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 PETITION ON CRISIS IN SAHEL/SAHARAN REGION OF AFRICA

Dear Colleagues: The Africa statement on which you worked or which you institutionally endorsed is now posted on Change.org, and we are attempting to direct as broad a public as possible to the online petition for signatures. We invite you to assist us by directing individuals within your network to the Change.org site to add their signatures to the petition. The petition, which is directed to U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, can be accessed and signed by going to the following link, and clicking on "Petition Letter." Thanks again for your support and participation. http://www.change.org/petitions/united-nations-a-call-for-strategic-action-in-the-sahel-saharan-region-of-africa A CALL FOR STRATEGIC ACTION TO STRENGTHEN DEMOCRACY, RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, AND PEACE IN THE SAHEL/SAHARAN REGION OF AFRICA JULY 2012 As a cross-section of American leaders committed to human rights, we express here our deep concern about the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in several African countries overtaken by a globally expanding conflict of religious and ideological worldviews. There is a need to reset strategic attention on the intensifying struggles of the countries generally south of the Sahara which face political and ecological crises and common threats from extremism.

Much better international and interreligious cooperation is needed to reverse trends that would make countries such as Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Sudan/South Sudan into proxies in an exaggerated collision between an historically Christian West and the Muslim Arab world. As it stands, violence and terror are spilling over into these sub-Saharan African countries at great costs to their national stability, cultural heritages, and the safety and livelihoods of their citizens. Compelled by our theological and political solidarities with those who are suffering and oppressed, and by the principle that those blessed with capacities for taking action on behalf of justice and goodness must do so, we appeal for urgent action on behalf of Sahel/Saharan nations of Africa caught in the struggle between terrorism and the war on terror. We propose a “peace belt,” (drawing on Kenyan Nobel prize winner Wangari Mathai’s “green belt” to combat desertification). In proposing this, we seek to honor new efforts within these countries to strengthen societies through democratic and nonviolent means and with greater awareness of religious dynamics that need to be addressed constructively. The deliberate and vicious destruction taking place in Mali of sacred Islamic sites and of repositories of African cultural and Christian heritage is tragically emblematic of these great regional dangers.

In the context of the last twenty years, we have seen gratuitous targeting of Africa in this global struggle includes the blatant case of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by an insurgent Egyptian Muslim group that left over 200 Kenyan and Tanzanian citizens dead and 5,000 wounded. The U.S. bombing later that year of a Khartoum building believed linked to Osama bin Laden (who had gained sanctuary in Sudan around the time) also increased public consciousness about possibilities for the spread of terror and of the war on terror into Africa, while spotlighting ways this global clash was being interjected into a protracted, genocidal conflict between Sudan’s Muslim government in the North and the predominantly Christian and animist populations of the South. Although conflicts along the southern border of Africa’s Sahara may trace to multiple factors, including increasingly politicized religious activities and identities (locally, nationally, and trans-nationally), and competing democratic and non-democratic or moderate and extremist inclinations at each of these geopolitical levels, another clear factor has been the spillover effects from the struggle between terrorism and the war on terror. Recent events in Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Mali make clear that conflicts emanating from elsewhere in the world may impose ever greater costs on African nations, as evidenced by: • Interreligious and inter-ethnic hostilities in Nigeria, informed by home-grown and imported Islamic and Christian fundamentalisms and resulting in thousands of deaths since 2001, with much of the violence initiated by an al-Qaeda related group called Boko Haram that is also gaining strength in West African capital cities such as Bamako, Ouagadougou, Abidjan, and Dakar;
• The emergence in Somalia of an al-Qaeda affiliate named al-Shabaab whose members (recruited from Somalia, nearby African nations, and Persian Gulf nations) have taken over large sections of southern Somalia while terrorizing Somalis across the country;
• Terrorist acts by al-Shabaab across Kenya, including kidnappings, dozens of killings, and a July 2012 attack on two churches that killed 15 persons and wounded 50 others, as well as the July 2010 massacre of more than sixty persons in Kampala, Uganda when al-Shabaab suicide bombers detonated bombs in the midst of large outdoor crowds of World Cup soccer fans;
• Systematic atrocities perpetrated by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerilla movement rooted in historic grievances against the Ugandan government and in a mix of Christian, Islamic, and mystical justifications of twenty years of brutal terror against Ugandans and (via its recent cross-border extensions) against persons in South Sudan;
• The occupation of much of northern Mali by a combination of Tuareg rebels, former mercenaries aligned with Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, and religious extremists with al-Qaeda connections, coalescing since the 2011 fall of Gaddafi in a reign of terror resulting in a massive exodus of northern Malians into southern Mali or neighboring countries, the desecration of hundreds of religious sites and repositories of cultural heritage in Timbuktu and Gao, the appropriation of Christians’ belongings and institutional resources, and the attempted eradication of Christian presence from northern Mali; and
• The fact that much of this violence has been facilitated through weaponry supplied by weapons-producing nations from the North, sometimes as part of broader tactical strategies driven by northern nations. Although there have been important governmental and inter-governmental responses to the security crises within these sub-Saharan African nations, we are aware that much more is needed from governments to ensure African peace, security, and sovereignty.
 
