March 04, 2015EducommunicAfrik was invited by the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of the University of Addis Abeba to join othen African CSOs in Accra, Ghana to discuss peace and security in Africa, not only discuss solutions, but also to make African-centered solutions happen.
The expectations were high. The Tana Forum Regional Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues are founded on the understanding that peace is built and sustained when all actors from local to continental, grassroots to policy-level, participate in it. The Regional Dialogues as Director of IPSS Kidane Kiros put it “create an enabling avenue for multiple stakeholders to make open, critical, and substantive contributions to the debate on peace and security in Africa reflecting regional peculiarities and conditions”.
Collaborating with the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), the Tana Forum brought together grassroots civil society organisations in West Africa on the 24th and 25th of February) to hone in on the 2015 theme “Secularism and Politicised Faith”. The contribution of civil society on such a deeply-personal and contentious subject was to inform "the intersection between knowledge and dogma", according to Brian Kagoro, an independent consultant from Zimbabwe.
Speaking before forty-five participants drawn from seven West African states, Kiros highlighted the critical need for this year’s discussion.
"The violent reactions in Niger to perceived actions of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the kidnapping of young girls by the militant group Boko Haram, and the postponement of elections in Nigeria due to security fears have brought issues of secularism and politicized faith to the public spotlight," he said.
On the first day, participants highlighted the role governments played in fanning the politicisation of faith whether through state funding of certain groups over others to the use of religious symbolism for electoral success. At the same time, good and effective governance was highlighted as key to mitigating religious conflict.
"Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are liberties that must be protected by the state," said Isaac Albert, Professor of International Relations at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria). "However, the practice of religion must remain a personal matter."
On day two of the dialogue, participants were challenged to turn rhetoric into workable recommendations. Divided into discussion groups using the “world café” discussion format, they developed recommendations in the following areas: promoting peaceful co-existence among religions; religions, civil liberties and citizen’s security; the role of the media; and financing of faith-based organisations.
The Tana Forum/WANEP Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue gathered civil civil society experiences and expertise to feed help inform discussions at Tana 2015 in April. Representatives of West African civil society who attended the dialogue made the following recommendations:
- There is the need to incorporate civic education into the curriculum at all levels of education; primary, secondary and tertiary, with the goal of inculcating and building civic consciousness and promoting unity between and among citizens; including but not limited to formal education.
- Government should create mechanisms for peaceful co-existence among religions that recognises diversity and assert individual rights to practice preferred religions without fear. They should also strengthen national laws and regulations to provide effective oversight on the activities of faith-based institutions.
- Government should not put itself in a position of being seen, or accused, of partiality towards any particular religion.
- There is the need for government, the civil society, and the general public to be vigilant in ensuring that those with tendency to politicise religion are prevented from doing so.
- Because they are closest to and embedded within the different communities where they operate, civil society organisations should play a more proactive role in terms of providing early warning reports on individuals with extremist or radical tendencies; including those capable of exploiting faith for political ends.
- The need to strengthen the family to carry out its role as the first line of civic education for children is overdue.
- There is an urgent need to fill the critical developmental gaps that allow radical movements to thrive by creating accelerated employment opportunities within the formal and informal sectors for young people.
- Faith-based organisations should put themselves in a position to play a more active role in promoting peaceful co-existence, while ensuring that appropriate checks and balances are in place.
- On regular basis, there is the need to build the capacity of religious leaders by exposing them to inter-faith training activities tolerant of other religions.
- There is need for strong political commitment to actively involve women; real efforts have to be made to mainstream them in decision-making on critical social issues, as well as in conflict prevention.
- The media has a responsibility to be impartial and neutral in the presentation of information and news to the general public; it is the abiding responsibility of the media to ensure that news is in the overall interest of society.
- There is a strong felt need to identify capacity gaps within the media and to fill such gaps through exposure and training programmes that continuously place premium on media ethics and professionalism.
Leadership is key so too is a conscious, active citizenry- West African CSOs on politicised faith - Institute for Peace and Security Studies