Updated: Jul 23
Balqesa is a young peace ambassador, youth and women empowerment expert, with senior-level expertise in many international organizations.
Balqesa is among the pioneers of Eastern Africa Youth Forum, an initiative started by youth in Kenya which gave birth to annual forums currently conducted in 9 countries across Eastern Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Burundi Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan).
In a bid to build peace and coexistence among communities, Balqesa has embraced global
citizenship and travelled widely in many parts of the globe both for work and mainly voluntarily to follow her passion in social transformation.
You can join us in a live conversation with Balqesa on July 26th.
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Why do you think interfaith dialogue is important when promoting peace and security on the continent?
I believe that interfaith dialogue provides an opportunity to clarify doubts and address perceptions and misconceptions. As you have seen in many parts of the world, there are so many issues of terrorism linked to young people and linked to beliefs and religions. I also think it is important to address certain issues and clarify that terrorism isn’t necessarily linked to the youth or a certain religion.
The best lessons for me were in northern Nigeria and northern Kenya. I have also worked closely with the Garissa University, which in 2015 suffered an attack that claimed the lives of 148 people. The university was closed and tensions arose that affected the community at large, and the youth were in the middle of this mess. I believe this is a topic that needs to be discussed on a platform like this. Youth should be taking the lead in making sure that misconceptions, misperceptions and stigma can be addressed. They are the ones who can bring forth transformational changes in the continent.
Could you share any examples of the kind of transformational change inter-faith dialogue can achieve?
The most powerful one I was involved in was the Garissa University event. When the university was attacked and 148 people were killed, the university closed and there was a lot of tension inside the region. Students believed that they could not be safe in that space. Of course, being the only university in the entire northern Kenya region, this affected higher education for the entire region.
I will be happy to share the Garissa university story and others. This is a bit personal, but being a Muslim on the continent who has travelled abroad and widely, I have also been affected by stigma. Were it not for my exposure and the things I’ve been involved in, the mediation skills that I have learnt, the peace processes I’ve been in, I could have developed a grudge against someone of a different faith. You can imagine how that can be built up and produce conflict, internally as a person as well as within a community.
Through a series of interfaith dialogues, we managed to fight for the reopening of the university and even from inter-faith champions within the university who are now doing an incredible job.
Can you tell us more about these inter-faith champions?
These champions are from both faiths, the Christian and Muslim faiths which are the majority in the university. They are often from their own Christian union or Muslim society at the university. They subscribe to their churches and mosques, but they come together and bring their fellow students together.
The beauty of the champions is that they go beyond the university. They speak to their pastors and Imams in different churches and mosques in the city, ensuring they take a role in addressing the issue of misperception and stigma. They help communities inside and outside the school embrace unity and diversity, which is what the whole world is looking up to and looking for. Now that we cannot travel to the university anymore, we are having virtual sessions.
What lessons can we learn from these interfaith champions?
There are so many lessons we’ve learnt. Firstly, it is very important to partner with religious leaders. Our strength has always been having religious leaders on board because the religious leaders within the university are linked to the religious leaders outside the university. Having them and their communities on board is a very powerful approach for us to reach as widely as we can.
The other lesson we’ve learnt is the importance of security people on the ground. They are important in this exercise. Their role is to ensure that there is law in order, but they are also partners and attend the dialogue.
Of course, another important lesson is the value of having unity among the leadership of the champions from both faiths.
What do you hope to speak about and achieve with the webinar?
I aim to zoom in on the experiences I have been involved in. There will be more, but I don’t want to pre-empt everything that we will be discussing. I will also be happy to answer the questions of individuals and organisation or youth groups that would like to learn from I have done.