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Nigerian Imam and Pastor Lead Peace Efforts in Kenya

From The Washington Post,

Muhammad Ashafa (left) and James Wuye (right)

Muhammad Ashafa (left) and James Wuye (right)

The unlikely and inspiring Nigerian duo Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye were in Switzerland last week at the Caux Forum for Human Security. Their partnership is unlikely because they were militia leaders on opposite sides of the conflict in northern Nigeria and lost not only friends but parts of their own bodies as combatants (James wears his artificial arm proudly). It is inspiring because they are powerful exemplars of the possibility of reconciliation.

Pastor James and Imam Ashafa were at Caux to launch a film called An African Answer (it will be released in September). An earlier film, The Imam and the Pastor, told the story of how they overcame their own hatred and joined forces, and their subsequent joint work in Nigeria. The new film is about their work in Kenya to help dampen the fires of violence that erupted there after the 2007 election.

Kenya’s conflicts are centered on ethnic differences, not religious ones. So the imam and the pastor approached local communities in Eldoret not in their religious roles but as specialists in conflict resolution.

The film is instructive, showing how the duo went about their work. Each man led a group of one of the ethnic communities, the Kalenjins and Kikiyus. They first undertook a classic effort to draw out some positive views each held of the other. Then they delved into the grievances, and there were plenty. Land topped the list, but there was also much resentment about attitudes and respective tendencies to stick to their own communities, including separate Christian churches.

The first visit seemed to bring some greater consciousness of the complexities of the sources of conflict and produced a committee with a mandate to monitor the fragile peace. A second visit some months later delved deeper and sought ideas for common action. A plan to unify the ethnically separated markets in a town emerged.

And then, the film shows, members of the communities wrote down their grievances on pieces of paper and burned them in a ceremonial fire. This ritual was aimed at catharsis and symbolized a commitment to consign the bitterness of past hurts and longstanding grievances to the flames.

The two Nigerians seemed to lead the Christian reconciliation rituals without a trace of concern for religious difference – indeed a sense pervades the images that the unifying power of faith is far greater than any specific difference in beliefs or teachings. Forgiveness, love of neighbor, and commitment to address and resolve conflicts were powerful bonds.

A jarring but realistic feature of the film is the dominance of men. Women play only marginal roles. That’s an honest reflection of the social norms in the communities concerned and is another reminder of how important it is to bring women into central roles in work for peace. They have so much to offer.

Click here to read the full article.