On April 11, 2024, around 30 representatives from various religious communities and faith-based organizations (FBOs) across Africa and Europe convened for the second session in a series of online exchanges. This initiative aims to share insights, experiences, and perspectives on fostering inclusive and meaningful engagement with grassroots communities within the African Union-European Union (AU-EU) Partnership.

Purpose of the Exchange

The dialogue provides a joint learning space for informal conversations, aimed at developing insights and formulating strategies for deeper grassroots involvement. These discussions could culminate in the creation of a document to be communicated at an institutional level.

The Role of FBOs in Enhancing Participation

Participants emphasized the unique contributions of faith within secular institutions, noting that social interactions shaped by faith are deeply concerned with the well-being of all community members. Highlights from the discussion included:

  • Authority and Respect: In some regions, FBOs often have greater access and authority than governmental and other civil society organizations. Their inclusion in policy-making is therefore crucial.
  • Listening and Co-Creation: Faith communities’ deep experience in listening can foster the creation of self-driven spaces for community engagement.
  • Mobilization and Empowerment: FBOs can effectively mobilize and empower local populations, facilitating bottom-up approaches in policy creation.

Meaningful Participation in Public Policies

To ensure grassroots populations play an active role in decision-making, the discussions underscored the need for a bottom-up approach. Key points included:

  • Active Role: Grassroots populations should be agents, not just beneficiaries, of initiatives.
  • Documentation and Learning: Systematic documentation of experiences can facilitate joint learning and reflection within communities.
  • Inclusive Spaces: Genuine inclusion requires moving beyond mere negotiation to truly account for the majority’s experiences.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Training on multiculturalism and European cultural practices can enhance dialogue effectiveness.
  • Existing Good Practices: Learning from successful models like the Pan African Bishops Conference and African Union Interfaith Dialogue can guide future efforts.

Challenges in Engagement

Engaging with the state poses risks, including fears of political accusations, particularly for minority religious groups. Additional challenges highlighted included:

  • Perceptions of Preaching: Engagement efforts by religious actors are sometimes viewed as preaching.
  • Consultation Mechanisms: The lack of permanent consultation mechanisms hampers sustained engagement.
  • Data Reliability: Engaging FBOs directly at the grassroots level can yield more accurate data, as governmental data may be politically biased.
  • Fundamental Rights: Basic human rights issues, such as inadequate housing and food, often hinder engagement efforts.

Moving Forward

The group proposed alternating the organization of future meetings between European and African organizations. This rotational approach aims to balance perspectives and enhance mutual understanding.

By addressing these challenges and leveraging the strengths of FBOs, the AU-EU Partnership can foster more inclusive, effective grassroots engagement, ensuring that policies are shaped by and for the communities they impact.


Br. Elvis Ng’andwe, M.Afr.

AEFJN Executive Secretary