“There is so much wisdom in this room”: Reflections from a recent religious actors peer convening

In late January, we co-organised a peer convening of religious actors in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss how findings from our recent report on the role of religious actors in formal peacemaking could help to encourage more thoughtful and effective engagement of religious actors in peace processes in the Horn of Africa. In this blog, our Peace Process Support Advisor, Rainer Gude, shares key findings and takeaways from the event.

At Inclusive Peace, we often organise peer exchanges and we know from experience that people have a lot to learn from each other’s stories and reflect on recent research collectively.

Recently, we convened with religious actors from Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Sudan to discuss how findings from our recent Peaceworks report on the role of religious actors in formal peace processes could help to encourage more thoughtful and effective engagement of religious actors in peace processes in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. We wanted to share a glimpse of what these collective reflection processes might bring to us as peace practitioners.

So what did the combination of collective reflection on research, storytelling, and strategising produce during the convening? Here are my thoughts.

First, it became clear to me that people find not only solace but new strength and new ideas in learning from others. Participants felt that the different contexts, though very different, had a lot to teach one another.

I also got a sense of an emerging regional network of religious actors. The power they have to support one another was evident and the request to continue to convene and accompany each other through the peace work was expressed.

During the peer convening, I saw how religious actors realised that they could create collaborations and support each other bilaterally across country borders. Many new connections were created and existing relationships strengthened.

I knew we religious actors do good work, but now I have some new vocabulary and proof to explain what we do for peace. (Participant at the religious actors peer convening)

Tools, concepts, and even simple vocabulary to better explain and map what and how religious actors work were found to be useful. At the same time, it was also expressed that religious actors, while having rich and large networks, also need capacity and support to fulfill their peace work. An important area that often came up during the conversion was trauma healing – without the knowledge of how to deal with both their traumas and the traumas of their constituents, the impact of even the most “useful” research” will be limited.

Lastly, what stood out to me, was the importance of bringing people together and creating, and holding the space, for collective learning.

What ensues is often out of the facilitator’s or convenor’s control, which is a good thing – the organic work of the participants can emerge where it needs to.

This was an important step. There is so much wisdom in this room and so much we learned from one another. I hope we continue to walk and work together. (Participant at the religious actors peer convening)

In his peacebuilding classic “The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace”, John Paul Lederach speaks of the “critical yeast” rather than the critical mass, of people that need to come together from across a system to change it. In his understanding, change emerges when the potent ingredients of a mixed group (age and regionally), applied research, and a facilitated process come together.

In Nairobi, I saw this emerging mix play out. New cross-border initiatives were created in this fertile mixture of ingredients and the result might very well be the necessary critical yeast to set change in motion.


Religious Actors in Formal Peace Processes

This report presents a qualitative analysis of whether and how religious actors can influence formal peace processes. Originating from collaboration between the United States Institute of Peace, Inclusive Peace, and the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, it draws on Inclusive Peace’s database, academic and policy research, and a series of regional consultations with religious actors involved in peacemaking and peacebuilding and other peace practitioners.

November 2023|Thania Paffenholz, Alexander Bramble,