Governments Require Support, Patience to Resolve Conflicts
October 21, 2002
The Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Dr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma last week called on religious leaders in Africa to back their governments' efforts in seeking solutions to conflicts on the continent.
"You are well placed to promote the embracing peace as you minister to all affected in conflicts - victims, perpetrators, observers and those who have the power to stop conflicts," Zuma told over 100 representatives of different faith communities attending the Inter-Faith Peace Summit in Africa.
The theme of the conference was "Embracing the Gift of Peace". Participants represent Islamic, Buddhist, Baha'i faith, Hindu, Jewish and African Traditional Religion communities drawn from 21 African countries.
The deputy president described the summit as one of the most important initiatives for peace in view of the many conflicts on the African continent. It indicates that the faith community fully recognizes its key role and responsibility in fostering a culture of peace and fellowship on the continent, he said.
Zuma noted that the inter-faith summit takes place a few months after the launch of the African Union and its programmes such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, a comprehensive initiative aimed at moving Africa from its development stagnation, poverty and conflicts and other challenges.
Calling on all Africans to play their part in bringing to an end the conflicts on the continent, the deputy president cited South Africa's involvement in the peace process in the Great Lakes region especially Burundi, and underlined "our strong belief that the freedom, peace and stability that we enjoy should extend to our sister countries on the continent".
The responsibility of religious leaders and communities in the midst of violence must be to work together to deny any religious justification to conflict, LWF General Secretary, Rev Dr Ishmael Noko told participants.
"We are called by our own traditions and cultures to build networks of dialogue and cooperation in order to overcome efforts to instrumentalise religious diversity for violent purposes," he said.
Addressing participants, Noko said the efforts of political and religious leaders in conflict resolution "must be complementary if peace is to be achievable and sustainable".
He noted that recent political efforts to promote unity, peace and development at sub-regional and regional levels on the continent have helped inspire a new atmosphere in Africa and restore hope for an "African Renaissance".
While recognizing ongoing inter-faith activities to promote peace in different parts of the continent, the LWF general secretary spoke of the unhealed memories on the continent.
He said the vicious cycle of violence throughout much of the history of African nations did not start with the era of slavery and colonialism, rather it was compounded by the effects of both slavery and colonialism.
There is an "urgent need for the healing of memories" between peoples within Africa and outside, Noko said.
Noko expressed concern about the power of modern weapons in contemporary conflicts especially in Africa. He said the "small arms" - military rifles and automatic weapons - are a special challenge for Africa.
Their "proliferation on the continent is incompatible with the proliferation of peace". Coupled with human anger and fear, anything can become a weapon against life.
"We are here to find ways of working together to prevent our religious traditions and communities from being used in anger and fear as weapons".
Speaking to journalists on October 14, Noko, said that the Inter-Faith Peace Summit in Africa was long over due, as the present situation on the continent demands action from religious leaders.
Noko, also chairperson of the summit's steering committee said that the AU's recent launching with its vision to reshape the continent was something that religious communities were keen to get involved in by engaging in conflict resolution and contributing the vast religious resources of Africa.
He added that the summit would not be a "toothless event", but that a concrete plan of action would be worked out over the next few days. This plan of action would be taken up by delegates and adapted to the respective country's needs. It would be reviewed at a follow-up forum in two to three years' time.
Sheikh Abu Bakaar Conteh, a member of the summit's steering committee added that this was the opportune time for the conference and that sustainable peace was not possible in Africa unless religious leaders got involved.
Conteh is a member of the Inter- Religious Council of Sierra Leone.
Responding to a question on the current situation in Zimbabwe, Noko said that although the land redistribution issue was valid, there were other concerns that still needed to be dealt with so that a comprehensive solution could be found for the country. This could involve religious leaders from both Africa and the United Kingdom playing a role.
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