Churches are called to be peacemakers in Africa

(pic courtesy WCC)

Amidst increasing security issues in several African countries plagued by violence, political turmoil, religious intolerance and lack of democratic governance, churches are called to engage in peace-building, said African church leaders in a presentation on “Burning issues of insecurity in Africa” at a World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation in Kigali, Rwanda.

The consultation was organized by the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). Participants addressed the theme, “Peace and Security in Africa: Ecumenical Responses” from 28 January to 1 February.

The church leaders presented case studies from Africa demonstrating the increase in conflicts and human rights violations in countries like Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.

They showed how people in these countries are living in conditions of extreme vulnerability. In this situation, they stressed the need for stronger peace and reconciliation engagement by the ecumenical family.

“Millions of Somalis continue to suffer. Helping them is increasingly difficult due to escalation of violence and polarization of both Somali and international actors,” said Dr Agnes Abuom, member of the WCC Executive Committee from Kenya and ecumenical accompanier of AACC’s special mission for peace-building in the Horn of Africa.

“A group of ecumenical actors with a long history of engagement in peace-building have come together under the AACC to search new ways out of the predicament posed by the current situation in Somalia,” said Abuom.

Rev. Ibrahim Wushishi Yusuf, general secretary of the Christian Council of Nigeria, expressed concern over the security situation in his country.

“The security of the people of Nigeria has never been so dangerous, and stretched to a limit of extreme anxiety, as we are experiencing right now,” he said.

“The armed forces were considered points of safety for the citizens in our country at the time of violence and crises. But today even the military barracks are under attack from extremist forces and bandits, increasing violence and insecurity in Nigeria,” Yusuf added.

Joy Kwaje, member of the Senate of the South Sudan, thanked African churches and the global ecumenical movement for accompanying the people of Sudan, while she shared her perspective on security challenges.

“Since the independence of South Sudan in July 2011, competition among foreign companies to exploit the wealth and resources of the country has increased,” Kwaje pointed out.

However, she said that “the people of Sudan need peace and security. They need a stable political situation that will ensure harmony among various communities.”

“Tens of thousands of Southerners who were born and brought up in South Sudan but forced to live outside the country for years are now returning to a new country, which they know nothing about,” said Kwaje.

“The safety and security of all these people need to be ensured. In this, the international community should continue to play a vital role for peace-building,” she added.

Enhancing efforts for peace

Itayi Ndudzo, member of the WCC Central Committee from Zimbabwe, talked about his country’s security situation. He described it as “relatively calm” now; however, a political crisis following the general elections, he says, can be expected.

“Zimbabwe needs political will and respect for human rights to address the pressing concerns of people to reduce organized violence and torture,” said Ndudzo.

“Churches and the ecumenical community should help Zimbabwe foster a culture of peace and nonviolence, tolerance and respect for human rights,” he added.

Rev. Dr Andre Karamaga, general secretary of the AACC, shed light on the significant role played by the African churches in their quest for peace.

“Realizing the importance of the role of African churches to protect, respect and uphold the dignity of all Africans irrespective of their ethnic or religious identities, the churches in Africa are fully committed,” said Karamaga.

He said that African churches will initiate a comprehensive ecumenical accompaniment programme to promote peace, security and dignity in the region.

“As part of this ecumenical commitment, the AACC has already appointed an ecumenical accompanier for Zimbabwe. Similar initiatives will develop in future that will help with facilitating capacity building for peace initiatives by African churches,” said Karamaga.

Anna Alvazzi del Frate, director of Small Arms Survey in Geneva, spoke about the proliferation and trade of small arms and light weapons in Africa.

“Reducing the availability and use of small arms in conflict-affected areas as well as in post-conflict situations has become increasingly important to achieve the goals of peace, security and development in Africa,” she said.

As a follow-up to the consultation, a training of trainers on “Healing of Memories” is now being held, from 1 to 3 February, in Kigali.

Dr Manoj Kurian, the WCC programme executive for Health and Healing, coordinating the training, said that, “wars, repressive regimes and human rights abuses inflict emotional and psychological wounds on individuals and communities.”

“In these circumstances, churches need to consolidate their efforts to provide spiritual accompaniment that can help in overcoming conflicts and violence,” he said.

“A report on ‘peace and security in the emerging global context’ based on the experiences of regional consultations with focus on Asia, Africa, and Latin America will be presented at the next CCIA meeting. This meeting will be held in China in June this year”, said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA.

(This story was provided and used with permission by the World Council of Churches.)