African religious leaders meet in Abidjan to promote eternal message of religions
Leaders from various parts of Africa are currently meeting in the capital city of Côte d’Ivoire , Abidjan. The meeting is to discuss matters impacting on various religious groups around the world. The International Symposium on Inter-Religious Dialogue has decided on an important theme for this years’ gathering, The Eternal Message for Religions. It is an impressive gathering that has brought together diverse groups from far and wide in Africa. Speakers mainly from Africa have been presenting on various topics since the symposium began on 23 February 2022. Besides a comprehensive agenda which included items such as, Religions, communication and preaching and Public authorities and religious stakeholders as they face up to the phenomenon of radicalization and violent religious extremism; the symposium provided an extremely important and rare platform for people of faith in Africa. Interestingly this symposium comes during a very difficult time in our history as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia began. The symposium is sponsored by the by the Higher Councils of Mosques, Imams and Islamic Affairs (COSIM) and the Mohammed VI Foundation of African Olema.
The symposium managed to zoom into a topical subject of religious extremism in different parts of the world. Although there was not enough time to tackle this very important subject, some speakers did manage to highlight important points which encourage young Africans to join extremist groups. The lack of economic opportunities for young people, not only in Africa but other parts of the world, is one of the main factors that continue to encourage extremism. According to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organisation, “over the next decade, the World Bank estimates one billion young people – a majority living in the countries Mercy Corps operates – will try to enter the job market, but less than half of them will find formal jobs. This will leave the majority of young people, many in minority and marginalized groups, unemployed or experiencing working poverty”. Besides addressing economic challenges; there is also a need to institute anti extremism educational programs at places of worship to prevent youth from religious extremism, places of worship remain important educational platforms outside homes.
Noticeably, youth and women were not well represented at the symposium. Although there was a sizeable and impressive contingent of women academics, the audience was filled with predominantly old men. Having said that, this annual symposium remains an important gathering which hopefully will improve with time particularly on issues impacting on people of faith in Africa.
There was a consented effort made by the organizers to get the government of Côte d’Ivoire involved. The symposium was addressed by Mr. Vagondo Diomande, the Minister of Home Affairs and Security of the Republic of Cote d’ Ivoire. Government involvement, especially on such matters, is helpful in driving policy and facilitation of an enabling environment. The last thing any organisation wants, particularly in this part of the world, is to exclude government in such processes. The success of such gatherings depend largely on government involvement.
Furthermore, the choice of Abidjan as the hosting city for this year’s symposium was very significant. Cote d Ivoire has undertaken an interesting reconciliation process since 2021. After years of mistrust and disagreements, President Ouattara publicly welcomed Former President Gbagbo’s return, using the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha to appeal for national healing. The two had remained at loggerheads since the first election of President Ouattara. Therefore a meeting of such nature in Côte d’Ivoire at this point is very symbolic.
In conclusion, the symposium attracted great scholars from various parts of Africa, the participation of women intellectuals was extremely impressive. It is hoped that future symposium will ensure additional participation of women particularly as delegates; the advancement of any society is by and large dependent on women’ involvement. Youth were less represented at the symposium, there were simply not enough young people in the audience. This too needs to be attended.
The symposium issued a very pragmatic declaration which basically detailed the commitment of all the delegates at this year’s function. The declaration asserts amongst others that “the participants call on all the driving forces in African countries to remain united and to support one another in the face of all risks of division, and not to give in to threats or any types of confluence knowingly propagated to undermine the unity in their ranks”. The declaration also asserts a beginning of a process towards peace and prosperity in Africa. There is undoubtedly a renewed role of people of faith after this symposium. Overall, this year’s symposium served as a reminder to people of faith that constant communication and interaction with each other is critical toward achieving peace and stability in Africa.