In July this year, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) embarked on the launch of Regional Peace and Stability Forums in the Eastern, Western, Northern and Central regions of the country.
The purpose of these forums was to create a non-partisan, impartial and independent space to mobilize and rally Ugandans for peace and unity before, during and after the 2016 general elections.
During the launch of the Western Uganda Forum on 12th August this year, Committees of youth, women of faith and religious leaders were formed and mandated to facilitate internal dialogue, consensus building, mediation and reconciliation at the community, district, and regional levels, using the influence of religious leadership.
Following this background, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), IRCU, in partnership with The Elders’ Forum (TEFU) and the National Consultative Forum (NCF) organized a two day dialogue and training meeting on 24th and 25th November at Lake View Hotel in Mbarara, to engage religious leaders, inter-faith youth groups and women of faith from the peace committees formed during the Western Uganda Peace and Stability Forum launch.
Held under the theme “WORKING TOGETHER FOR PEACEFUL AND VIOLENCE FREE 2016 GENERAL ELECTIONS”, the training was attended by over 300 participants from the sub-regions of greater Bushenyi, Rwenzori ‘A’, Rwenzori ‘B’, Kigezi ‘A’, Kigezi ‘B’ and greater Mbarara.
The groups were facilitated by Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, a theologian and Anglican priest, who is currently the Secretary General of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), and former Executive Secretary of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC). Canon Kaiso was assisted by the IRCU Secretary General, Mr. Joshua Kitakule.
Amongst the programmes in which the participants were trained was; ethical values and morality, Inter-religious dialogue, peace-building and conflict transformation, duties and responsibilities of religious leaders in the electoral process, and peace and tolerance in a multiparty political system.
“Our work aims at empowering the people so that they can vote into power good leaders at all levels and reject those peddling token handouts. The Uganda we want must be built on a strong foundation of empowered citizens,” Mr. Kitakule said.
Mr. Kitakule also said it is the work of religious leaders to ensure that the citizens are sensitized about the values of peace, unity, accountability and stability as a recipe for democratic governance and prosperity.
On the 2nd day of this meeting, there was a live dialogue between the religious leaders, women of faith, youth, the Mbarara RDC, and Regional Police Commander, over issues that they feared could lead to violence during the electoral period if not felt.
Amongst the fears raised by the participants was commercialization of politics, politicized ethnic tensions, inadequate civic education, voter bribery and internal conflicts within political parties; amongst others.
The district officials managed to respond to the fears of the religious leaders and together promised to work together for a peaceful and violence free electoral period.
IRCU, TEFU and NCF will also have similar capacity building meetings for religious leaders in Northern, Eastern and Central Uganda.