On 26 October an interfaith dialogue took place at Garissa University in North Eastern Kenya. On 2 April 2015 the university was attacked by Somali-based Alshabaab terrorists leading to the deaths of 148 students and countless other injuries. Other attacks on the military and civilians have been reported, raising tension in the region and leading to a conflict between different groups. These attacks form a genesis of past and existing conflicts.
There were 16 Muslim and 17 Christians participants in the dialogue, all whom were from Garissa. The objective of the day was to have an open conversation between both religious groups on trust. Is there trust between these two groups? Initiatives of Change and other peace organisations have done similar activities here before. yet Initiatives of Change’s approach is different, as our aim is to continue the conversation beyond the main dialogue.
These activities have been welcomed by the administration of the University, primarily to build trust and encourage good relationships between students, staff, and community members. According to the Dean of students, Mrs. Khadija, interfaith activities remain the best approach to promote cohesion, especially between young people in the region. After the attack, which made international news, many organisations have visited Garissa University and have seen the positive side of Garissa as a cosmopolitan town.
The four-hour dialogue had profound learnings for the whole group. One being that conflict has been experienced even between tribes that share the same faith. Some economic and cultural aspects have also led to differences that precipitated a crisis that people of other faiths were unaware of. For example, some participants felt that a Muslim of Somali origin is treated differently from a Muslim, or a convert, of Kenyan origin. Even though Garissa has both Christians and Muslims engaged in business, Mr. Shakul Kassim, one of the Muslim participants, expressed that both communities have had a very symbiotic relationship:
‘We depend on our Christian brothers for so many goods and services. They are good teachers in the schools where our children go, and some of my best employees are wonderful young Christian men from Western Kenya.’
One unexpected request was made by Sister Evelyn from Garissa Catholic church. She appreciated that Imams and pastors have visited each other's religious places, but they have only gone when there were no worshipers. We’d like you to visit the church on Sundays in order to show your trust and friendship to the larger congregations.” Sister Evelyn from Garissa Catholic church.
In February 2020, a mini workshop will take place in Garissa where Imam and the Pastor of Nigeria are expected to take part. This will be followed by a Training of Trainers activity in Nairobi where a few participants from Garissa will be selected and where consecutive steps will be discussed.
The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.