“The whole team at the Aegis Trust joins with Central Africans in mourning Imam Omar Kobine Layama following his untimely death on Saturday November 28th,” says Dr James Smith, Chief Executive of the Aegis Trust. “A brave and humble leader, his shoes will be hard for anyone to fill, but he leaves behind a legacy of peacebuilding which will inspire all of us who worked with him in this cause to redouble our efforts.”
Working closely with Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, Imam Layama – President of the Islamic Council in CAR – played a critical role in helping to prevent his country’s slide into further violence during the crisis which followed the Seleka takeover in 2013 and ensuing reprisals by the Anti-Balaka. At the height of that violence, the Imam’s life was protected by the Cardinal (then Archbishop) who took him and his family into his residence in Bangui.
Together, the three faith leaders founded the Platform of Religious Confessions of the Central African Republic (PCRC). For many Central Africans, seeing the Imam, the Cardinal and the Pastor sharing a public platform presented an incredibly powerful message of interfaith unity and leadership in the face of violence which had torn apart previously peaceful Christian and Muslim communities. It was an example with resonated globally. In 2014, TIME Magazine listed them among the 100 most influential people in the World, and their work for peace was recognised with several international awards.
Prior to the Imam’s sudden illness and death in hospital on Saturday, the three faith leaders had been planning a visit to Bria, capital of the Haute-Kotto prefecture, to calm rising tensions and help counter the potential for armed violence ahead of CAR’s general elections.
“Imam Layama was a tireless builder of bridges who transcended divisions between faith communities in the Central African Republic,” says Freddy Mutanguha, Executive Director of the Aegis Trust. “We were honoured to host him and his colleagues at the Kigali Genocide Memorial when they came to learn about Rwanda’s experience of genocide, and it was our privilege to work with him as partners for peace in his country up to the present time. We are filled with sadness at his passing, but also with a deeper sense of determination. With violence continuing, our work to support peacebuilding in the Central African Republic is more urgent than ever. Without Imam Layama the road will be harder, but his courageous example spurs us on.”
Imam Layama was laid to rest on Sunday in a funeral attended by his fellow faith leaders together with the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, and many citizens of Bangui.