New African beacons for enhanced dialogue, BY MUSA SIMON REEF

by Tom Chiahemen
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Recently, the Vienna based International Dialogue Centre KAICIID conducted a 10-day training session for its African Region Fellows Programme in Abuja from April 11-21, 2018. No fewer than 21 participants from 10 African countries attended the training session in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. Due to the programmes of activities embarked upon by KAICIID in Nigeria and Central African Republic (CAR), no fewer than 11 participants from the two countries, with a Jewish participant from South Africa. Other countries who were in attendance for the training included Uganda, Chad, Ghana, Ethiopia, Niger and Ethiopia, among others.

The Fellows Programme brings together religious teachers and scholars for training in a bid to promote “training in dialogue, mediation and promoting social cohesion.” The fellows programme is basically designed to equip religious teachers and scholars with skills necessary to educate students on how to become active agents and facilitators of interreligious and intercultural dialogue. KAICIID has so far graduated over 125 alumni fellows, with another 44 fellows presently undergoing in 2018.

At the end of the 10-day training session, Mike Waltner, who is the Programme Manager of KAICIID Fellows, describes the fellows’ interest at its best. According to him, the promptness and alertness of fellows throughout the duration was unprecedented, adding, “They were always on time and displayed great enthusiasm during the training. You could all see that they enjoyed every session of the training and look forward to putting into action what they had learned,” he adds.

On how KAICIID monitors the activities of the fellows after training, Mike says, “After receiving training in the theory of interreligious and intercultural perspectives, they receive a grant of up to a maximal figure of 2,000 Euros for them to develop their initiative in their own local environments. After the implementation of their developed initiatives, they are to send reports to KAICIID for assessment. We also encourage them to be involved in mentoring relationship, especially among the Alumni group of fellows.

“I am glad to state here that no fewer than 80 to 90 percent of the fellows after training do actually acknowledge that they have learnt so much after such training session. It is obvious that after the training most of these fellows are equipped with new learning skills towards becoming active agents for interreligious peace and liaising with others alumni members on peace building in their various communities.”

Mercy Wambui Muigai from an organisation known as, Impact Communities in Kenya, describes the fellows programme as an eye-opener. She says she came into the programme with mixed feelings, but after the 10-day training session, she is better informed on what interreligious and intercultural dialogue and peace building is all about.

“I came to this programme with some bit of anxiety. After this programme, I see myself better equipped to handle the issue of interreligious dialogue. I was fascinated on the concept of perception as it relates to religious and cultural beliefs. I am sure I have much to impact on my society when I return home,” says Mercy.

A religious cleric and scholar, Sister Rose Kyali Gonza, who is of the Daughters of Mary (BannaBikira) from Uganda, but currently teaching Comparative Religion at the University of Tanzania, says the fellows training afforded her an opportunity of getting an in-depth knowledge of interreligious dialogue. She notes that after going through the training, she will emphasise on interreligious dialogue to assist her students to understand other faiths.

“Most importantly, the interaction with other fellows from other African countries has been wonderful. I am happy to be a member of the 2018 African Region Fellows Programme of KAICIID and I look forward to deploying all I have learnt from this 10-day training to expand the scope of understanding as it relates to interreligious and intercultural cultural dialogue in my area of operation,” she says.

According to Ougba Ben Nafi Ahmadou CAR, who is the Chairman of the Central African Republic Youth Faith, he learned about perception and how it influences human reaction, including practical measures in engaging various people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.

“I commend the creation of the KAICIID Fellow Network on how we can replicate the learning we have received here. In Central African Republic, we have people who have differences, but they do not want to accept these differences. With the tools I have learnt here, I have no doubt that if replicated, our communities can come together and accept our differences,” Ahmadou notes.

Malam Isa Okonkwo, who is the Director of Administration of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), sees the training as an event that has expanded his frontiers in learning. He says he has discovered new horizon in the knowledge of interreligious dialogue, and believes that when adequately deployed, the evils bedeviling Nigeria can be resolved.

According to him, “There is always a meeting point between Muslims and Christians. I have always agreed that there is no conflict between Islam and Christianity. During this training, I have learned on stereotypes, assumptions and perceptions.”

Rev. Zaka Ahuche Peter, who is the former Chairman of the Kebbi State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), sees the training as “a timely intervention for Africa in meeting the many challenges in interreligious and intercultural dialogue. It was actually a wise decision by KAICIID to bring this wonderful initiative in resolving problems facing most countries in Africa, especially Nigeria.”

After, attending the session, Peter says he has learned so much on what interreligious and intercultural dialogue is all about. According to him, “This training has actually opened my eyes to an understanding of what needs to be done to achieve interreligious and intercultural dialogue. What is lacking in attaining peace across religious and cultural setting is the absence of adequate knowledge and skills that was taught us during the just concluded 2018 Africa Region Fellows Programme.”

As KAICIID scores yet another milestone in training 44 fellows in its 2018 programme, the enthusiasm displayed by 2018 African Region fellows is set to broaden new frontiers in realising interreligious and intercultural dialogue across the continent.

Musa Simon Reef, a media practitioner, writes from Abuja, and can be reached via:

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