Attendees of Interreligious Dialogue for Peace
and Security in Great Lakes region; Nov 18World Watch Monitor
Clerics from Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo have pledged to promote dialogue aimed at preventing sectarian conflict in their countries.
Twenty-one Christian and Muslim leaders gathered Nov. 17-18 at Cyangugu, Rwanda, for a workshop entitled ”Interreligious Dialogue for Peace and Security in Great Lakes region,” under the aegis of non-government organizations such as International Christian Service for Peace (EIRENE), which has its regional bureau in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.
Situated in the middle of the continent, the Great Lakes region is one of the most volatile areas of Africa. For decades, it has been ravaged by violent conflicts, such as the bitter ethnic rivalries that led to the Rwanda genocide of 1994, in which more than 800,000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered in the span of 100 days.
Neighbouring Burundi also was torn by deadly ethnic tensions following its independence in 1963. Those tensions broke out in 2003 into civil war that lasted 12 years and claimed more than 300,000 lives.
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The Democratic Republic of Congo, however, has suffered the worst conflict in Africa. Up to 6 million people were killed during the five-year civil war that started in 1998. Often referred to as Africa’s “World War” because it involved most of its neighbouring countries, the conflict technically ended with a 2003 peace agreement and the deployment of the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping mission, though the measures have yet to bring a lasting peace, particularly in the eastern regions of the country.
“This would commend us to draw lessons from it, in order to be able to allocate the things we can tolerate and those we cannot afford to tolerate anymore,” said Bishop John Rucyahana of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
”We need dialogue in order to strategize and set the pace for development,” he said. “We critically have to expose sources of conflicts as much as we need to dialogue to establish policies, not only to eliminate those conflicts, but also do it with the intent commitment to heal our social fabric.”
”It is imperative to assess and set apart all the things we can no longer tolerate, like the things that hinder our unity and disrupt the process of our development and our total recovery. We don’t only tolerate conflict resolutions or prevention but we remove it if possible,” Rucyahana said.
Further potential sources of violence exist, EIRENE’s regional director, Tahirou Sy Issaka, told World Watch Monitor in a telephone interview.
Several Great Lakes countries — Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and Uganda – will hold elections in 2015. Issaka said religious and ethnic affiliations maybe manipulated for political purposes, creating conditions that could spark violence.
”Currently we are witnessing a stiffening of the speech — per se innocent — but if we are not careful, it can turn into violence vector,” he said. “That’s why we want our actions to be focused on prevention, by creating a field of dialogue between different religious communities. We want to prevent a repetition of the Central African or Nigerian scenario.”
Recent deadly attacks by Somalian radical group al-Shabaab in Kenya have raised concern in the Great Lakes region. The Islamist group said its attacks will continue until Kenya removes its peacekeeping troops from Somalia. Uganda and Burundi also have troops in Somalia. On Nov. 3, Burundi’s Minister of Interior Affairs, Edouard Nduwimana, met with religious leaders and warned against the risk of terrorist attacks in Burundi.
“Today we have sufficient evidence to say that these terrorist groups are already established in our country,” Nduwimana told French news media Nov. 3. “It was believed until now, that no Burundi citizen could join these criminal groups, but we found that Burundians were recruited, and you’ve probably heard that there are some who have been arrested.”
The Kenya attacks bring back memories of twin attacks in Kampala in July 2010 that killed more than 80 people. Some Western countries such as Great Britain, the United States, France and Australia have issued travel advisories concerning several countries in the region, based on the threats from al-Shabaab.
Issaka said the religious and political factors, in addition to tensions related to access to natural and mineral resources, make the Great Lakes region a tinderbox, and dialog a priority.
”We want to draw lessons from countries that have experienced intercommunal violence. As such, the case of CAR, which has an interfaith platform, can serve as an example,” he said.
The workshop has empowered each participating country to create a national framework for
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dialogue, including senior representatives of various religious denominations in the country.
”An interfaith council exists already in Burundi. It is now our responsibility to pass on this experience in DRC and Rwanda,” Issaka said. But ”these efforts will not produce the expected results if they are not accompanied by political will and acts.”