Friday, 15 January 2021

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Planting the seeds of peace in CAR

United Nations Photo - Internally Displaced Children In Bangui /Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0

10 & 11 January 2015 – Civil society and religious organisations in the Central African Republic are working to rebuild trust and harmony in a country fraught with ethnic and religious animosity since the overthrow of President François Bozizé in March 2013.

The country's protracted conflict pitted the mainly Christian anti-balaka milita and Muslim ex-Seleka fighters against each other, and has displaced over 860,000 people.

A recent United Nations report found no proof of genocidal intent, but did say Christian militia in Central African Republic carried out ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population during the country's ongoing civil war.

Additionally, Human Rights Watch warned on 22 December 2014 of hundreds of Muslims trapped in enclaves living in "deplorable conditions" and document instances of attacks within the enclaves.

Striving for peace

Meanwhile, various initiatives mobilize religious leaders, civil society organizations and even parties to the conflict to work for peace: A national reconciliation minister has been named; a daily radio show on reconciliation has been running for a few months, and billboards with messages of harmony are visible on the streets of the capital.

Former anti-balaka militia organizer Sébastien Wenezoui, and Ousmane Abakar, the country’s Muslim community spokesman, recently formed a political party.

"The time has come to put Central Africans, ex-Seleka and anti-balaka on the road to peace and to rebuild CAR," said Wenezoui, adding: "The cultural or religious differences should not be an obstacle to peace."

Bringing different religions together

At the beginning of 2015, Bangui’s archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga led an inter-faith forum comprising him, head of the country’s Islamic community imam Omar Kobine Layama, and Evangelical Alliance leader Nicolas Grekoyame Gbangou.

"Our role as leaders is to be peace brokers, to create space for dialogue among communities. That’s the objective of the forum where Muslims, Protestants and Catholics are seated around a table to demonstrate that it is possible to live together," said Nzapalainga, who in 2013 sheltered imam Layama for months after he was forced to flee his home.

"Our role as leaders is also to show the way forward - to say the way is not barbarism and killings, but fraternity, forgiveness, unity and reconciliation."

Various activities have been organized, including debates, sporting, cultural events, and visits to the camps of the displaced. A large religious ceremony that brought together the faithful of multiple confessions in a Bangui stadium was also held, while some 400 religious leaders have been trained to encourage reconciliation.

Peace through sport

Recently, Bangui also saw its first marathon race, organized by local NGO Point d’Appui and the CAR Athletics Federation, as part of the efforts to revamp harmony.

"As those working for peace and social cohesion, this is an event we must attend. When the youths mobilize for cultural events and fraternity, we have to be present to show our commitment and encourage them," said imam Layama.

"This shows the beginnings of social cohesion. There should be many more such activities", he concluded.

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