David Omondi, Author at FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIAN COUNCILS AND CHURCHES IN THE GREAT LAKES AND HORN OF AFRICA (FECCLAHA)

Mid April 2023 marked the day when fighting broke out in Sudan’s capital Khartoum following an escalating power struggle  between two main factions; the Sudanese armed forces led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan- the country’s de facto ruler and paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti. This has not only led to loss of lives but also left more than 8 million people displaced; others forced to flee whereas the country’s entire population is left in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

FECCLAHA among other ecumenical organizations namely: World Council of Churches (WCC), All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), ACT Alliance, and Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church united to support Sudan through solidarity and advocacy for an end to the year-long conflict. This follows continuous ecumenical virtual consultations with the church in Sudan on the state of peace in the country.

During the visit to Sudan in April 2024, the delegation paid a visit to internally displaced persons camping at the Red Sea and Mayo Girls’ Schools in Port Sudan: The delegation gave immediate relief support in terms of cash etc to ease challenges the displaced persons encounter such as lack basic necessities such as food, proper shelter, healthcare access as well as sexual and gender-based violence among other issues. “Despite our inability to access other parts of the country owing to restrictions of movement on non-Sudanese, I observed many people living in displacement camps especially schools, an indication that there was no learning going on in those schools as well. I saw the suffering of women and girls considering their specific needs”, said Fr. James Oyet, FECCLAHA Chairperson.

To foster sustainable redress to such plights, the delegation further engaged religious leaders (Christians and Muslim), women and youth from whom they got a wider insight on what was happening in other parts of the country. The insights formed the basis of the delegation’s appeal for an urgent long-term peace building through healing and reconciliation in Sudan. Their key message to the Sudanese government was an end to the war. “The message from the different groups of people we met was clear- help us end this war, be our voices outside Sudan”, recounted Rev. Dr. Ibrahim Wushishi, a delegate and general secretary of the Christian Council in Nigeria.

Sudanese Anglican Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo commended the ecumenical organizations for the effort to visit Sudan amidst the conflict to assess the conflict situation. He observed that accessibility of the country and its leadership was a sign of openness for help and appealed for the strengthening of humanitarian assistance expressing fears that more people are likely to die of hunger. “We appreciate your coming to Sudan at this critical moment to stand with us in our suffering and urge you to be the voice of the Sudanese people for healing, reconciliation and peace in the country especially now that there’s  little about the plight of Sudanese in the international media”, he said.

Additionally, the delegation met humanitarian agencies and the vice president of the sovereign council who underscored the need for urgent interventions to stop the war which they say has taken a toll on the nation and its citizenry. The ecumenical bodies are making every effort to reach out to and engage the leader of the RSF on matters peace and reconciliation in the country.

Regional Faith Women Mediators’ Network (REFWOMEN) forum 16th- 18th April 2024;

Electoral processes in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region, as well as other parts of the continent , tend to increase the fragility of peace and security in the region owing to the cyclic, political, competitive and confrontational nature of the processes. This not only calls for the proper management of election related disputes by governments and CSOs alike but also on their need to keep up with the electoral dynamics and trends for timely and appropriate interventions.

    In preparation for the seven anticipated national elections in the region between the years 2024 to 2027, FECCLAHA in partnership with the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) undertook training for women on Conflict Early Warning and Early Response (CEWER) in the prevention of election-related conflict.

    The faith women were drawn from the FECCLAHA Regional Faith Women Mediation Network (REFWOMEN) membership from Tanzania South Sudan, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Kenya who were capacity built on the electoral cycle, sources of electoral conflicts and their role as faith women in electoral CEWER. They were equipped with knowledge on the different aspects of an election cycle beginning with the Legal framework which is the country’s constitution providing for and guiding the election, the legislation electoral body and  code of conduct; and the Verification of results which marks the end of the cycle. As such, they were equipped with knowledge on what strategy to employ at what point in the cycle.

