Media CenterWest African Faith Leaders Head to Washington, D.C. to Rally Support for Sahel Peace Efforts
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Catholic Relief Services
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, March 14, 2023 – A delegation of 10 West African Catholic and Muslim religious leaders from Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana will be visiting United States lawmakers from March 20 – 24, 2023 to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Sahel region.
The clerics will use the high-level meetings to discuss the lack of progress on an effective response from the U.S. and international community. They will encourage lawmakers to take decisive action to address the underlying grievances through long-term investments in civil society, economic development and social accountability.
“We are speaking as pastors, faith leaders and key partners who are witnessing firsthand the destruction of our homes,” said Bishop Laurent Dabire, president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, and member of the delegation. “We are advocating for the well-being of our populations, which is our obligation and right.”
“We would like our partners in the U.S. to better understand the reality we face in the Sahel, including the shop we’re building through our joint efforts,” said Sheikh Barham, national coordinator of Niger’s inter- and intra-religious dialogue committee.
The Sahel is suffering from a seemingly intractable conflict rooted in historic grievances, unfair management of resources, poor governance and a more recent outburst of violent extremists. Between 2021 and 2022, the number of displaced persons increased by 40% to 2.4 million, with women and children composing more than 50% of those displaced. Violent extremists such as the Islamic State, local self-defense groups and gangs are increasingly terrorizing civilians through attacks, kidnappings and the imposition of unlivable conditions.
“The people are living in a constant state of terror,” said Patrick Williams, Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) regional program manager for the Sahel Peace Initiative. “It is a slow burning crisis in which community leaders are systematically kidnapped or assassinated, schools are closed and civilians are killed without warning.”
Religious leaders are trusted more than any other institution in the region, but these leaders have been neglected by stakeholders in peace efforts. With the support of CRS, the religious leaders have taken their share of the responsibility through the Sahel Peace Initiative (SPI) – a regional program which aims to promote social cohesion and restore hope by scaling up the impact and visibility of locally-catalyzed peacebuilding initiatives in the Sahel.
These efforts are amplifying the peace-inspiring voice and convening power of local religious leaders, while simultaneously responding to the acute needs of displaced and vulnerable families.
“SPI is a train that took off in 2019,” said Bishop Dembele of Mali. “We already have passengers but are now asking others to join this train.”
The delegation includes: Sheikh Dr. Hazic Hussein Zakaria from Ghana; Bishop Alfred Agyenta, bishop of the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga; Sheikh Barham Aboubacar from Niger; Archbishop Laurent Lompo, the Archbishop of Niamey, Niger; Mr. Kahlilou Abdoulaye Camara, Chargé de Mission at the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Mali; Bishop Laurent Dabire, Bishop of the Diocese of Dori, Burkina Faso; Bishop Yiki Alexandre Bazie, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Koudougous, Burkina Faso; Bishop Essoh Burno Yedoh, Bishop of the Diocese of Bondoukou, Cote d’Ivoire; and Ms. Anna Kone De Messe Zinsou.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, visit www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media in English at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; and in Spanish at: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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