(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

Interreligious dialogue and peaceful coexistence in the North Province of Cameroon

Summary of research carried out: 
Interreligious dialogue and peaceful coexistence in the North Province of Cameroon

Northern Cameroon is a classic site of the meeting between Islam and Christianity on the southern shores of Lake Chad. The most important feature of northern Cameroon is the profound social change caused by Islam. A socio-political and historic analysis of the impact of islamization on the region provides insight into the dynamics of inter-ethnic and interreligious relations. For example, the newly “islamized” pagan populations of northern Cameroon maintain a religious syncretism that is tolerated by the Muslims. Ancestral inter-ethnic relations, shaped by the Peule conquest and the Islamo-Peule domination over the non-Muslim populations through colonization and the post-colonial State, had given rise to a desire for vengeance on the part of non-Muslim peoples which, with time, faded away and turned into fascination: adoption of the Islamo-Peule model (clothing, weapons, horses, royal titles, language and type of shelter).

The islamization of those populations resulted in their depersonalisation, acculturation and “foulbeization”. This process was and still is the result of a special historic dynamic that guarantees peace and peaceful coexistence. How, then, can we explain the explosion of inter-ethnic and interreligous violence in neighbouring Nigeria, the territory which served as a stepping stone for the islamization of the state of Adamawa? Political, economic and social claims are in fact motivated by religious and ethnic factors. The emergence of political parties between 1950 and 1960, and especially of the Northern Peoples Congress to which the Muslims pledged allegiance, turned traditional political, economic and social claims into purely Islamic and ethnic claims. Islam made it possible for Muslim political leaders to create sectarian divisions and to present the Muslim religion as a mechanism capable of replacing the existing system adequately and practically by providing political solutions to the country’s social problems. The involvement of religious personnel in Nigeria’s political and social life thus becomes undeniable and religion becomes in this context an instrument for the violent appropriation of national resources. Yet religion can bring about a return to national unity through the establishment of a religious dialogue similar to that in fashion in northern Cameroon, or at least by the initiation of a genuine ecumenical rapprochement similar to Acadir (Cameroonian Association for Interreligious Dialogue).


21 May 2007

Translated from French by UNESCO