    The REFWOMEN was established in 2017 as a network through which the voice of faith women for sustainable peace in the region will be amplified through consolidation and coordination. The network has nine country chapters established over the years in the following countries: Burundi Faith Women Mediation Network; the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus ( EECMY) Women Peace Building Network; Uganda Women Mediators Network; Young Women Mediators’ Network in Eastern DRC; Network of Women Mediators of Religious Confessions for Peace; Faith Women Network in Sudan; Rwanda Faith Women Peace Mediators Network; the Faith Women Mediators Network in Kenya; and the National Women’s Link for Peace in South Sudan.

    FECCLAHA has in the recent past engaged women from the network as election observers and seeks to empower them further through such trainings for their sustained capacity building and mentorship to enhance their participation in building coordinated and strategic peace processes at different levels.

    Over a year ago I was tasked with inviting a delegate to help us draw the interconnection between Human Rights, Peace and Social Cohesion at a youth forum we were to convene. I however struggled especially with how I was to coin and convey the invitation message; but I had one clear thing in mind-peace is a state of tranquility and harmonious coexistence between individuals and among groups of people especially when there is mutual respect. Peace actors would rightly argue that peace is not entirely the absence of conflict but how it is managed which could result in or is a result of respect to Human rights or otherwise, its violation.  Considering “Human rights” has been such a hot topic even in the ages more often associated with “activism” against government wrongdoings or undoing, this is a subject I am fielding more and more lately and it’s a great one to have knowledge on through human rights education if we are to build peaceful communities.

      Human rights education commonly understood as the introduction to new ideas and concepts and the study of documents on human rights entails not only the understanding of the fundamental values of human rights but also learning for human rights. Additionally, people are able to make human rights a reality wherever they are and in whatever situation they find themselves in. As such there is a change in their values, attitudes and behavior that enables them a human right community to recognize violations for appropriate and effective response towards peace and human fraternity.

      Sadly, it’s not until the year 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDR) as an international instrument on human rights, against a backdrop of crimes and atrocities committed against humanity during World Wars I and II. However, the declaration casted a sign of consciousness and hope to both peace builders and human right communities in many aspects. United States Secretary of State George Marshall’s speech during the declaration, as recorded in books of history, underscores systematic and deliberate denial of basic human rights a root cause to most of the world’s troubles.

      Marshall observed that a government which systemically disregards the rights of its own citizens is likely not to respect the rights of other nations and likely to seek their objectives by coercion and force in the international field, which is a challenge peace builders are grappling with. It is also recorded that he is the brains behind the famous Marshall Plan which aimed at rebuilding Europe for the unity of the continent and to stem the tide of communism in the post World War II period. Unknown to him or perhaps by design, the ideology of capitalism would later perpetuate existing inequality/class distinction by encouraging wealth accumulation that would widen the disparities between the rich and the poor which is a recipe for human rights violations and conflict.

      To spare you the long historical recount, a major highlight of the declaration is on the first article states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity, are endowed with reason and conscience thus expected to act in a spirit of brotherhood towards one another. It summarizes the whole idea of Human Rights as “Respect and Dignity”. It’s interesting how human rights education brings to light environmental, economic, social and political factors as contributors to human rights violations while clearly painting how they are all interconnected.

      Political factors and processes, for example, which largely border participation and distribution of resources by those in political and leadership positions, their actions and inactions hugely impact on the citizenry with level of existing inequalities further escalating the already worse situation. Economic factors and circumstances also have influence on the level of enjoyment of rights such as those relating to education, due processes such as government budgeting and resource allocation and adequate standard of living. Private entities such as those licensed by the government to undertake economic activities such as manufacturing and mining etc, acts of economies of scale, tax evasion/ profit shifting and lack of compliance when it comes to wages of workers, their working conditions and company’s compliance to set environmental laws directly lead to human rights violation in one way or another.

      Environmental factors such as climate change piqued my interest in the whole topic of human rights versus peace and conflict. As alluded to earlier, all these factors lead to or are a result of another. To mitigate or prevent the effects climate change such as droughts or flush floods, governments divert funds originally earmarked for development, security, equipping hospitals and schools etc to contain prevailing disasters. As such, the privilege to access quality government services is compromised if not withdrawn. Droughts and floods could cause forced migration among communities leading to population pressures which impact on available resources with a high probability of conflict eruption.

