The African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA), with support from its partners – the Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN), Church of England, and in collaboration with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) and African Parliamentarians Network for Human Rights (AfriPAHR), under the auspices of the FoRBLN initiative, organised an exchange visit a six member delegation of the Sierra Leone Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB to The Gambia from February 13-15, 2023.

The six-member team undertook the exchange visit with a view to learning from key stakeholders in The Gambia involved in the promotion and protecting of FoRB in that country. They hoped to exchange ideas, learn best practices on the implementation of FoRB, and above all, forge collaboration with key stakeholders, especially with The Gambia Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB in the promotion and protecting of FoRB in the two sister countries.

The engagement meetings during the two-day visit with key stakeholders kick-started on 13th February, 2023 with a meeting with the Christian Council of The Gambia. A three-member team (comprising Rev Jimmy Cole from the Presbyterian Church, Rev Gabriel Leonard Allin from the Methodist Church and Madam Rachel Grace Nicol from the Catholic Church) met with the parliamentary delegation.

Sierra Parliamentary Caucus members on FoRB and representatives from the Christian Council of The Gambia

The Gambia Christian Council representatives highlighted the peaceful and harmonious relationship between people of different religious beliefs; and in their view, this is attributable to close family ties that have characterised The Gambia society. Another factor that has contributed tremendously to peaceful co-existence among people of different faith and creed in the Gambia is inter-marriages across faith and beliefs. Notwithstanding the peaceful co-existence and harmonious inter communal relationship, there are still challenges with the potential to undermine freedom of religion or belief in The Gambia.

Following a successful meeting with the members of The Gambia Christian Council, the delegation proceeded to meet with representatives of The Gambia Teachers Union. Again, the message they adopted for FoRB sensitization in the various regions and districts across the country was dubbed ‘’Give Peace a chance’’. The main plank of their activities were seminars and school competition. A platform was created for messaging involving the youth caucus, inter-generational groups, and women involved in peace building.

Members of the Sierra Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB with representatives of the Gambia teachers’ union.

The final day of the two-day exchange visit started with the visit to the Supreme Islamic Council. The president of the Supreme Islamic Council, Imaam Issa Darboe welcomed the idea of the exchange visit and indicated that it provides the opportunity to learn from one another other and expressed the wish to visit Sierra Leone. He observed that the Supreme Islamic Council serves as the umbrella body for unifying all Muslim sects in the country, and that it also aims to unify all Islamic scholars. The key challenge they face, he noted, is the different interpretations of Islam. To address this, regional and district committees have been established to oversee the conduct of Islamic preaching and coordinate their activities.. He underscored the need to train the preachers, especially the youth who are more disposed to hate speech and extremism. To this end, the supreme Islamic council is developing rules to regulate religious activities in the country.

With regards to relationship with the Christian community, the President of the Supreme Islamic Council intimated that it is very cordial. They hold regular dialogue meetings with representatives of the Christian Council to consolidate the burgeoning relations between the two great religions. He however noted small incidences between the two religions have been recorded but those are not significant to undermine the excellent relations that currently exist between them.

The President of the Supreme Islamic Council with members of Sierra Leone Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB

The highlight of visit was a courtesy call on the Speaker of the National Assembly of The Gambia Rt. Hon Fabakary T. Jatta. With him at the meeting were Mr. Momodou Sise, Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Gibani Janneh, Director of Communication, and other officials from his office. The Rt. Hon Speaker expressed his unwavering support for the fight for Human Rights and noted that he supported the establishment of The Gambia Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB. He underscored the close bonds between Sierra Leone and The Gambia, noted that the fundamental mandate of Parliament is to ensure the protection of the interests of citizens including freedom of religion, or belief. He urged members of the delegation to work hard to consolidate the gains of co-operation between their two countries using the parliamentary caucus on FoRB as the vehicle.

Rt. Hon Speaker with members of the parliamentary delegation

The final engagement by the visitors was with members of The Gambia Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB. The Chairman of The Gambia Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB, Hon. Amadou Camara, gave a brief background about the activities of the Gambian Caucus. He indicated that before the official launch of The Gambia Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB, that took place on 3rd Dec, 2022, individual members of parliament who were passionate about Human Rights issues were actively advocating for FoRB in The Gambia. They used different platforms for advocacy including the floor of the House of Parliament, at Constituency level during engagement with constituents, and at International forums. ‘’Give peace a chance’’ was the message they crafted to embark on their advocacy campaigns. One of their daunting challenges has been conflicting time schedules for committee work, international conferences, etc.

Undoubtedly, the exchange visit has been incredibly successful. Members of the Sierra Leone Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB were hugely impressed with the warmth with which they were received and were equally satisfied with what they learned from the exchange visit.

Representatives of The Sierra Leone Parliamentary Caucus on FoRB with their counterparts from The Gambia

Source: Contributor

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