, 08 March, 2020 / 10:35 PM
As the crisis in the Sahel region deepens, with reports of recurrent terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Chad, the President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) has told ACI Africa that interreligious dialogue is quite significant in resolving the conflict and called on the West to stop arms trade on the continent.
"Interreligious dialogue holds a special place in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. It is a major pivot in resolving terrorists’ attacks in the Sahel region in particular and Africa in general,” SECAM President, Phillip Cardinal Ouedraogo told ACI Africa in an interview Thursday, March 5.
“Interreligious dialogue constitutes the focus of our pastoral work where the different religious confessions, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, the traditional African religion, whose customary chiefs are essentially its supporters come together to reflect on the issue of terrorism,” said Cardinal Ouedraogo on the sidelines of SECAM's Standing Committee meeting in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
“It is together that we try to work, to manifest our unity. To work together for our living together, in mutual respect, in mutual listening,” the Archbishop of Burkina Faso’s Ouagadougou Archdiocese noted.
“We try to put a lot of emphasis on internal and external solidarity at the local, regional and international level, and as a local proverb says, “one finger doesn't pick up the flour. It takes more than one finger to pick up flour. Hence the need to join forces. Both internally and externally,” the 75-year-old Prelate noted.
Security concerns in West Africa characterized with attacks by jihadist groups that took a heavy toll on human life pre-occupied Church leaders in the African Sahel region who, in November 2019, convened the first-ever Inter-Conferences Workshop bringing together Catholic Prelates and clerics to discuss ways of ending the violence on Christians.
The Sahel region, which encompasses Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea has faced rampant violence facilitated by political crisis in the countries thereby offering a fertile ground for the proliferation of extremist groups.
Recounting the situation in Burkina Faso, Cardinal Ouédraogo said, “Burkina Faso, has been facing the challenges of terrorist attacks since 2015. It is already five years since these innocent populations have been mercilessly massacred. The Catholic Church has paid a heavy price. Priests, catechists, and Christians are mercilessly killed. Protestants too have not escaped this turmoil. Pastors too are also mercilessly killed.”
Referring to the attack that targeted a Protestant Church in the border near Niger, he said, "Recently, a family of pastors was massacred in a region on the border with Niger."
“Every week, we register victims at the level of the defense and security forces, police, gendarmes, etc. And also at the level of state agents,” the Burkinabe Prelate lamented.
“It is estimated that more than 600,000 people have been displaced as a result of insecurity and terrorist violence,” the Burkinabe Cardinal said and continued, “Children also don't have the chance to go to school as hundreds of schools are closed with numerous consequences on families.”
Against this backdrop, the Church Leader once again appealed to the Western powers to stop the arms trade in Africa saying, “I would like to call on the Western nations to stop arms trade in Africa.”
“It is these weapons that allow jihadists groups to kill the innocent population. There are no weapons factories, no arms factories in Burkina Faso. Even in Africa, there are very few,” Cardinal Ouédraogo explained.
He probed, “Where do these weapons come from? Who's funding them? Who finances the guns? Who pays for all these weapons and who organizes all these killings?”
According to the Prelate, “It is endogenous forces, combined with our corrupt governments that operate in a very regrettable way to the detriment of peace and the security of the people in Africa.”
Despite the difficult situation, the Local ordinary of Ouagadougou Archdiocese says, “The Church is trying to remain in solidarity and is trying to give a little hope also to all these distressed populations, so that terrorism can and must come to an end thanks to God and thanks to the solidarity of others.”
He highlighted the “need to pray constantly to the Lord, the prince of peace” for an end to violence in the continent.
“The Church's first response, as I often say is to put emphasis on prayer, as our Kalashnikov's is prayer,” he emphasized.
“In the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, for example, we have organized a year-long prayer chain that began in the first week of Advent and will end on the feast of Christ the King,” Cardinal Ouédraogo explained.
“This is an example of an effort lived by the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou,” he said and added, ‘Each diocese is in this same dynamism of prayer. Peace is the fruit of the efforts of men. Hence the need to organize ourselves, to remain in solidarity at the local, regional and international levels.”
Recounting another concrete action taken by the Catholic Church in Burkina Faso, the Church Leader said, “Last January 10, we organized a day of prayer at the Marian shrine of Yagma, some 10 kilometers from the capital, a day dedicated to the displaced.”
“We prayed for all the victims, be they Christians, Muslims, Protestants,” Cardinal Ouédraogo said and added, “Many who attended this prayer event were Muslims who came from the far north, from the so-called Sahel region, especially near the borders of Mali and Niger. This solidarity is manifested by individuals or groups.”
According to the Burkinabe Cardinal, “Prayer does not prevent the church from developing gestures of solidarity to come to the aid of populations.”
“Whether it is housing, food, clothing, schooling for the children, these are all challenges and we try to raise awareness locally, to call for international solidarity,” he added.
The governments of Burkina Faso and Mali are seeking to begin a dialogue process, which involves the main jihadist groups in the West African countries.
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita recently announced that his government was ready to hold talks with al-Qaida-linked militants who have been operating in northern and central Mali since 2012.
Against this backdrop, Cardinal Ouedraogo noted dialogue with the terrorist will be difficult since their leaders cannot be identified.
“The dialogue advocated by some with the jihadists first of all who are they? who are the leaders? where are they? are they willing to dialogue?” he probed
“In our preaching, “We implore them insofar as they can still hear us to lay down their arms and that together we find other ways and means to sit down together, see what is wrong and find appropriate solutions to our challenges. But this remains a great challenge.”
Cardinal Ouédraogo also appealed to the press to be part of this fight saying, “I hope that you men of the media will be the voice of the voiceless. The voice of those innocent people unnecessarily massacred. Be the voice of all those poor children who are deprived of School.”
During this prayerful season of lent, the Burkinabe Cardinal has called for conversion amongst the various terrorists groups on the continent.
They need to seek the path of conversion, to be reconciled with each other. All of these should bring us not only closer to God, but also closer to each other.”
“We are trying to further develop solidarity initiatives to show our closeness to those who are suffering. Relieving suffering as much as doing this little bit, but this can only be done with the contribution of sons and daughters in Africa,” Cardinal Ouédraogo emphasized.