Cardinal Dieudionné Nzapalainga (left) watches as Imam Oumar Kobine Layama and Rev Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou exchange gifts – a Bible for the imam, a Quran for the church leader; Bangui, 23 June 2017 (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Delegates at an international conference in Senegal called on the international community to do more to strengthen the role of religious leaders in peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic.

The conference, which was held in Dakar from 8-11 December, was organised by the International Dialogue Centre, the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

CAR has been plagued by violence since March 2013, when a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebels, known as Séléka, overthrew the government and took power.

The violence, often portrayed as a sectarian conflict, has claimed thousands of lives and has become one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time.

Numerous peace agreements aimed at putting an end to the violence have failed. The conference pointed out several challenges in this regard, including the weak involvement of religious and community leaders in the process.

More than 20 delegates from CAR attended the conference, including Rev Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou (sitting, third from left). Photo: OIC

“Those who wish to profit from the violence have manipulated religious identify and created divisions among religious communities who had previously lived peacefully side by side,” said Alvaro Albacete, the Deputy Secretary General of the International Dialogue Centre.

“Religious leaders are often the first to see warning signs of violence in their communities, and to be able to serve as examples of interreligious cooperation. The religious leaders of the Central African Republic, particularly at the local level, should be empowered and supported in their efforts to contribute to the implementation of the country’s peace accords.”

More than 20 delegates from CAR attended the conference, including Rev Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance – one of the three top faith leaders recognised globally for their efforts to end the civil war in CAR.

An Action Plan outlining the way in which CAR’s religious leaders can promote and support the implementation of specific elements of the various peace accords, signed since the outbreak of the crisis in 2013, has been adopted.