Kululu, Uganda, 9 December 2019 (F2A): Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) and Muslim Centre for Justice and Law (MCJL) promote interfaith relations and peaceful coexistence between Muslim and Christian youths in Yumbe district. Negative stereotypes, prejudice, and acrimony had characterised relations between Christian and Muslim youth. But relations between followers of the two faiths improved considerably after the two institutions trained and involved youths from Yumbe Town Council and Kululu sub-county in various joint activities. These activities aimed at changing stereotypes and prejudices and promoting interfaith cooperation. The ultimate objective was to promote interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence in the two locations. The activities covered training in peacebuilding, sports (football and netball), and music, dance and drama.
A young man from the Aringa community in Kululu sub-county known as Mudasir was one of those who participated in these activities. Kululu sub-county has low literacy levels due to soaring school drop-out rates. Like many other young men and women from his home area, Mudasir dropped from school and had no gainful employment. He and his friends used to idle around Kululu, chewed khat (mairunji), and engaged in petty crime. Like other youth in the area, he had shared the prevailing negative stereotypes and prejudices against ‘others’, among them Christians who are a minority in the predominantly Muslim region.
Most of these stereotypes and prejudices dated back to Uganda’s history and were reinforced during the civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. War combatants were the Government of Uganda and armed groups – West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), Uganda National Rescue Front I & II (UNRF I & II), and Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA). UNRF II operated in the then Aringa County, which is the present Yumbe district. Although the war ended when UNRF II signed a peace agreement with the Government of Uganda in 2002, negative stereotypes and religious prejudices persisted over the years. It is these stereotypes and prejudices which shaped the attitudes of Mudasir and his fellow youth towards ‘others’ as they grew up in Kululu.
UJCC and MCJL identified and engaged Mudasir from his home in Kululu sub-county. He was among the young men and women from both Muslim and Christian faiths whom the project equipped with information and skills in inter-cultural communication, negotiation, interfaith relations and cooperation, and peaceful coexistence. The trained group of 30 young men and women formed a team known as Community Own Resource Persons (CORPs), and UJCC mandated them to reach out to the youth and communities in their respective villages, mosques and Christian churches and parishes.
This was Mudasir’s first serious engagement in life and he took it with a lot of passion and motivation. He started moving from village to village, explaining to young men and women the importance of interfaith cooperation and coexistence, and the dangers of chewing khat, drug abuse, idleness, and hooliganism. By 30 August 2019, Mudasir and his team had reached 4577 young men and women in Kululu sub-county. The engagement also made Mudasir realise that there are many ways of earning an income and opened to him the various ways of changing his social and physical environments. In his words:
“Before the training and involvement with the UJCC project, I was ignorant. I did not know that school drop outs can earn money legally. So, after the training, I vowed to change my life as well as lives of my colleagues. I first laid bricks with my 5 friends and on sale we earned UGX 750,000. We discussed and agreed that we would continue with brick making while each of us would buy a she goat from our share of the money. All of us are now rearing goats.”
In addition to goats rearing, Mudasir planted an acre of groundnuts which he will harvest in December 2019. And as they continued rolling out the interfaith work in Kululu, Mudasir and 15 young men and women from both Muslim and Christian faiths formed a savings group in May 2019. They hoped the savings group would help them raise more funds to support their interfaith cooperation and peaceful coexistence work which had become popular with both Christian and Muslim communities. The local district office registered the group and Mudasir used the registration as a support document in a requisition letter for funding to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). As he stated:
“Acquiring conflict resolution skills enabled me settle disputes in my family and the village. With these skills, I managed to convince my father to let my pregnant younger sister to stay at home and deliver her child. She was allowed to go back to school after delivery.”
Involvement in the interfaith work built his confidence and he started advocating for discarding of religious and social stereotypes and prejudices in Kululu. He engaged school leaders and the community leaders on the importance of tolerance and interfaith cooperation. He also spoke on other issues such as forced marriages, increase in school drop-out rates for girl child, teenage pregnancies and GBV. Following Mudasir and CORPs work in the area, local authorities in Kululu sub-county have taken the issues seriously. At the time of writing, both Muslim and Christian leaders have teamed up to lobby for adoption of a by-law in the Sub-county to make schooling mandatory for all children.
Additionally, Mudasir and youth from Kululu formed a football team which involved both Christian and Muslim youth. The team is one of those which competed in the tournaments that UJCC and MCJL organised. They practised every evening at one of the local primary schools. The club has a junior team of 10-15 year-olds and a senior team for over 15 years. Playing football together has reduced prejudice. As planned, teaming up in sports has built understanding and encouraged tolerance between youth from different faiths because it has brought out their similar interests and common humanity. Team members drew the messages of religious tolerance, which they printed in their football jerseys, from both Christian and Muslim holy books. Before and after sports, Mudasir says, they discuss different issues which affect the youth as a group regardless of their faith or religious denomination.
The District Khadi, Sheik Swaib Alahayi Bamuze praises the work that Mudasir and his team have done in Kululu. “Where there used to be radical actions in silence and cultural and religious intolerance, there is progressive tendency towards collaborative action, through interfaith dialogue, sports, music and entrepreneurship. There is relative harmony in the Kululu community,” he affirms. The Faith to Action Network has been supporting UJCC and MCJL through a small grant and continuous technical assistance, which covers program management, financial management, monitoring & evaluation, and assessment of outcomes and impact.
The F2A Network has also been supporting both partners on documentation of lessons learned and best practices and generation of additional research themes from the impacts. The F2A is funded by the European Union (EU) and administered to the partners under a project known as Communities Richer in Diversity (CRID). Other F2A partners in the EU funded project are Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), the African Council of Religious Leaders (ACRL) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).