Former President John Dramani Mahama has attributed the relative peace Ghanaians currently enjoy to the religious tolerance which exists between the various faith groups in the country.
He was speaking during a panel discussion on ‘Strategic and operational decision making: Experiences of heads of missions in the context of violent extremism in Africa’, at the Kofi Annan Peace and Security (KAPS) Forum organised by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPT) in Accra. Mr Mahama said the camaraderie which exists between the leaders of the various faith communities has had a trickledown effect on their followers.
“We have religious tolerance in Ghana. It is interesting to see the major and minor religions living side by side. People don’t have a problem expressing their religious beliefs.”
He recounted various examples of interfaith interactions between the two major religious groups – Christians and Muslims – which has led to the fostering of peaceful relations. For example, the hosting of a major Muslim programme at the Catholic Social Centre is one that would be quite unfathomable in other countries, he said.
He paid tributes to the likes of Archbishop Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, Archbishop of the Cape Coast Archdiocese; the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu; and the late Maulvi Dr Wahab Adams, for their immense contributions to Ghana’s peace.
He described violent extremism as “a new normal that we might have to live with for some time into the distant future”.
He warned that if the problem of high unemployment among Africa’s youth is not tackled with urgency, they would be recruited to pursue a violent extremist agenda.
“We need to grow our economies faster; we need to create more employment opportunities for our young people even as our population continues to increase.”
Touching on the reoccurring spate of violent encounters between nomadic cattle herders from the Sahel region and farmers, he said that it was an inevitable conflict borne from the effects of climate change in the sub-region.
He also cautioned against the over-centralisation of power at the central government and national capital level, saying that there is a lot of inclusivity in Ghana, which has not provided the vacuum in which violent extremist elements may thrive.
He urged African nations to learn from the Ghanaian example, where the presence of the government can be felt at the district level, and also in the form of development projects, where all 86% of the country has electricity, where each district has police and judicial presence, where there are hospitals in all districts, thus fostering a sense of statehood, and thus not leaving room for radical elements to fester and corrupt the political environment.
“If people feel that they do not have the opportunity to participate in the way they are governed, then they begin to have pent up frustrations of not feeling that they are part of the state system and so they’ll try to disrupt the system,” he said.
He also admonished sister African nations to ensure media freedom because “if people are able to vent their frustrations, then it does not pile up until it becomes a frustration, where they think they are not being listened to so they must take up arms against the state.”
A free media where the people are able to vent their frustrations, call into programmes in their own dialects and say what they think is wrong with society is also big contributory factor to the resilience of the society to stand against sectionism.