There is no doubt that religious leaders have at various times been facilitators in bringing peace to warring communities. For example, we can think of the role the All Africa Conference of Churches played in bringing peace to the Sudan in the early 1970s. However, at other times, religion has appeared to exacerbate strife and has sharpened divisions between different communities. Is religion really a help or is it more of a hindrance when it comes to bringing peace between warring parties?

WAJIBU spoke with Ambassador Kiplagat about the role of religion in peace making. Ambassador Kiplagat has been a senior consultant in conflict resolution activities since 1984. He chaired and facilitated the Uganda peace talks from 1985-1986; from 1988-1992 he initiated and facilitated the Mozambican peace talks and kept in touch with the warring parties in Ethiopia. He has also been intensely involved in peace and security issues in the Horn of Africa and was an Associate Member of the International Resource Group on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Security in the Horn of Africa. At present he is an advisor to the Sudanese civil society on conflict resolution and is the Kenya Special Envoy to the Peace Process in Somalia.

In the interview he spoke predominantly on the role of peacemaking with respect to the Christian tradition. Below are his thoughts on a subject in which he himself has been intimately and passionately involved.

The role of religion, specifically of Christianity, in peacemaking

On the African continent and one may say, even in the world, the role of religion in peacemaking has come to the fore especially in the last decade of the 20th century. Before that, it was chiefly the historic peace churches such as the Mennonites and the Quakers that were active in peace making. It was in the 1980s and in the 1990s that churches actually started putting aside financial resources for peace making processes.

Peacemaking as a central role for churches: the evolution of thinking

Not all churches see peacemaking in society as an important aspect of their mission. Among the evangelical churches, the emphasis is on individual salvation and on gaining entry into a better world, namely heaven. For this reason they do not look at peacemaking in this world as a priority. The other churches have gone through a development process with respect to their views on peacemaking. In the 1960s and 1970s the emphasis among them was on social justice as the way to peace. They looked at the unjust social systems in South Africa and Latin America and condemned the perpetrators of these unjust systems. Peace could only come about if these systems were dismantled and justice was done to the victims. The theology of liberation stems from this period.

However, since the demise of apartheid in South Africa there has been a new element in the thinking of churches about peacemaking. This new element was brought about mainly as a result of the attitude of the victims of apartheid towards their erstwhile oppressors. Their attitude exemplified the spirit of forgiveness, of reconciliation with the enemy rather than revenge. Mandela became an example of this different line of thinking. Justice was still stressed but it had to go hand in hand with forgiveness and reconciliation. The leading thought was that the other must not be looked upon as the enemy.

Ambassador Kiplagat s personal motivation for peacemaking

What is Ambassador Kiplagat personal motivation in his work of peacemaking? He spoke passionately about his reasons for being in this work First, he looks at all people not just as God s creatures but as God s children, children who are wonderful, not just on the outside but on the inside; they are beautiful because they are made in God s image. The second reason is based on his belief that God wants the best for everyone and will not leave a stone unturned to accomplish the good he has planned. His arms are always open, ready to receive us. What is the good that he wishes for us? That we should be reconciled to him and to each other, that we should be at peace with ourselves and even with nature.

Believing, as Ambassador Kiplagat does, that the divine spark is in everyone and is waiting to be kindled, he has no difficulty in speaking with prostitutes, rapists, murderers and warlords. He sees the task for people of faith in peacemaking as offering the opportunity of reconciliation and of acceptance to all who have been the cause of conflict and of war. This does not mean, of course, that we justify the evil they have done. The perpetrators of evil must indeed be made to see that what they did was wrong. But they must be shown a better way, the way of reconciliation, of forgiveness. And it is the ambassador s experience to have indeed seen the divine spark kindled in them so that &&[they become ready for dialogue?]

Factors in religion that act as barriers to peacemaking

Ambassador Kiplagat sees two problems that stand in the way if people of faith are really to play their role as peacemakers. First is the fact that religions are very often involved in internal conflicts. They must come to terms with these if they are to be peacemakers in the world. Secondly, they need to sort out their theology, their philosophy, their values. Do their theologies, their philosophy, their values really promote the furtherance of peace?

Kiplagat s challenge to people of faith: peacemaking must become a primary concern

Since as human beings conflicts will always be with us, what people of religion must learn, says Ambassador Kiplagat, is that peacemaking is not just something one engages in whenever a conflict arises. Peacemaking must become central to our way of being in the world; it is our permanent task. He is disappointed with the lack of support that religious leaders have shown towards peacemaking processes. For instance, in the five months that he been the special envoy for the peace process in Somalia, not even one religious organisation has come forward to say they wished to help, or even to pray for the process.

. The moment a conflict arises, we must be there, from the very beginning. In this respect, we have a long way to go, both as people of faith and as governments. Why is it so difficult, for instance to raise money for peace making? Is not prevention better than cure? Whenever there is a disaster, governments and religious people are ready to give even 50 million [$ or shillings?] for relief purposes. But to find even three million for peacemaking is a problem. This proves that peacemaking is still far from being central in the church s conscience. Our whole attitude towards the making of peace must change. The word failure should not be in our vocabulary. For instance, let us not say: there has been a conflict in Sudan for 19 years. We have tried to bring peace but we have failed; these people were too difficult, they did not cooperate. No, let us not focus on the 19 years of war but rather let us ask ourselves: What can we do to further peace now, at this very moment? What are the resources at our disposal? We should realise that we are on a permanent mission of peace and should remain with the problem until a solution is found. We must not count the cost. We must not give up!

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