      Human rights education therefore is a must have knowledge to any peace builder out there. It reawakens you to the realization that climate change for example is not just about nature but a serious human rights crisis. Economic literacy on issues around inflation, taxation, government budgeting and borrowing as well as political economies is not just a preserve of those in the field of economics.

      Thanks to the Africa Unite human rights annual exchange programme through which I had an extensive, eye opening training and became a human rights peer educator, I now have a clear idea on what should have gone into the invitation. I now appreciate efforts towards the protection of civilians especially those in situations of armed and violent conflicts and commend those working hard to complement various humanitarian interventions toward dignity, respect and peaceful coexistence.

      Exclusion, theft of electoral materials, human rights violations and voter apathy are among the hick ups recorded by Church leaders in their post-election observation report of the 20th December 2023 polls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in which the President, members of the National Assembly, the 26 provincial assemblies and commune (municipal) councils were elected. Church leaders who were part of the domestic observers also reported that violence which has plagued the eastern part of the country for decades resulting in the displacement of about 7million people was one of the impediments to a free and fair election the preparedness by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

      Appreciating and designing context based interventions in conflict situation requires a good understanding of the socio-political dynamics by both regional and global ecumenical organizations and peace actors for timely and strategic engagements, full implementation and monitoring of the recommendations.

      As such, FECCLAHA has been at the fore front in undertaking annual context analyses with trends, possible scenarios and putting forward key recommendations for action by all peace actors. This year, FECCLAHA built a series of scenarios and potential dynamics, drawing its connectivity to the 2023 analysis and reflections on the 2022 trends; the major focus being: armed groups, national stability and regional cooperation; the implementation of peace agreements; and the role as well as the potential impacts of peace keeping mission exits in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

      FECCLAHA previously made a recommendation that there was need to pay close attention to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) which according to in its 2022 analysis, had not been part of any peace negotiations either in DRC or Uganda. “The ADF group are unique and unpredictable; it may start instilling some high level radicalization based on social and economic grievances and initiate political struggles; and may begin initiating  isolated or joint attacks on places of worship or government institutions”, it read in part. Unfortunately, this observation came to pass when ADF bombed churches in DRC (January 2023) and Uganda (December 2023) claiming lives and destroying property, highlighting the call for joint, timely and strategic engagements to avert such occurrences by peace and security actors.

      From the year 2023 analysis key regional trends and dynamic are featured including: agreements implementation and transitions (South Sudan’s 2018 R-ARCSS transition extension roadmap; Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and TPLF Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) and Nairobi Agreement ‘to permanently silence the guns and end the two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia’; DRC-Rwanda Agreement/ revival of the joint Commissions to facilitate ‘cessation of hostilities and normalization of bilateral relations; and the Nairobi Agreement between the Government of DRC and M23 armed group); elections and electoral processes, reforms, peace keeping transitions, regional cooperation and violent armed groups.

      Cross-border issues and bilateral relations (Ethiopia-Sudan, Kenya-South Sudan, Ethiopia-Somaliland, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Burundi-Uganda, Burundi-DRC and Kenya-Uganda); Elections and electoral process with a focus on South Sudan expected to hold its first elections in December 2024;  Peace agreements and processes; the East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) contestations; Armed groups, social protests and violent extremism; and Humanitarian situation in Sudan are among the year 2024 environment prospects accompanied by detailed recommendations.

      In disseminating the 2024 analysis, FECCLAHA convened a virtual stakeholder’s forum on 27th February 2024 where the participants were taken through the trends, scenarios and key recommendations for strategic action for a peaceful and secure Africa.

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      The Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA) has launched its 2024-2028 strategic plan which integrates key priorities in various regional development frameworks in governance, peace and security as well as Sustainable Development Goals.

      “This follows the successful implementation of the FECCLAHA 2019 to 2023 strategy that saw over thousands of people positively impacted across the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa Region through more than 300 initiatives.” said Jeannette Uwizeye, FECCLAHA Executive Director.

