YAOUNDE, CAMEROON— The first Pan African Conference on Interreligious Freedoms has ended in Cameroon with participants from 80 countries from Africa and beyond. Participants pledged to work together for the service of peace in the name of God.
Conference participants say development across Africa has been greatly slowed by interreligious conflicts. The case of Nigeria was cited as one of the worst, with tens of thousands of lives lost in fighting between Muslim and Christian communities, and thousands more killed by the Islamist militant-sect Boko Haram.
South African-based Malawian cleric Hopeson Bonye says nothing good has come out of Boko Haram, saying it is just fighting everyone, and is extending its tentacles to neighboring countries.
"It is wrong, and it is not the right thing at all. One thing I want to mention is that not everything that is Western is bad, because we live in a global village and we interact with one another. So we can not choose to live as Africans and just be Africans. We still need to borrow from other people. Those things that are bad we can let them go, but we can not fight and kill, and cause violence in the name of hating Western philosophers whatsoever," said Bonye.
Bonye adds that Nigeria is not the only hot spot in Africa. He says even his country, Malawi, has suffered from conflicts in the name of God or Allah.
"Property was damaged, people have no place to worship. Like the mosque had to rebuild, and the churches had to rebuild again, and people were destabilized, families hating one another. They belong to one family, some are Muslims, some are Christians, so it splits families all the time and people are displaced also," he said.
Besides condemning violence and asking governments to name, shame and prosecute perpetrators, the conference agreed to preach and practice tolerance. That is the message that Ghannian-born pastor Emmanuel Menu, who serves as West and Central African overseer of the Seventh day Adventist Church, is taking back to Ivory Coast, where he is based.
"We should be able to live together as Africans. We should not leave any room for intolerance, we should respect all human beings. Africa has suffered a lot and because of this we are among the poorest African nations," said Menu.
Nigerian delegation leader Oloyeke Alaoye Labi said the outcome of the conference may be slow and difficult to be felt, but highly expected by true believers in his country.
"I have got to know that Africans are African, Cameroonians, Nigerians ... and we should not allow any religion to separate our brotherhood," said Labi.
As for Liberian-born pastor James Gole, he says tolerance should be the watch word among Christians, Muslims and even animists if Africa has to develop.
"We are promoting religious liberties and tolerance. God created us the same way. So we do not need each other because of religious differences," said Gole.
A conference communique says during the past 20 years, an estimated eight million people around the world have lost their lives because of religious extremism and fanaticism.
Meanwhile, skeptics of conferences like this are asking whether such interfaith dialogue can really increase religious tolerance, when the perpetrators of extremism never attend such meetings.