The well attended 2nd AU Inter-faith Dialogue Forum held in Abuja from November 10-11, 2016 is still getting rave reviews for its aptness and relevance in addressing existing and emerging challenges of violence in Africa. Organised by the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate (CIDO) of the African Union Commission and the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) based in Vienna, Austria, the Summit, which featured African scholars, religious leaders and officials of the African Union, brainstormed on best ways of promoting interfaith unity for sustainable development in the continent. MUSA SIMON REEF was at the two-day event and reports on its proceedings.

With the theme, ‘Leap of faith, religious leaders, advance justice, peace, security, inclusiveness, dialogue and development in Africa,’ the 2nd African Union Interfaith Dialogue Forum came to a close on November 11, 2016 in Abuja. Ending on a high note, the event provided a platform for religious leaders, policy makers, scholars and representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from about 30 African nations to evolve strategies and develop a plan of action aimed at promoting peace among adherents of various faith in the continent. Considering the spate of religious extremism and emergence of groups that have broadened frontiers of violence in the continent, the Summit could not have come at a better time in proffering solutions to the bloodshed usually associated with religiously induced violence. This 2nd summit was fallout of the first interfaith summit that took place in Abuja from June 15 to 17, 2010, with its theme: ‘Advancing Justice, Peace, Security and Development: Harnessing the Power of Religious Communities in Africa.’ The 2010 Summit was primarily built on “a structured partnership between AU and religious leaders for advancing justice, peace, security and development in Africa.” Drawing over 70 participants from various African countries, the first AU Summit led to a formal affirmation of the “AU Interfaith Forum Declaration”, which stressed the need for “further collaboration between religious leaders dedicated for their unequivocal commitment to interfaith dialogue.” Following a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) and CIDO of the African Union, the Forum was organised to broaden and brighten the prospects of peace among adherents of different faith. According to the KAICIID Secretary General, Faisal Bin Muaammar, the 2nd Summit represents a milestone “in the partnership between the African Union and KAICIID, a partnership which began with our Memorandum of Understanding in 2013.”

Taking cognizance of the incessant religious crises rocking the continent, especially the Central African Republic and Nigeria, among other countries, Muaammar said such interfaith summit has become imperative in halting the manipulations of religion in order to promote peaceful co-existence among adherents of different faiths. The KAICIID Secretary General, in his opening speech at the conference, said no religion in the world promotes violence, and that religious violence is caused by manipulation of political factors and greed. He noted that youths are lured to join Boko Haram in Nigeria, “because these young people are misled or because they seek social, political or economic gains.” Insisting on the need to draw the curtains over spiraling religious violence in parts of Africa, the Secretary General bemoans: “In many countries, the manipulation of religion and religious identity for violence is leading to divisions in societies, communities, families. Many of these societies have for centuries been models of inter-religious co-existence and collaboration.” Also hinging on similar narratives espoused by Muaammar, Head of Civil Society Division of CIDO of the African Union, Ambassador Jalel Chelba, regretted that the continent has found itself in a precarious condition, with fundamental groups emerging to encourage violence, just as, “This violent image of religion generated by such groups is a leading cause to intolerance, sectarian violence and destabilising of societies in Africa.” Ambassador Chelba said the only hope for the continent is for the leadership in Africa, from governmental to non-governmental and religious fronts to unite and jointly combat these challenges.”

On his part, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, a strong advocate for interfaith unity, called on religious leaders to guard their utterances, so as not to encourage violence among their members. Represented by the Wazirin Katsina, Alhaji Sani Lugga, the leader of Nigerian Muslims stressed the need for clerics to perform their role as peace makers and tasked religious leaders on peace in Africa so that sustainable development can be attained. In the same vein, the Archbishop of Abuja Diocese, Cardinal John Onaiyekan called on the African Union to implement measures aimed at tackling religious and politically motivated crises in Africa. Represented at the event by Rev Sister Agatha Ogochukwu, the Catholic Cardinal reminded delegates that no religion preaches violence and challenged religious leaders in Africa to join forces with governments of African nations, communities and organisations to halt further violence in the name of religion. For Deputy Secretary General for External Relations (KAICIID), Ambassador Alvaro Albacete, to halt violent actions in the name of religion, there is need for collaboration among stakeholders, comprising government officials, and religious leaders, among others. He told the gathering that the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) welcomes the partnership with CIDO of the African Union to broaden the frontiers of religious understanding and promote peaceful living among members of the world’s various faiths.