      In the new 2028 to 2028 strategy, unveiled on 26th October 2023 in Kigali-Rwanda, the Fellowship will integrate early warning and response actions, trauma healing approaches, research and documentation, enhanced/strategic partnerships and economic empowerment major components in the execution and the delivery of impactful project initiatives that addresses urgent needs and concerns arising from the review of the previous strategy.

      Through its Regional Peace Village, also unveiled on the eve of the new strategy launch, FECCLAHA  will, in its new strategic plan,  deepen its commitment to provide selfcare and healing among Church Leaders, Women and Youth by providing a safe space for self reflection and self healing against all trauma they encounter as peace builders.

      “A peace village is derived from the concept of the traditional African village –meaning a community of people living together. Our new strategy encompassed the Regional Peace Village, a space where Church Leaders, Women and Youth can share on what is disturbing them, listen to their inner voice, heal and move on with the peacebuilding work while putting trauma behind them. As peace builders we first need to be healed ourselves, that is why we have incorporated this as a key delivery component so that through all our interventions, we do not end up with or working with people who need help,” said Fr. James Oyet, Chairman, FECCLAHA.

      Under its pillar on Peace, Social Cohesion and Regional Integration, FECCLAHA seeks to integrate approaches that not only contributes to the national peace and social cohesion agenda of her member national councils and churches but also strengthens the capacity of Church Leaders, Women and Youth as well as faith actors or strategic actors for their effective engagements in the implementation of the integration agenda as well as advocacy against proliferation of illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALWs) in the region. To further harness the potential of the youth, this pillar will have youth skills development interventions such as youth economic empowerment initiatives and support to youth start up initiatives, potentially leading to job creation.

      Under Governance and Accountability, FECCLAHA will enhance capacity and skills of member national councils and churches, Church Leaders, Women and Youth in electoral processes and resource management in the region. This pillar will also enhance FECCLAHA’s role in advancing accountable governance systems and policy influencing.

      The third pillar, Gender justice, will enhance the prevention of and response to Sexual and Gender Based Violence as well as women participation in the life of the church and society.This will seek to break the cycle of violence and bridge the gender gap in the society.

      Under the fourth pillar, Institutional Strengthening, FECCLAHA seeks to further strengthen the capacity of its different structures and members; develop and implement a resource mobilization strategy as well as undertake research and collaborate with research and learning institutions to improve its adaptive capacity to regional dynamics.

      Richard Mutabazi, Mayor of the District of Busegera, launches the FECCLAHA Strategic Plan 2024 – 2028.

      Richard Mutabazi, Mayor of the District of Busegera, speaking during the launching ceremony, noted that the agenda of promoting and advancing regional integration cannot be left to the politicians alone. He also commended FECCLAHA and all the Church leaders for their role in advocating for equitable society from the level of the community. He appreciated the dedication to pursue peaceful societies based on African ideologies, likening the Peace Village concept to the local Gacaca system which served to reconcile Rwandan citizens through participatory processes and Rwandan culture-based systems.

      “The FECCLAHA Strategic Plan 2024-2028 has a very critical area-regional integration and social cohesion which by itself is a commitment that church leaders will be complementing what is being done by the political leaders thus building synergies for the prosperity of the region and the continent at large”, he said

      Father James Oyet Latansio, the FECCLAHA Chairperson, giving the official opening remarks during the 2023 Regional Ecumenical Forum (REF)

      The representatives of National Councils of Churches and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa under the auspices of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA) gathered in the Regional Ecumenical Forum (REF) held at La Palisse Hotel, in Nyamata, Rwanda on 25-26 October 2023.

      The Regional Ecumenical Forum (REF) is a key platform that draws participation from all FECCLAHA members, ecumenical partners, collaborating partners, and other stakeholders.

      The aim of REF is to serve as a safe space and a strategic opportunity for the participants to share ideas and lessons, discuss challenges, re-strategize and renew their commitment and passion for their mission focusing on issues affecting the region.

