Earlier this summer, I facilitated a training in Peace Advocacy in Oussouye, Senegal as part of our ongoing work to support the Comites de Paix (Peace Committees) and community-based radio stations in the Casamance region. As discussed in the report of my last trip, the Casamancais people have endured a civil war between rebels and the Senegalese national government for the last 25 years.
At the youth festival, there were many spiritual creatures such as this one (left), which play a role in the traditional religion of the region.
The festival of youth culture was a profoundly exciting, engaging and effective experience, including ample opportunity for youth to sing, dance and compete together, as well as an intense day of collective dialogue about both the aspirations and the responsibilities facing the youth of the three countries. The festival culminated in the formal delivery of a declaration on the part of the youth to their respective leaderships at all levels.
A majority of the Peace Advocacy workshop participants also attended the festival, thus, despite the effort involved in moving quickly from one experience to the other, the kinetic energy and hope generated in Sindian carried over into the work in Oussouye. The Peace Advocacy participants were a large group (50 people), about one-half of them representatives of the local Peace Committees established by World Ed through the Peace in Casamance Project. The rest were staff of community radio stations that work in synergy with the Peace Committees, and staff from a number of NGOs.
Day one was focused on group discussion of the work of the Peace Committees in the year since they were formed, including both successes and continuing challenges. The successes described were striking examples of ways in which Committee members had intervened in both acute and repetitive conflicts to enable people to find effective solutions, for example in situations where youth routinely fight after football (soccer) matches. At the same time Committee members expressed discouragement about the tendency for their interventions to be received enthusiastically but without follow through. The purpose of this workshop thus was to further strengthen the capacity of this core of activists to affect others in their communities with a similar sense of confidence and responsibility regarding their own participation in contributing to either conflictual or peaceful coexistence.
At the conclusion of our 3-day Peace Advocacy workshop, the group met with the traditional King of Oussouye (right) in a sacred forest not far from our training site.
With the Committee members’ reflections as a basis, the group began to explore the process of advocacy, both as an organized and coordinated set of activities, and as a process all people use in everyday life in an effort to bring about what they want. The purpose of this dual approach was to underline the value in all citizens learning to see themselves as capable of speaking up, both for themselves and on behalf of others, in ways that respect the needs and interests of others as well.
From advocacy in general we moved to advocacy for peace. A thorough presentation was made of the findings of the Do No Harm project, as well as the Reflecting Peace Practices project. Together, these two sets of very solid findings provide data of critical importance to peace practitioners. Do No Harm (DNH) offers humanitarian workers guidelines and processes to use to ensure that their work does not cause unintentional harm. Reflecting Peace Practices (RPP) applies this work to the field of peacebuilding, and in addition provides solid evidence about what effective peace practice entails. This includes the necessity for peace initiatives to assure that their work synergizes with the work of others in ways which eventually lead to impact at the level of socio-political structures, as well as impact on the values and attitudes of people. This information greatly interested participants and provided guidance for beginning to engage in the process of building a peace advocacy campaign.
The rest of the workshop was spent with participants in various work groups, actually going through each step in the process of developing an advocacy campaign, from conflict analysis to context analysis, to development of goal, strategy and action plan. An emphasis was placed on the creation of effective messages for a campaign, which were practiced via role plays. Doubtless partly in response to the impact of the festival, the group chose the area of trans-border relations as its focus, and developed two separate nascent campaigns.
The workshop culminated in the entire group leaving our meeting room and walking through town for a visit to the traditional King of Oussouye in a sacred forest not far from our training site. This was an honor, and as Abdou Sarr (World Education’s Senegal Country Director) observed, it was transformed into an opportunity for advocacy for support of the project’s work for regional peace.
What was evident in this workshop was the extent to which the work of the Peace Committees has affected life and conflict in their communities. To say this was impressive hardly expresses how exceptional the work they have done is. The same is true for the radio staff, who take their responsibility as journalists for peace very seriously, and are generous in what they give to their work. I think a strength of this workshop lies in the way the RPP material instructs us to make sure that peace work is conceived to ultimately have an impact at the socio-political level, even if the work is primarily at the grass roots level. This impact may occur either within the project itself or through its synergies with other initiatives. Holding this focus helped immensely to support a sense of confidence that the work these Casamancais are doing may indeed affect the conditions of the lives of all Casamancais for the better. This helps to avoid the frequent experience of giving time, talent and passion to an endeavor which ultimately does not accumulate to peace in general.
The deep vibrant cultural traditions of Casamancais were in full flower during these 7 days. At the same time, the question arose of the evolution of culture as an ever-changing set of beliefs and guidelines. Traditional attitudes in the area of gender have rarely supported the equal human rights of women in any culture. Thus a question which I think presents itself currently for peace workers in Casamance is how to hold and nourish the values which truly do sustain the remarkable acceptance of multiple ethnic groups and religious traditions, and also introduce values concerning equal rights and opportunities for all groups, whether this concerns men and women, traditional leaders and new leaders who may emerge among women and youth, and other areas as well. Casamance is unique, outstanding, in my experience, in the richness and vibrancy of its human resources, and those resources seem far more than enough to both bring peace and develop patterns of living together which sustain it.
By Adin Thayer - Karuna Center Associate