Kenyans and perhaps the world breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday when President Kenyatta announced that the four-day siege of Westgate Mall had officially ended. But our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of the victims and the Kenyan Nation. 61 casualties and roughly 175 injuries were a result of an armed takeover by an extremist, militant group from Somalia, Al-Shabab, “the youth” in Arabic. Al-Shabab claimed that their takeover was in retaliation to foreign, in particular Kenyan, intervention in Somalia in 2011.
The events in Kenya are a reminder of Africa’s tenuous position. On one hand, it is struggling with corruption, poverty, lack of education, and tribal and religious conflict. Yet, on the other hand, it stands on a threshold of great opportunity. It has the potential to set forth development models that are based on long-standing principles and values. Africa’s rich diversity of ethnicities, nationalities and religions is a fertile ground for new partnerships social cohesion based on universal ethics.
This incident is but a snapshot of this reality. Foreigners and non-Muslims were the main targets of the Al Shabab. But, inside and outside the siege the outpouring of support for victims and their families came from every region of society.
And there is the story of four-year-old Elliott Prior who called one of the terrorist a “bad man”. The gunman gave Elliott and his sister a candy bar each and allowed them and their mother Amber to leave the mall. To her he said, “Please forgive me, we are not monsters.”
These are all poignant reminders that at our core we want peace more than we want division and violence.
Al- Shabab is a minority, extremist group that does not represent the Muslim faith as a whole. A survivor of the Wesgate incident told CNN, that although Al-Shabab selected their victims along religious lines, Islam had nothing to do with their act of terror. He said, “Our religion preaches about peace, understanding and humanity.”
There are other nations where such religious clashes are a daily reality. The need is critical for inter-religious cooperation that brings common universal values and principles to the heart of tackling social, economic and political issues.
Nigeria, is one such nation. In May of this year, Global Peace Foundation partnered with Nigeria Interfaith Action Association (NIFAA) to hold a consultative meeting entitled, “The Role of Religious Leaders and Traditional Rulers in Building a Culture of Peace, National Unity and Integration.” Christian, Muslim, tribal and government leaders came together to discuss their role as community leaders in establishing sustainable peace.
This conversation is expanding. From November 7th to the 9th, Nigeria will host the Global Peace Leadership Conference and Festival; Moral and Innovative Leadership: Building Sustainable Peace for a Prosperous Future, that will bring religious, civic, business and government leaders from around Africa.
Events such as the Westgate siege leave shock, pain, and loss. However, from such destruction can rise greater cooperation and an affirmation of what binds us a one humanity.