Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An African lesson on peace-making

Published in the Fiji Times "Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday, February 08, 2012

I RECENTLY came across a book in the stationery section of a downtown department store.
This book for children was on conflict. Aware of the "No Free Reading" (possibly why it is difficult to develop a culture of reading) sign on the wall, I quickly flipped through it to see if it would be a worthwhile purchase for my son.
I eventually decided not to buy the book, as Francisco-Xavier can read all about conflicts around the world in his daily reading of The Fiji Times, I did show him a section on Child Soldiers.
He was shocked as he read through the story of a child who was forced to join the rebel army during one of the conflicts on the African continent.
For the past 30 years, one of the fears of Fijians has been that conflicts in Fiji might reach the scale of that in some African nations.
Last week, I read of a consultation of churches who hoped to practise peacemaking amid increasing security issues in several African countries plagued by violence, political turmoil, religious intolerance and lack of democratic governance.
These 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 organised 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 January 28 to February 1.
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 polarisation 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.
Reverend 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 "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."
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."
Reverend Dr Andre Karamaga, general secretary of the AACC, shed light on the significant role played by the African churches in their quest for peace.
"Realising 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 African churches will initiate a comprehensive ecumenical accompaniment program 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.
"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. (Source: World Council of Churches)
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is based in Seoul, South Korea, studying at the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of  Theology. Email: padrejames@gmail.com

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