BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia Apr 18 – The misuse of religion is a threat to young democracies in Africa, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Saturday.
He said the intensity of conflicts witnessed globally is being prosecuted against the backdrop of growing politicisation of religion.
The President pointed out that Africa, a continent that accommodates different religions, has reached an age that threatens the choice of faith.
President Kenyatta was speaking in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, during the opening of this year’s Tana High Level Security Forum in Africa whose theme is “Secularism and politicised Faith.”
Tana Forum is an independent initiative of eminent African personalities with an advisory Board whose function is to provide strategic insight and oversight on various issues and challenges facing the continent.
The current chairman of the forum is former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo. Other leaders present were host Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and President Ibrahim Keita (Mali)
President Kenyatta said the aspiration of the global jihadist movement to create an Islamic Caliphate is feeding into an ‘unprecedented ideology driven by extremist violence’.
“From ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaeda and its global franchises, the extremist groups in the Sahel, Boko Haram in West Africa to Al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa, we have seen a brazen attempt to deny diversity of faiths,” the President said.
By pursuing the creation of Islamic Caliphates in their regions, President Kenyatta said, these groups threaten the stability of most secular countries within the hotspots.
“Most of the extremist groups, with their radical brand of political Islam, are also trying to take advantage of the void left by the Arab Spring that wasn’t definitive in most countries in the Middle East,” he added.
He cited the Horn of Africa region, saying the prolonged crisis and conflict in Somalia has progressively led to many threats.
He said the extreme violence had first been meted on the Somali population and thereafter neighbouring states, the region and the world.
The President pointed out that international efforts to stabilise Somalia have achieved ‘marked success’ in dismantling Al-Shabaab’s financial and military networks. However, the threat remains and it has taken the form of youth radicalisation.
“On the eve of Easter, Kenya experienced the full impact of this extreme violence when our children were attacked at Garissa University College. By the time the security forces ended the siege, 147 of our people, mainly students, had been murdered,” the President said.
He said the terrorists’ objective is to trigger inter-religious conflict as seen at Garissa University College where they separated students on the basis of religion.
The President called on African leaders to find ways of securing young democracies against terrorism, adding that the process must supplement efforts of restoring stability to Somalia to guarantee its security and that of its neighbours.
The President gave an assurance of Kenya’s continued active participation in the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and in the other initiatives to stabilise Somalia.
He said countries facing terror threats need support and cooperation from the international community.
As a region, the President said, “we must formulate effective counter-measures and counter-narratives by appreciating the root cause of threats to democratic States.”
Prime Minister Desalegn said: “At a time when Africa has begun to solely cast off its image as a dark continent through policies that have achieved rapid economic growth; at a time when questions of good governance are being addressed in earnest, many parts of Africa are going through a series of crisis that is the result of the blurred boundary line between legitimate exercise of religious freedom and the propensity to politiciced faith.”
The other leaders were also to speak later in the day.
President Kenyatta left the conference to fly to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.
The plane carrying the President touched down at King Hussein International Airport shortly after 8pm.