Christians in Africa participate in counter-terrorism efforts

By Jim Olang |
Interfaith, Counter-terrorism,  Church, Africa
Central African religious leaders: Dieudonné Nzapalainga, archbishop of Bangui, Nicolas Guérékoyame Gbangou, Protestant pastor and former president of the Central African Evangelical Alliance, and Omar Kobine Layama, imam and president of the Central African Islamic community. They made a declaration for peace on 10 April 2014. | Nicolas Pinault (VOA)

“Africa has emerged as the key battleground for terrorism, with a major increase in the number of active groups operating on the continent,” said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari. His remarks came during the U.N.’s third high-level conference of heads of counterterrorism agencies in June 2023.

Experts at the event spotlighted Africa as the ‘epicentre’ of Islamist terrorism noting that terror groups – including Al-Qaida, ISIS and their affiliates – continue to grow in size and threat. They also reported that over half the victims of global terrorist acts in 2023 were in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in West Africa and the Sahel region. The 2022 Global Terrorism Index lists five African countries among their top 10 countries impacted by terrorism.

Rev. Dr. James Movel Wuye is a Christian leader in this region taking action to thwart terrorism. He serves as the vice president of the Assemblies of God, Northern Nigeria, where he oversees churches in seven states in what he describes as “a difficult terrain” because of frequent and devastating interfaith conflicts.

Wuye also serves as a co-director, with Imam Muhammad Ashafa, of the Interfaith Mediation Centre of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue in Kaduna, Nigeria. Between 2011 and 2023, nearly 7,000 people in Kaduna died in attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

“I believe very strongly that where religious leaders can walk together, they can drastically reduce violent extremism where possible,” said Wuye. “And if they are supported, they can do quite a lot to ensure they disarm one another by expressing genuine love for one another.”

Whenever he goes for an interfaith engagement, Wuye likes to open up to the church the possibilities of engaging with the mandate of Christ as ambassadors of peace. His anchor scripture is drawn from Hebrews 12:14-15, which he said is “hinged on the condition that if you don’t practice peace or you don’t live in peace with all men and holiness, you will not see the Lord.”

Wuye dreams of a continent of trained religious mediators, and trained psychosocial and trauma healing religious leaders. He wants to see these leaders counselling within the church walls, and counselling both Christians and non-Christians wherever they are found. 

 “…So I believe dealing with violent extremism is … showing them practical Christianity, by ensuring that you show love and disarm them through love,” he explained. “The new love is inching towards a passive enemy, with an open hand and heart, with the love of Christ.”

He strongly believes that Christians in Africa today must exhibit a “righteousness that is better than the Pharisees.” Reaching out to people who have been programmed to hate “Christ’s love disarms them from their hate.”

Wuye and Ashafa are featured in the documentary film, The Imam and the Pastor: From the Vegence to Forgiveness. In the film, Wuye points out practical interfaith interventions in Nigeria that led to peace-building and averted genocide between 2004 and 2005 in locations in the Plateau State, North Central Nigeria. Wuye believes the practical solutions featured in the film are transferable to any context.

The interfaith religious council that Wuye co-leads with Ashafa was formed in 2016 in Abuja, Nigeria. Church and Islamic groups came together at that time to talk about how faith groups could assist the African Union to help intervene during or before inter-religious conflicts escalate into violence. Where they escalate into violence, the platform was to avail the African Union of a team of experts to intervene in conflict situations within the African continent.

Working with the African Union has given Wuye unique opportunities to serve the Church and contribute to peacebuilding in Africa. “Most of the church membership do not have the capacity, especially the clergy, … but they have the willingness because it’s a mandate for Christians to be at peace with everyone. So we have that opportunity to train more religious clergy and clerics to handle both intra and inter-religious crises, thereby dealing with issues of violent extremism.”

The Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA) and its partners invited heads of evangelical churches, mission agencies resource persons from Africa, and other members of the global evangelical community to a series of meetings in 2022 and 2023 aimed at assessing the impact of religious extremism on the Church and missions. The meetings also sought to forge a united Christian response from various regional blocks in the continent.The prevailing concern in all of the meetings was the rise of extremist violence in Africa that has led to thousands of deaths and millions displaced.

In one such conference, a communique issued on 24 November 2022 by Nigerian Christian leaders, ahead of the country’s polls last year, read, “…we call on all evangelicals in Nigeria to pray for the safety and protection of all Nigerians, especially during the ongoing electoral process; to pray for peace among all religious communities; and to pray for those in leadership to be agents of peace and stability in the country.”

Leaders representing the Central African Region, which includes several nations in the Sahel, similarly presented their concerns to the public in a joint statement published on 7 October 2022, noting that, after deep introspection, they believe, human rights and the rule of law are merely regarded as “a concept and not reality” by their respective governments and security agencies in the region. They further observed that the Church in Central Africa has not always been united in countering threats of persecution, yet it continues to be “…publicly humiliated, marginalized and defiled as a result of religious extremism – with reports of killings, rape, abductions and socio-economic exclusion on the rise.”

In September 2023, the AEA issued a statement calling for peace, negotiation and respect for human lives in the Sahel countries of Africa. “The political crises in our continent have in many respects further contributed to our underdevelopment. The people of Africa have one hope, and that is for an Africa that is freed from inequalities, injustices, corruption, ethnic hegemonies and divisions, as well as divide and rule tendencies common in our motherland. We pray and appeal for an Africa where guns are silent, where conflicts are solved through dialogue, where fellow Africans act as each other’s brother’s keepers and where African natural resources are harnessed and used for the good and prosperity of her citizens.”