The 2nd AU Interfaith Dialogue Forum, organised by the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate (CIDO) of the African Union Commission and the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) based in Vienna, Austria, recently held in Abuja from November 10-11, 2016. Attended by African scholars, religious leaders and the African Union officials, the summit brainstormed on best ways of promoting interfaith unity for development in the continent. MUSA SIMON REEF, who attended the two-day event, reports.
The 2nd African Union Interfaith Dialogue Forum with the theme, ‘Leap of faith, religious leaders, advance justice, peace, security, inclusiveness, dialogue and development in Africa,’ came to a close on November 11, 2016 in Abuja. Ending on a high, the event, jointly organised by the Citizens and Diaspora Directorate (CIDO) of the African Union Commission and the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), based in Vienna, Austria, provided a platform for religious leaders, policy makers, scholars and representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from no fewer than 30 African nations to evolve strategies and develop a plan of action towards the promotion of peace among adherents of various faiths in the continent.
This second outing was fallout of the first interfaith summit held in Abuja from June 15 to 17, 2010 with the 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.”
With a membership of no fewer than 70 participants, drawn 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 2nd Interfaith Dialogue Forum was described by the KAICIID Secretary General, Faisal Bin Muaammar, as representing a milestone “in the partnership between the African Union and KAICIID, a partnership which began with our Memorandum of Understanding in 2013.”
Taking cognisance of the incessant religious crises rocking the continent, especially the Central African Republic and Nigeria, such interfaith summit has become imperative in halting the manipulations of religion in order to promote peaceful co-existence among adherents of different faith. According to the KAICIID Secretary General, no religion in the world promotes violence, and that religious violence is caused by manipulation of political factors and greed. Muaammar said youths are lured to join Boko Haram in Nigeria, “because these young people are misled or because they seek social, political or economic gains.”
Speaking on the need to draw the curtains over spiralling religious violence in some 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 and families. Many of these societies have for centuries been models of inter-religious co-existence and collaboration.”
Also in his presetation at the conference, Head of Civil Society Division of CIDO, African Union, Amb Jalel Chelba, regretted that Africa finds itself in a precarious condition, with fundamental groups emerging to encourage violence, just as he added: “This violent image of religion generated by such groups is a leading cause to intolerance, sectarian violence and destabilising of societies in Africa.”
He said the continent’s only hope “is for the leadership in Africa, from governemental 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, who was represented by the Wazirin Katsina, Alhaji Sani Lugga, called on religious leaders to guard their utterances so as not to encourage violence among their members. The leader of Nigerian Muslims stressed the need for clerics to perform their role as peace makers and tasked religious leaders in Africa to remain the formidable foundation upon which peace and development can be built upon.
Similarly, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, who is the Archbishop of Abuja Diocese, 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 Cardinal reminded the Summit’s delegates that no religion preaches violence. He called on religious leaders in Africa to join forces with nations, communities and organisations to halt further violence in the name of religion.
Deputy Secretary General for External Relations (KAICIID), Amb Alvaro Albacete, said for violent actions in the name of religion to be halted, there is need for collaboration among stakeholders, comprising government officials and religous leaders, among others. He told the gathering that the International Dialogue Centre welcomes the partnership with AU 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 religous leaders to tell truth to powers that be, streessing 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.
In another presentation on ‘The Role of Religious Leaders and Conflict Resolution,’ the Senior Political/Elections Officer of AU, 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 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 reconciliators. Atuobi said for religous violence to be tackled, information sharing, neutrality, interfaith mobilisations, partnership and capacity skill acquiisition are indispensable in ridding Africa of violence in the name of religion.
Other speakers in the summit included Hajiya Saudatu Sani, Secretary General of Women’s Right Advancement and ProtectionAlternative (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 ended with 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.”
To achieve the Summit’s objectives, 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 development in the continent. KAICIID Secretary General Muammar underscored the relevance of the steering committe elected for interfaith development agenda: “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 2030 and Agenda 2063 and five-year strategic plan; create an evaluation strategy for the Steering Committee; strengthen community resilience through advocacy and awareness, among others in line with 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); Amb. Ezzedine Zayani (Think Thank Group, 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 faith 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, belief, culture and language, among others.
It further advocated the creation of a platform that encourages the soft power of religion in preventing violent extremism, 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.
Apart from encouraging equal and active participation of women in the Steering Committee and interfaith organization as implementers, the Summit acknowledged the role women and youths can play in the processes of peace building by supporting leadership development for women and youth religious leaders to eliminate Gender based Violence.
There is no doubt that the two-day summit provided an opportunity for African scholars and religious leaders to focus attention on eliminating extremism and providing a workable framework to build an enduring platform for peace among adherents of various faith