Therefore, we appeal for concerted governmental action (including from the U.N.; the U.S. government; former European colonial powers; African inter-governmental organizations such as the Africa Union, ECOWAS, EAC, and IGAD; and from individual African governments) pursuant to the following objectives:
1. A redefining of public policy priorities in ways that embrace mediation of interreligious and inter-ethnic conflicts within the Sahel/Saharan region as a matter of vital strategic importance for international stability and for the stability of each African nation in question;
2. Observance of African Union and United Nations protocols that deny recognition to any regime coming to power through a coup d’etat and that impose sanctions on such regimes pending restoration of democratic rule;
3. Immediate intervention in northern Mali to halt destruction, displacement, terror, and the fallout from regime change in Libya, preferably via peacekeeping activities in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter;
4. Stronger insistence on the restoration of civil liberties, religious and social freedom, and the right to secular educational and legal frameworks within areas of northern Mali, northern Nigeria, and southern Somalia currently occupied by religious extremists;
5. Increased economic development assistance from the developed world to Sahel/Saharan countries, earmarked especially for high poverty regions within those countries most susceptible to cross-border disturbances; and
6. Greater emphasis on African democratic reform and its religious dimensions within western nations’ approaches to Africa, and a more systematic focus within these approaches on governmental partnerships with democracy oriented African faith-based and community organizations. Furthermore, in view of the magnitude and gravity of the new dangers imminently threatening unique and irreplaceable religious and cultural heritage sites of northern Mali, we appeal to the international community as a whole to participate in the protection of traditional cultural heritage sites (including by the granting of collective assistance through non-governmental channels) which can compliment measures by UNESCO, UN agencies, and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights to safeguard a world heritage.

 

 

Drafting Committee:
Dr. R. Drew Smith, Co-Convener, Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc. Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, Emory University School of Law Dr. Lee Butler, President, Society for the Study of Black Religion Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Grace of God, NFP Ms. Kaleema H. Nur, Esq., Director, KINDRED Afro-Americas Alliance Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, Pastor, Friendship West Baptist Church, Dallas, TX Dr. Forrest Harris, President, American Baptist College Dr. Christian T. Iosso, Coordinator, Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, Presbyterian Church (USA) Mr. Jamye Wooten, CEO, Kinetics Communications, LLC

Ecclesiastical and Institutional Endorsements (as of 7-26-12):
Bishop John R. Bryant, Senior Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church Rev. Dr. David Goatley, Executive Secretary and Treasurer, Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention Rev. Dr. Katherine Rhodes Henderson, President, Auburn Theological Seminary Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson, North American President, World Council of Churches Mr. Don Kraus, Chief Executive Officer, GlobalSolutions.org Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Chairman, Conference of National Black Churches Rev. Dr. Julius Scruggs, President, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. Rev. C. T. Vivian, President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Rev. Robina Marie Winbush, Director, Department of Ecumenical and Agency Relations, Presbyterian Church, USA

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