation mythology,  the god Ama created all matter in the universe. Today, some Dogon have become Christians or Muslims. 

Working with GBEEM Mali, the IFES national movement, biologist Nou Poudiougo will conduct a research project that will improve our understanding of the origin of humankind from a biblical, scientific and cultural (Dogon) perspective. Nou’s study will explore the similarities, differences and interactions between these three areas of knowledge. The project includes a literature review and surveys of cosmologists, anthropologists, pastors and other professionals. A seminar with GBEEM students will gather Christian students’ perspectives on the origin of humankind and also equip them to engage in constructive dialogue on this topic. Nou will present his findings in a scholarly article. 

— Nou Poudiougo is an assistant professor of ecology at Bamako University in Mali. 

Promoting dialogue on theology and the sciences among students and researchers in Benin 

Graduate student Faustin Dokui conducted a survey of graduate students, teachers, and staff – from various faith backgrounds – at his university and found that all respondents believed that science and religion are important topics that the academic life of the university must address. 

Photo of Faustin Dokui

Faustin will work with GBEEB Benin, the IFES national movement, to promote dialogue on theology and the sciences on his university campus. His project aims to encourage academics from all faith backgrounds to understand how theology and the sciences work together, and to equip Christian students and researchers to connect their Christian faith with their academic discipline. 

The project includes five training sessions for students in the national movement, with material drawn from the Logos and Cosmos Initiative training curriculum. Alongside this, each small group bible study group on Faustin’s campus will be equipped to run regular multi-faith, science and theology dialogue events.  

— Faustin Dokui is completing a doctorate in animal resource management at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin. 

Harnessing science and theology to tackle student mental health in Côte D’Ivoire 

In Côte D’Ivoire, there are many pressures that contribute to mental health problems among university students: poverty, unemployment, and the experience of having grown up with the violence and human rights violations that came after that nation’s 2011 political crisis. In addition, the diversity among the student population (socio-economic, ethnic and religious) has led to divisions between students that accentuate mental health challenges.  

Photo of Nina Ble Toualy

Mental health has taken its toll on students yet there is little awareness about it, according to the results of a pilot survey of students conducted by graduate student Nina Ble Toualy. She found that 80 percent of respondents had at least one symptom of a mental health disorder without realizing it. Many students admitted that they thought mental health disorders were about madness. Eighty percent of those surveyed could not afford to seek counselling and many had never considered it as an option.  

Nina will collaborate with GBUCI Côte D’Ivoire, the IFES national movement, on a project with a three-fold purpose: to take stock of the mental health situation among students in her country; to raise awareness about mental health issues; and to highlight the complementarity between science and theology in addressing mental health challenges.  

Nina will conduct a more in-depth survey of students and a study of the existing mental health care available, and document her findings in a scholarly article. For students in her university department, she will organize an awareness-raising conference about mental health as well as mental health screenings, counselling sessions and Bible studies. In the longer term, she may organize mental health awareness-raising workshops for leaders of local churches and Christian organizations. 

— Nina Ble Toualy is a doctoral student in criminology at The University of Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Côte D’Ivoire. 

Catalyst Perspectives: No More Double Life 

After growing up in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi1, Onesphore Hakizimana enrolled at the University of Rwanda with hopes of becoming a doctor. But God had different plans for him. In the second blogpost in our Catalyst Perspectives series, Onesphore explains how he said goodbye to his “double life” and is discovering the richness of God through his graduate studies in animal science.  

I went to university to find myself. I wanted to become a doctor. But human medicine wasn’t available on my campus so I had to study animal science instead. Disappointed, I asked myself: “What is this subject going to contribute to the great life that I dreamed of?” 

I soon came to realize that I was using academics for selfish gain. Through my involvement with GBUR Rwanda (my national student movement), I learned that the purpose of life is to serve God and to live for him alone.  

My perspective changed but I was still left with the problem of a dichotomy, or divide, between my studies and my faith. I viewed my academic studies purely as something which gave me the opportunity to be on the university campus and witness to students. I didn’t know how to glorify God through my studies.  