      Since 2011, the Regional Ecumenical Forum (REF) has been held every two years and every Regional Ecumenical Forum (REF) is guided by a theme. The 2023 Regional Ecumenical Forum (REF) was organized under the theme “Towards Peace and Security: Strengthening the role of the faith community in promoting electoral justice in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa”.

      It was expected that representatives of councils of churches and churches would get together to reflect on their role and interrogate strategies taken by faith actors and other stakeholders in promoting electoral justice in the region.

      ”This Forum is an opportune moment to share ideas, learn lessons, discuss challenges and then strategize on how peace and justice can be achieved more particularly during electoral processes.” said Fr. James Oyet, Chairman, FECCLAHA.

      Indeed, electoral violence in Africa has largely been driven by the limited political will to implement reforms democratic principles and practices including manipulation of voters and failure to manage electoral processes in general. Yet, the faith community in Africa, possess aspects that make them strategic and critical players towards electoral justice. It is with this background that the 2023 Regional Ecumenical Forum was organized.

      From the discussions, the participants noted that Africa has often experienced conflicts and violence following elections. The participants agreed that these election – related conflicts are often a result of bad leadership. They noted that with no peace, people cannot achieve development. The participants, therefore, came to the conclusion that the Church is God’s instrument called to promote electoral justice through their priestly role of earnestly praying; providing mentorship to politicians; providing civic and voter education to the citizenry; advocating for the preservation of peace before, during, and after elections; and telling truth to power.

      Participants pose for a photo during the Regional Ecumenical Forum (REF) meeting held at La Palisse Hotel, in Nyamata, Rwanda on 25-26 October 2023.

      In this regard, the church leaders agreed that they had such a demanding task to closely work with and support political leaders to achieve electoral justice. While church leaders are invited to support the political leaders as long as they are constitutionally elected, they were encouraged to support the leaders by being exemplary in their leadership too. They stressed that this can only be achieved if they avoid the curse of ethnicity which we find more in church than in secular settings. Corruption and succession battles were also raised as serious problems that church leaders need to fight before they can also influence and advise politicians how to achieve justice.

      ”Avoid corruption – our own leadership should also be credible first.” said Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki, General Secretary of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).

      Delegates savoring every moment of growth and learning at this impactful FECCLAHA Regional Faith Women Mediation Network (REFWOMEN) held in Nairobi, Kenya

      A total of 30 elder and young women mediators were taken through an exposition of UNSCR 1325 and 2250 pillars on Women, Peace, and Security and Youth, Peace, and Security respectively with a view to strengthen their capacity in advocacy, lobbying, and networking as well as facilitate the process of identifying opportunities and strategies for advocacy across the region during the Regional Faith Women Mediation Network (REFWOMEN) Regional forum.

      The FECCLAHA Regional Faith Women Mediation Network (REFWOMEN) consists of women from the Christian and Muslim faith with a current membership spread through 7 countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, and South Sudan; was formally launched in 2017 as  structure to coordinate and consolidate the Faith Women’s voice for sustainable peace in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region.

      The training further provided space for peer-to-peer learning as it reviewed the achievements, reflected on the challenges being experienced, opportunities available, strategies employed and entry points available for advocacy efforts. On undertaking advocacy, the participants were equipped with skills on issue identification, identifying the target audience, developing messages, identifying channels of communication, building support, fundraising, implementation, data collection and monitoring and evaluation. The participants also had an opportunity to share their country chapter reports as well as come up with action plans on the next steps. Through the call to action, the participants pledged to heighten advocacy efforts.

      Finding inspiration and motivation at every corner of this workshop

      REFWOMEN engagements are at the national and regional level  guided by the UN SCR 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security and UN SCR 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security guided by pillars on: Participation, Protection, Prevention, Relief & recovery and disengagement & reintegration, and Partnership. This regional workshop will seek to build on the knowledge and skills obtained over the years as well as the skills and experiences acquired from the exposure and interventions in the different countries.

      ”The Inter-generational dialogue will also provide spaces for mentorship and deeper understanding of issues of concern which will in turn strengthen collaborative intervention of women (older and younger) towards advocacy for Peace and Security in the region.” said Ms. Monica Njoroge, Program Manager – FECCLAHA.

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