Letter from Africa: Could the Pope bring peace to CAR?
In our series of letters from African journalists, Cameron Duodu argues that the world's Christian and Muslim leaders should become more involved in the apparently religious conflict in the Central African Republic.
The world will soon be marking the 20th anniversary of the worst genocide that has been seen in Africa since the end of colonialism, namely, the Rwandan slaughter that began on 6 April 1994.
This genocide was so horrendous that it has irretrievably robbed every African of part of his or her dignity as a human being.
Why then are we Africans allowing the possibility of something similar happening in the Central African Republic (CAR)?
CAR's religious make-up
- Christians - 50%
- Muslims - 15%
- Indigenous beliefs - 35%
Source: Index Mundi
Admittedly, there is an African Union force there, helping the French to try and save the lives of people threatened by murderous political infighting that has assumed a religious nature.
However, the number of troops is so inadequate that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an additional 3,000 soldiers, with air support.
Even if the Security Council grants his demand, it is estimated that it will not be until September that the troops can be assembled and dispatched.
Meanwhile, the conflict seems to be escalating.
So much so that on 13 March, a group of the country's religious leaders - Imam Omar Layama, Reverend Nicolas Gbangou and Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga - went to the UN to appeal to Mr Ban to redouble the efforts he is making towards bringing peace to the CAR.
I welcome the religious leaders taking it upon themselves to support the efforts being made to bring peace to the strife-torn country.
- March 2013: Michel Djotodia seizes power aided by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels - he is country's first Muslim leader
- Seleka fighters accused of killing Christians, leading to formation of "anti-balaka" vigilante groups
- Peacekeepers from African Union and France deployed
- January 2014: Djotodia resigns as killing continues
- January 2014: Catherine Samba-Panza sworn in as interim leader but attacks do not stop
- Feb-March 2014: Thousands of Muslims flee CAR amid reports of ethnic cleansing
I also plead with the global heads of the religions whose members are at war, to lend strong support to the local religious leaders.
All religions are involved in the conflagration, because the Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, have been attacking Muslims, whether the Muslims are Shia or Sunni, and Muslims have also attacked Christians.
It would therefore be extremely useful for the heads of all Christian and Muslim religious organisations which have members in the CAR to threaten to take action against their members who attack members of other religions.
For instance, the Pope, whose Catholic Church commands the largest single number of adherents in the CAR, should, in my opinion, send an encyclical to be read out during Sunday mass, threatening to expel or even excommunicate any Catholics caught engaging in hate crimes.
Similarly the authorities in Saudi Arabia should issue a threat that unless the violence in CAR stops immediately, no visas would be issued to any citizens of the CAR to perform the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Pope and the Saudi king would do well to send a joint delegation to the CAR, to make publicly known their displeasure at the turn of events in that country.
To show they are serious, the heads of the two religions should set up a monitoring group which would compile lists of the town and village leaders who have been inciting the populace to commit hate crimes.
These people should be tried publicly by a court constituted by the African Union.
Although these proposals may seem unlikely, I believe if the joint involvement of the Vatican and Saudi Arabia in CAR were to occur, and yield fruitful results, it could serve as a template for solving other ethno-religious conflicts not only in Africa but elsewhere in the world.