Inter-religious Dialogue Seeking Peace in Tanzania

In Tanzania, the office of Justice & Peace and Inter-religious Dialogue has had several activities with the Muslim fraternity. The main event was in February, 2018, when we held a two day conference on inter-religious dialogue and peacebuilding in Tanzania, with a special attention to the case of Dar es Salaam. It was a top level diplomacy approach. We invited several dignitaries from embassies and the European Union and the American cultural centre. The conference was graced by his H.E. Most Rev. Marek Solczynskinew, Apostolic Nuncio to Tanzania. The speakers and key players were university lecturers and researchers who presented very concise research findings. The Muslim leadership in Dar es Salaam was well represented and the leaders gave their views.

The main event of the conference was the launching of the book on “Religious extremism and violence in Tanzania – the case of Dar es Salaam”, by Dr. Elias Opongo SJ, and Dr. Felix Phiri (M.Afr.).

The conference on inter-religious dialogue in Tanzania was held at Atiman House of Missionaries of Africa. The Nuncio flanked by  two Sheikhs on either side with Br. Elvis standing right behind the Nuncio.

The primary objective of the conference was to analyse the situation of religious extremism and violence emerging in Tanzania in close association with the current global situation whereby many parts of the world have become destabilized by religious intolerance. Although the Tanzanian situation could be a typical case, considering the country’s history, it could nonetheless contribute in some way not only to understanding the roots of religious extremism and violence but also in providing possible means of pre-emptying the occurrence of such incidents in the interest of a more constructive interreligious coexistence globally.

At the conference, it was reported that in coastal region of Tanzania like Tanga, radicalization of the youth was slowly gaining momentum. It is a known fact that Tanzania has suffered terror attacks in the recent past. However, there are some sections of the Tanzanian civil society who do not feel comfortable to say that there is a problem of religious extremism in Tanzania, fearing that it could paint a bad image of the country. The temptation therefore is to choose to keep silent about it. Unfortunately that would not be the right approach to eradicate religious extremism in Tanzania. We need to address the problem before it gets out of hand. Feeling bad about having fundamental extremists in one’s own country is normal but choosing to keep silent about the problem is very dangerous. There is need for a paradigm shift in the analysis, and strategic response to the problem of religious extremism and violence in Tanzania.

Our conference indicated that the problem of radicalization was gathering pace on the coastal area due to many factors such as perceived economic injustices, lack of employment among the youth, political power agenda, and foreign geopolitical strategic interests. In addition, it was observed that in regions like Tanga where the young population are very much exposed to wrong teaching and could easily fall victims of religious radicalisation. Another factor is the proximity between Tanga and Mombasa where the al-shabaab easily infiltrate in the local population. However, all these factors tend to hide under the guise of religious fundamentalism. We cannot deny that religion has been instrumentalized to justify these extreme acts of violence. Moreover, we need to dialogue as religious leaders of different religions and answer the question “what is our role and how can we help reduce the damage?” At the end of the conference, we all agreed that inter religious dialogue is vital in deconstructing the ideology behind religious extremism.

One can say we have hope for more collaboration between Muslims and Christians (i.e. Catholics) in Dar es Salaam. Our task is to coordinate with our muslim brothers in Dar es Salaam and see how we can reach out to other coastal regions such as Tanga and help the young people to stay away from wrong teaching.

The future research would look into the implementation of long term approach to addressing root-causes of religious extremism and violence; such as socio-economic and political marginalization, unemployment, victimization, uncoordinated response, and lack of effective strategy to addressing the problem.

Religious extremism and violence in Tanzania – the case of Dar es Salaam, by Dr. Elias Opongo SJ, and Dr. Felix Phiri (M.Afr.) – Here the cover of the book translated in German by Missio.

About the next conference, one of the researchers challenged us that most of these dialogues are conducted among elderly men. Often we exclude women and the youth. To the contrary the reports on radicalisation show a lot of young people as the major human capital. Recently, we have seen the number of women participating in radicalisation increasing too. Thus, we have to see how to engage young people and women in these dialogues. We hope to contact universities to see if we could hold round table discussions with the students at the campus and eventually hold the conference with the youth.

Bro. Elvis Ng’andwe, M.Afr.

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