Interfaith leaders from the United States and West Africa met this week in Liberia for a three-day international conference in Monrovia that concluded with joint vows to monitor government activity, work toward justice and equality, and minimize corruption in West Africa.
The conference, co-sponsored by U.S.-based Church World Service (CWS) and the United States Catholic Mission Association, aimed to raise the visibility of peace efforts by the religious community and consolidate their peace efforts in “fragile” post-conflict Liberia and other Mano River Union countries, Church World Service reported on Thursday.
The conference was the first international conference held in Liberia since the recent election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The keynote speaker was new Liberian vice president Dr. Joseph N. Boakai.
"It is time for creative strategies that will take us to the next level," said the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director of CWS.
The conflict-ridden Mano River region is a focal point in CWS’s current Africa Initiative. The global humanitarian agency and the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA) will collaborate to monitor peace consolidation efforts in the overall West Africa region.
"I was very excited that people from different organizations and backgrounds could share ideas and recommendations and finally commit to carrying out these concepts and specific actions at national levels," said Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA) Secretary General Baffour Dokyi Amoa to CWS. Amoa led a conference discussion on the role of inter-religious councils in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in peacekeeping and conflict management.
According to McCullough, inter-religious councils in each region will spearhead grassroots campaigns to reach out to communities in order to ensure citizens a voice in building sustainable peace. The groups also agreed to focus on the roles of youth and women in consolidating peace.
"You cannot consolidate peace without talking about reconciliation," said Moses Ole Sakuda, associate director of CWS’s Mission Relationships and Witness program. "The fact that all these people were in one room talking is an important step toward reconciliation, which will lead to consolidation."
The gathering represented the culmination of a process started in 2002 when CWS accepted an invitation from ecumenical groups in the Mano River Basin to come to West Africa to support them in peace building efforts. In March 2003, Church World Service invited the Mano River Basin religious leaders to the United States, where they met with policy makers at the United Nations, the White House, the Department of State, and on Capitol Hill, warning the United States and international bodies of impending crisis in Liberia.
Regional faith leaders committing to the initiative included Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Baha'is.
"Civil societies and faith bodies aren't going to sit on the fence," declared Amoa.
If they determine that the government is not acting in the best interests of the people, "they're going to take their roles and civil responsibilities very seriously [by speaking out]," he added.