, 21 November, 2019 / 3:40 AM
A couple of days after Pope Francis advocated for interreligious dialogue in the West African country of Burkina Faso as the attacks by jihadist groups take a heavy toll on human life, delegates, among them Catholic Prelates and priests drawn from Bishops’ conferences in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Ghana convened the first-ever Inter-Conferences Workshop to discuss the security concerns in the African Sahel region and outlined the role of some eight stakeholders in the process of ending the violence.
The Sahel region, which spans 5,400 km encompassing Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea has been facing rampant violence facilitated by political crisis in the countries, which offer a fertile ground for the proliferation of extremist groups.
Identifying those carrying out the attacks among stakeholders, the delegation stated in their communique, “We, Archbishops and Bishops, priests, and secular delegates of Episcopal Conferences Burkina-Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, make an urgent appeal to the perpetrators of attacks and massacres, to put an end in the name of the respect of life that is a sacred gift of God that no one can dispose of, whatever his ambition, his ethnic, cultural, political, or religious belonging.”
Acknowledging public authorities as stakeholders, the Inter-Conferences Workshop delegates urged civil authorities “to make the protection of the populations the priority of the priorities, to promote good governance, to be translated by concrete actions, the fight against corruption, and the just distribution of wealth.”
Organized by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the humanitarian arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the two-day meeting, which concluded November 13 recognized religious leaders among stakeholders in the Sahel region peace process and appealed to them “to educate respect for human life, preserve religious freedom, human and spiritual values common to all men created by God and to promote interreligious dialogue.”
Having highlighted “the predation of natural resources by both internal actors and external” as one of the factors fueling crisis in the Sahel region, the delegates who met in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou urged international actors “to respect the right of people to dispose of their natural local resources for their own development, to stop the activities of predation or looting of natural resources, to put an end to the unfair agreements that undermined the development of states, and the sale of weapons that fuel conflicts, destabilize states and incite attacks that sow desolation within populations.”
Viewing “the diplomatic representation in the Sahel countries” among stakeholders in the peace process, the Church leaders called for the promotion of “a true partnership respectful of international law and open cooperation between people.”
The Church leaders also acknowledged “Sister Episcopal Conferences” as valuable stakeholders , calling them “to hear the call of the poorest and most vulnerable, to promote greater solidarity in the fight for the protection of life and the defense of human dignity in conflict-affected countries, through awareness-raising, advocacy, and to develop concrete solidarity initiatives with all those affected by crisis.”
Two other stakeholders identified by the delegates include affected populations and the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
While persons affected by the crisis in the Sahel region are expected to “know how to remain worthy and stay confident without giving into hatred nor revenge,” members belonging to NGOs can contribute to the peace process by working “for a world of justice and peace.”
“We reaffirm our commitment to collaborate with all people of good will so that in an emergency, we will put a stop to the killings and the displacement of the populations, that their causes are eradicated, that the victims are not abandoned on their own, but that their material, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual care is insured, and that work is committed to effective conflict prevention, and lasting peace and sustainable living, especially through the practice of dialogue, justice and reconciliation,” the Church leaders concluded.
According to CRS, while Ghana and Ivory Coast are not part of the Sahel region, they were represented in the two-day meeting since “the region’s porous borders pose a real risk of the violence spreading to neighboring countries.”
The humanitarian agency through its West Africa regional director Jenniffer Overton has also called on the United States government to balance its military intervention in the crisis with humanitarian intervention saying, “This conflict can’t be solved through military intervention alone. We have to ensure we build trust among communities, provide education to young people and prevent the violence from spreading further.”
According to a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 1800 schools have been forced to close down due to the crisis in the Sahel region, while an estimated 316 people have been killed, more than 317,000 people displaced and 103,000 people forced to become refugees.
The report estimates that by the end of 2019 alone, 5.1 million people will need assistance.
Besides seeking to identify and deal with the root causes of the Sahel region crisis, CRS has intervened through humanitarian assistance aimed at saving lives by providing the basics of life, including food and shelter to those affected by the crisis. Long-term development projects in agriculture and education are also part of the intervention by CRS.
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