It has been identified that for Africa to grow socio-economically, it needs peace. Therefore, worried by the spate of religion-induced crises in the continent, African Union recently held a crucial symposium on how to deal with conflicts in member countries, writes IBRAHIM MAMMAGA
The Republic of Benin, in collaboration with African Union, AU, recently organised a symposium in Cotonou to kick off the African Initiative on Education for Peace and Development through inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.
The symposium attracted more than 200 delegates from parts of the continent, including prominent clerics from Islamic and Christian groups, traditional rulers, scholars, journalists, youths, women leaders and other professionals.
The delegates held various discussions on the subject matter between May 26 and May 28 to produce a working document for government of the various African states to address the lingering conflicts in the region.
Notable African leaders, including former President Olusegun Obansanjo, President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic and his predecessor Mr. Soglo Neciphore, among others, shared different opinions at the occasion.
Other dignitaries that sent goodwill messages to the delegates included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, leadership of Commonwealth and European, U.S. President Barak Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Francois of France, among others.
Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja John Onaiyekan and the Secretary-General, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, Arch Bishop of Sokoto, Dr. Mathew Hassan Kukah and other spiritual leaders from parts of Africa also suggested ways for peaceful resolution of crises in the continent.
Inaugurating the symposium, Yayi called for peace and development through inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue to stimulate respect for others’ faith. He noted that the symposium was essential for Muslim and Christian leaders to learn how to eschew religious extremism in Africa. He called on religious leaders of all faiths to stand up to their responsibilities and implement the true messages of peace and reconciliation.
He reminded participants of the secrecy of human souls, adding that religious and community leaders should continue to dialogue on methods of promoting peace and development through tolerance.
Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the AU Commission, reminded the participants of the rich variety of religious beliefs that existed in the continent ranging from traditional religious belief systems to the monotheistic traditions such as Islam and Christianity.
She said the virtues and values of tolerance and solidarity were enshrined in the Constitutive Act of AU, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and many other AU instruments. According to her, these values give emphasis to respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance.
She said tolerance was an African shared value which required a deeper exploration of the notion of religions in the African context. Dlamini-Zuma noted that religion had unfortunately become a source of political, social and cultural upheavals, particularly in Africa.
“Many conflicts in Africa have been misunderstood to be religious conflicts or as the outcome of radicalised religion. I could loudly say that the conflict are not necessary about religion but, in many cases, are driven by deeper socio-political and socio-economic factors,” she observed.
In his message, Ban said the symposium was timely considering the various crises in the continent and urged participants to find solution to the problems.
The UN Secretary-General said that Africa had been living in peace until recently when “agents of destabilization” infiltrated the continent. Soliciting actions against violence, Obasanjo, in a speech, urged African leaders to provide quality education to ensure peace and tolerance among diverse groups in the continent.
The former Nigerian president insisted that without education, peace effort would not yield positive result, adding that most of the intolerant sections of the African society were illiterates. He cited the instance of the lingering Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, observing that the affected region – the North-East geo-political zone – was the least educated in the country.
He noted that the South-West region had achieved 77.9 per cent literacy as at 2010, the South- East region; 66.8 per cent while the North-East had only 18.1 per cent as at the same period. He said the insurgents found it easier to penetrate North-East region because of its level of education.
He, therefore, urged traditional, religious and political leaders to establish craft/training centres to empower the youth and prevent them from joining terror groups. In his presentation, the President, Economic Commission for West African States, Kadre Desire Oaedraogo, stressed the commission’s readiness to work with the AU to ensure peace and stability in the continent.
In a manifesto, the delegates resolved that although it was legitimate to use armed violence to encounter violence and terror spread by proponents of political and religious extremism, the approach never had an effective and sustainable means of resolving conflicts. It advised states in Africa to promote peace and development through a different path of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue.
The delegates insisted that freedom from war was an essential condition for the well-being and the full enjoyment of human rights. They also resolved that only peaceful political solution could ensure a stable and democratic future for the people of the world.
All in all, participants at the symposium suggest that a high powered committee, comprising scholars, professional, clerics and traditional rulers should be set up by the AU to ensure strict implementation of the recommendations of the symposium.
They suggest further that the committee should be saddled with the responsibility of organising similar symposium every two years to review progress achieved in resolving the lingering conflicts in African states. (NAN).