Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Combating Religious Intolerance in Cameroon: Peace Crusading Christian Journalist Resorts to Muslim Dressing

After initiating the ‘Men in Women High Heel Shoes’ campaign and mobilizing men and boys to effectively march in women’s high heel shoes on grounds that s/he who wears the shoes know where they pinch, as part of the campaign to end violence against women and girls in Cameroonian society, Gwain Colbert Fulai, freelance journalist and Coordinator of A Common Future, an NGO that works to transform lives and build common frontiers, has now turned his attention to addressing the issue of mounting religious intolerance in Cameroon and in the process, completely changing his wardrobe and garb.
The garb and wardrobe change is informed by his very logic that ‘s/he who wears the shoes knows where they pinch’ but this time around, he is concerned about the prejudices many Cameroonians have developed against anybody wearing Muslim attire in the wake of the insurgency attacks by Boko Haram. Just two weeks into changing his wardrobe, he testifies as a fact, the level of stigmatization and hatred many have developed against others simply because of their religion.
‘I have not had it easy even with close friends. If, even those who know me still exclaim when they see me in the Fulani dress, what will happen if I am in a community where nobody knows me?, Gwain Colbert questions. And that is the crux of the matter. He complains that when he attains seminars and gatherings in his new garbs, some people are suspicious of him and others recommend he should be searched for he could just be carrying the next bomb.
'S/he who wears the shoes Knows where they pinch'
‘I now understand what my Muslim brothers have been passing through as some people have even referred to me as Boko Haram. This means that non-Muslims not only associate Boko Haram attacks to Islam but also that religious intolerance in Cameroon today is more than meets the eye and something needs to be done and urgently, reason-why I am involved’, Gwain holds.
This freelance journalist and Co-founder of A Common Future organization which is noted for its innovative niche in handling conflictual situations intends to put in the extra hour and the extra energy to work to narrow the widening religious intolerance gap in Cameroon. The new campaign dubbed ‘Strengthening and Cementing Religious Tolerance among Youths and Opinion Leaders’ shall take him to four of Cameroon’s 10 regions in the months ahead. 
The objective of this campaign shall be to bring youths and opinion leaders in these regions work to adopt a community approach for religious tolerance with a focus on outreach and communication, as well as further coordinate awareness and interreligious dialogue activities. His mission shall also be to encourage Muslim and Christian representative bodies to work to elaborate a religious tolerance charter as well as have it accepted by all Cameroonian religious groups.
Gwain, Narrowing the widening Religious Intolerance Gap in Cameroon
Apart from involving Muslim and Christian women in awareness raising initiatives, this campaign shall focus on making all Cameroonians understand that whether Muslim or Christian; they all have a common future. To achieve this goal, Muslims in particular have to be seen to be working for a more inclusive Islam by reinforcing dialogue within the Muslim community and by supporting a better representation of the various Islamic and ethnic groups, as well as youth, within the existing associations.

Gwain Colbert’s campaign is a direct response to the recommendations of the International Crisis Group’s latest report on mounting religious intolerance in Cameroon and the likelihood of inter-religious and sectarian crisis of the magnitude that has been witnessed in neighbouring Nigeria and Central African Republic.The report published last September 3, 2015 clearly states inter alia that: ‘In Cameroon, the rise of Christian revivalist (born again) and Muslim fundamentalist movements is rapidly changing the religious landscape and paving the way for religious intolerance. Fundamentalist groups’ emergence, combined with communal tensions, creates a specific risk in the North and increases competition for leadership of the Muslim community: such competition has already led to local conflicts. Moreover, the various religious groups have negative perceptions of each other. The state and the mainstream religious organizations’ response to the emerging radicalism is limited to the Boko Haram threat and therefore inadequate, and in some cases carries risk. A coherent and comprehensive response has to be implemented by the government and religious organizations to preserve religious tolerance and to avoid the kind of religious violence seen in neighbouring Nigeria and the Central African Republic.’
Little efforts, big change-Islam has no relation with Boko Haram
To buttress the point, the International Crisis Group goes further to note that: ‘In the face of these new forms of religious intolerance, interreligious dialogue initiatives are weak, dispersed and only reach a small fraction of the population. Yet, the religious changes are not perceived as problematic by Cameroonian political and religious authorities. They underestimate their conflict potential as their attention is focused only on Boko Haram. It was only after Boko Haram launched attacks in the Far North that the government launched awareness initiatives, but they were late and ineffective, as seen in the harassment and stigmatization of Kanuri populations from border villages, as well as arrests and arbitrary detentions by the security forces. The religious developments are worrying in the present regional environment as both Central African Republic and Nigeria are experiencing conflicts with religious dimensions, and the consequences are having impact on Cameroon.

On why his campaign targets mostly the youths, he makes reference to the report which states that: ‘The transformation within Islam is mainly promoted by radical young Cameroonian Muslims from the South. These southern youths speak Arabic, are often educated in Sudan and the Gulf countries, and are opposed to the political and economic domination of the Muslim community by the ageing, traditionalist Sufi establishment. The fight for supremacy between Sufi and fundamentalist groups has increased the risk of local violence.’
Arguing that ‘prevention is better than cure’, this religious intolerance campaigner categorically states that the image that Cameroon is an island of peace amidst regional turmoil long ended and that a more comprehensive and articulate approach needs to be adopted to avert the worst. His campaign is therefore a step in the right direction and needs encouragement as it falls in line with the new Sustainable Development Girls, SDGs, of the United Nations.

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