After graduating, working as a GBUR campus staff member only added fire to my problem. Once again, I saw this dichotomy in the discipleship we were doing. We told students that to live is for Christ but we didn’t show them how to do that practically. 

God challenged me. Jesus said “Go and make disciples of all nations.2” But did he mean for us to do that by bringing people into the four walls of the church or a Christian meeting? Reading the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 also made me realize that God gave each of us a ministry according to our abilities. Everyone is a full-time minister for the Lord. 

I decided to go back to university to earn a master’s degree in animal science and to learn how to serve God through my academic work – although I still didn’t know how to do that.  

Photo of Onesphore Hakizimana
Onesphore Hakizimana

When I heard about IFES’ Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI), I celebrated that this was an answer from God. I became a Catalyst in 2021 and we started with a course called “Engaging the University.” I discovered that if my old self has died and “Christ lives in me3,” then it means that when I am on the campus, it is as if Christ is on the campus in order to reach the people he loves. And more than that, we can redeem science and its outcomes for the Lord. 

As an animal scientist, the creatures I study were created to glorify God. When I study them, I can see that science itself has a way to express God.”  

An article by Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff4 introduced me to the idea of developing a Christian mind. As Christians we have “the mind of Christ5”, enabling us to see the created world through the eyes of Christ. As Christian academics, if we are both studying the Word of God and immersing ourselves in our discipline then we will be able to discover the richness and wisdom of God embodied in creation. We will be able to draw out the treasures of God hidden in our academic discipline and then use these insights to bring created things back into their original purpose.  

My view was also broadened by John Stott’s idea of double listening6 – listening to both God (through scripture) and to the cries of the world around us. Our role is to connect those two voices through our discipline so we can answer the needs of the world around us.   

In this way, science can help us follow The Great Commandment (loving God and others). When God created the world, he didn’t reveal everything to us. But he gave us analytical minds that we can use to study the world and find answers that will help to restore creation and help it flourish.  

Photo of Onesphore Hakizimana weighing a chick

As an animal scientist, the creatures I study were created to glorify God. When I study them, I can see that science itself has a way to express God.  

The book of Genesis describes how God created animals and told humans to rule over them and subdue the earth. People rely on animals for food, livelihood and companionship. I can use my expertise to manage animal breeding and animal performance so we can provide food for people at a time when we are facing global challenges such as land scarcity, food insecurity and a growing population. For example, for my master’s thesis, I researched how to use insects as a food source for poultry. My thesis was considered by the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and this year, they are going to adopt it as a way to feed their animals.  

Connecting my academic discipline and my faith has also helped me with The Great Commission (making disciples). I am able to bring out the wonder of God that I find in my discipline and show it to my fellow students. I can talk to them about faith in a language they understand. While studying genetics, I talked to one of my friends about God and he became a Christian.  

Over the next year, my project for the LCI will be to work with my national movement to lead a series of workshops and debates on the topic: Seeing God in Animal Sciences. This will inspire and create awareness among students, ministers, and professionals about how God can reveal himself through any discipline and how we can redeem our disciplines. My hope is that my project will equip Christian students to discover their God-given calling to use their academic work to reach their fellow students and transform their communities by restoring the creation.  

We were all put here to work in the garden of God’s creation. How can you change your perspective on your work or academic discipline? How does your area of expertise connect with your Christian faith? What are the treasures of God hidden there? 

ENDNOTES

2Matthew 28: 19 

3 Galatians 2:20 

4 Wolterstorff, Nicholas (2019) “In This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life in Learning” WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 

5 1 Corinthians 2:16 

6 Stott, John (1992) “The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World” Chapter 6: The Listening Ear. 

introducing you to one of our catalysts: onesphore from rwanda

Onesphore Hakizimana is completing his Master’s degree in Animal Production at the University of Rwanda. He is also a volunteer employee of GBUR (the IFES movement in Rwanda) as secretary of evangelism, prayer and mission. Onesphore has a powerful life story and is passionate about sharing the good news. Here he shares with us what he is learning as a Catalyst for the Logos and Cosmos Initiative.