In Gabon, Muslims invite Christians into mosques to pray for peace

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — In Gabon, Christians joined Muslims this week to pray for peace as the country holds a month-long “national dialogue” intended to pave the way for military leaders to transfer power to a civilian government.

Clerics say that among the approximately 700 civilians who attended this year’s Eid al-Fitr prayers Wednesday at the Central Mosque in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, were scores of Christians. The Eid al-Fitr prayers marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan. 

Tidjani Babagana, grand imam of Muslims in Gabon, told Gabon’s state TV that during prayers he launched an appeal for reconciliation, peace, temperance and internal harmony among citizens who are looking forward to changes at the helm of the government. He also reminded civilians who are waiting for the government to improve their living conditions that it is a prescription in the Holy Quran to respect state authority. 

Babagana said both Muslims and Christians should celebrate Eid al-Fitr as a sign of fraternity, interreligious tolerance and living together in peace, despite the challenges Gabon is facing. 

The faithful who gathered for prayers say the country has suffered a crime wave — including theft, assault and highway robbery — since transitional president General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema ordered the release of over 500 prisoners in late March.  

The general seized power from President Ali Bongo in a bloodless coup last August. Nguema said he took control to improve living conditions in the oil-producing nation because its citizens remained poor during the 56 years of leadership by Ali Bongo and his father, Omar Bongo. 

Gabon’s Civil Society Group says the central African state now faces the challenges of a transition to civilian rule. A transitional charter introduced by the general last November bars all members of the current government from becoming candidates in presidential elections, with the exception of Nguema. 

This month, Nguema launched what is billed as an Inclusive National Dialogue, which he said will prepare an economic blueprint and a calendar to organize elections that will hand power to civilians. 

Bruno Nguema Ela, the president of Gabon’s citizens in the diaspora, took part in Eid al-Fitr prayers. He said opposition and civil society want Nguema to reassure civilians that he will not hang on to power. 

Ela said Gabon’s diaspora is happy with efforts by Nguema to stop the Bongo dynasty from maintaining its grip on power, and added that the transitional government should make sure it hands power to civilians so Gabon does not sink into social unrest and political crisis. 

Firman Maurice Nguema, one of the spokespersons with the commission that will lead discussions in Gabon’s national dialogue, said General Nguema is committed to providing Gabon with functioning state institutions before handing power to constitutional order. He said Nguema wants Gabon to be a peaceful country where democratic choices and rights and liberties of civilians are respected. 

The transitional government says Christians joined Muslims in feasts across the central African state this week. Muslim clerics say that nationwide, prayers were for peace and a return to constitutional order without chaos. 

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