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(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

Religious Collaboration in Conflict Resolution: The Sierra Leone Experience

Summary of research carried out: 
Religious Collaboration in Conflict Resolution: The Sierra Leone Experience

This paper attempts the bold task of a general exploration of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa and placing the Sierra Leone conflict within existing thinking on conflict and conflict resolution in Africa.

Some key insights

  • As a key player among other civil society groups, the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) showed remarkable resolve and great initiative in facilitating dialogue and building confidence among the different parties involved in the conflict, both prior to and after the Lome peace talks. It also earned the respect of civil society, the parties to the conflict and the international community. This respectable status was achieved through a series of actions, which included consultative meetings with all key players in the crisis, press releases, experience sharing, prayers and the preaching of God’s message of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • Another significant and commendable move of IRCSL in their bid for peace was its visit to Monrovia prior to the Lome talks. This initiative helped to recognise and place Charles Taylor as a key player capable of prevailing on the rebels to lay down their arms.
  • Even though religious leaders make a practical appeal that justice should be tempered with mercy, peace without justice would be rather meaningless.
  • The Peace Agreement in Lome granted amnesty to those who perpetrated grievous and widespread violations of human rights, but this does not mean that amnesty is absolution. The wounds in society can only be healed if truth is confronted, as peace is not resolved in covenants and charters alone, but in the hearts and minds of individuals.
  • The right to be heard, which strongly echoes the fundamental principles of natural justice, can provide meaningful inroads for a stable post-conflict society if a ‘holistic’ hearing is established within the parameters of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Both perpetrators and victims must be given the opportunity to tell their stories.

Useful Recommendations

  • Judging from the Sierra Leone situation, religious cooperation can be recommended as a useful mechanism for conflict resolution, in societies which share similar historical and social orientations.
  • The creation of an inter-religious working group within the Mano River Basin can be a viable channel for addressing and resolving both potential and actual conflict situations within the region. Where such a situation is appropriate and applicable, religious cooperation by networking, meaningful dialogue and advocacy should be a continuous process. It should be proactive, focusing on conflict prevention, rather than reactive to conflicts when they have began.
  • The nature of religious tolerance and cooperation in the Sierra Leone context serves as a check on fundamentalism and religious bigotry. This value can be exported to other parts of the region as a lesson for safeguarding society from the ills and excesses of religious conflict.
  • In every society, whether affluent or developing, religion should serve as the conscience of the people. Thus, religious leaders should always and at all times be the conscience of the people and the voice of the voiceless.

3 May 2003