Also addressing participants, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto and member of KAICIID Advisory Forum, Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, tasked religious leaders to tell truth to powers that be, stressing that religion should be a force for unity and not violence. Speaking on ‘Collaboration between religious actors and policy makers in Africa: Positive examples, challenges and lessons learned,’ the Bishop declared that religious leaders must never remain silent on issues that promote peace among adherents of various faiths. Speaking on ‘The Role of Religious Leaders and Conflict Resolution,’ the Senior Political /Elections Officer of AU, Mr. Samuel Mondays Atuobi, noted that for a proper understanding on how to end religious conflicts in Africa, there is need to outline roles of religious leaders in the African society and assess them as enablers of conflict prevention in the continent. According to him, religious leaders serve as angels of peace, role models and bridge builders, as well as mediators and re-conciliatory agents. Atuobi also said for religious violence to be tackled effectively, information sharing, neutrality, interfaith mobilisation, partnership and capacity skill acquisition are indispensable in ridding the continent of violence in the name of religion. Other speakers at the summit included Hajiya Saudatu Sani, Secretary General of Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), Ms Saydoon Sayed, Co-chair, African Women of Faith Network, South Africa, among others. Moderators at the event were Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Senior Advisor, KAICIID, and Ms. Quriatou Danfakha, Bureau of the Chairperson Office, African Union Commission.

The two-day summit saw participants harping on the need for inter-religious and intra-faith dialogue as a tool for peace building and development in Africa, just as delegates approved a Declaration and a Plan of Action on their joint work in education, partnerships, media and development. The Forum also “acknowledges the need to build partnerships between African Union, interfaith and faith-based organisations, as well as religious and traditional leaders to effectively implement the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in Africa. As part of the Action Plan, the African Union will support a Steering Committee to establish a 10-year interfaith development agenda for all African Union member states.” The Action Plan adopted by the summit also calls for the promotion of peace and reconciliation “through the teachings of the different holy books in all places of worship and to enhance media coverage.” In achieving the objectives of the summit, delegates successfully elected a 12-member steering committee to ensure the realisation of the AU Agenda 2063 that calls for closer collaboration of all stakeholders towards attainment of sustainable development in the continent. KAICIID Secretary General Muammar underscored the relevance of the steering committee elected for interfaith development agenda, when he declared, “The steering committee launched today is a vital instrument in that endeavour. It fosters, among other relations, Interreligious dialogue, which is an integral component in achieving the Africa Agenda 2063, global strategy to optimize use of Africa’s resources for the benefit for all Africans.” The steering committee membership, representing the different regions, religions, including African Traditional Religions, is committed to a plan of action anchored on building partnerships among Africa’s interfaith and faith-based organisations to prevent religious extremism and promote harmony in the continent. Mandated to partner with the African Union, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and other peace-building organizations, the committee is expected to develop a 10-year interfaith development agenda for all African Union member states based on Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030 and five-year strategic plan; create an evaluation strategy for the Steering Committee; strengthen community resilience through advocacy and awareness, among others, based on Sustainable Development Goals as agreed by the AU. Delegates elected to serve in AU Interfaith Steering Committee are Imam Kone Ibrahima (National Religious Forum, Cote d’Ivoire); Imam Kobine Layama (President of Islamic Community, Central African Republic) Pastor James Wuye (Interfaith Mediation Centre, Nigeria) and Deolinda Dorcas Teca (Council of Churches, Angola). Others in the committee include Pastor Zerihun Degu (Inter-religious Council, Ethiopia); Ms Saydoon Sayed (African Women of Faith Network, South Africa); Mr. Belall Maudarbux (Inter-religious Council of Mauritius); Ambassador Ezzedine Zayani (Tunisia); Dr Kamal Boraiqa (Al-Azhar University, Egypt); Rev (Prof) Eale Bosela (AACC, Kenya); Mr Yassine Mohammed Da Costa Ali (Civil Society, Mozambique) and Rev Sr. Agatha Chikelue (African Women of Faith Network, Nigeria). The importance of the media in promoting peace among adherents of various faiths in the continent was amplified by participants, with the Forum stressing the need to enhance effectiveness of the media through provision of regular trainings for journalists reporting religious affairs and encouraging different media in Africa to promote and highlight inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and good practices in their respective countries, among other strategies. Aside creating engagement means directed specifically at family, children, youths and women and taking concrete steps to address hate speech and counter hate, bullying and discrimination through positive speech, tolerance and constructive dialogue in Africa, the forum calls for fostering of partnership among interfaith and faith-based organisations as well as religious and traditional leaders in Africa to work together with African Union, its member countries, and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in order to promote a culture of peace and inter-religious and inter-cultural constructive dialogue.

The summit also declared its commitment to the promotion of peace and reconciliation through the teachings of the different holy books in Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, Temples and all Worship places; introduction of peace education as part of the school curriculum, university programmes and theological institutions to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among human beings in all their diversity of religion, beliefs, culture and language, among others. According to a press statement from organisers of the conference, “The Forum advocated the creation of a platform that encourages the soft power of religion in preventing violent extremism, the instrumentalisation of religion and religiously motivated violence; encouraging religious leaders to provide a practical example in their common rejection of violence and to stand for the defense of values of diversity and respect for life and the dignity of human rights. There is no doubt that the two-day summit provided an opportunity for African scholars and religious leaders to focus attention on the need to eliminate extremism and provide a workable framework upon which to build an enduring platform for peace among adherents of various faith. With the 12-member steering committee set to chart the way for interfaith unity in Africa, the continent has commenced walking its talk in ridding Africa of violence based on religious extremism and intercultural violence, among other ills plaguing AU member states.

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