Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, Critical Connections, and the Islamabad-based Peace and Education Foundation (PEF) are together leading a program, Collaborating Against Violent Sectarianism, to promote greater sectarian tolerance in Pakistan. A cycle of violence against members of different Islamic religious sects, mostly perpetrated by extremist organizations, has claimed over 2,300 lives since 2007 and contributes to much wider feelings of intolerance. However, faith-based groups and secular organizations in Pakistan have very different perspectives on the causes of militancy and how these should be addressed—so they fail to rally around a common agenda for promoting tolerance and peace. This is the problem our joint program addresses, by bringing together diverse secular and religious leadership in Pakistan.
This winter, Karuna Center began work on a 4½ year program to support the Commission of Peace and Security of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-nation trading bloc that has emerged as a powerful force for peace. Last fall, ECOWAS was widely praised for its use of diplomacy to help reverse a coup in Burkina Faso, allowing democratic elections to take place. ECOWAS includes some areas where Karuna Center has deep peacebuilding experience—such as Senegal, Liberia, and Ivory Coast—as well as places where the Boko Haram insurgency and other conflicts are ongoing. It will be a privilege to work with ECOWAS leaders to further hone their approach, with so much at stake.
Our work is a part of a larger USAID-funded project in collaboration with lead implementer Creative Associates International and the project, abbreviated as REWARD,* will support the West African leaders in ECOWAS to respond quicker and more effectively to emerging violent conflicts. While Karuna Center will focus primarily on strategies for effective non-military responses that can prevent the escalation of conflict, another partner in the project, Fund for Peace, will offer their renowned expertise on mechanisms for early warning. Karuna Center Executive Director Olivia Dreier and Senior Peacebuilding Advisor Maria Jessop recently led the team’s consultative assessment in Abuja, Nigeria with ECOWAS’ staff. The team was very impressed with the staff’s insight and skill and greatly look forward to co-developing innovations that could serve as a model for the continent.
Olivia was especially struck by Sam Koroma, a Sierra Leonean who will direct the REWARD project on the ground, including an additional component focused on preventing election violence. She asked him a couple of questions to learn more about his background, and these are his responses:
Olivia: What led you to become a peacebuilder?
Sam: My experience at the hands of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone for seven months made me want to give the rest of my life to finding peace for those suffering unjustly as a result of manmade political and economic conflict. I know the bitterness of war and conflict. Being in the hands of and controlled by drugged teenagers and warlords gave me enough reason to brave and work in the worst-affected communities to bring hope to the hopeless. If my intervention could put a smile on someone's face, that fulfills my dream. (For a full account of Sam’s extraordinary experience during the civil war in Sierra Leone, read this article he wrote for the Washington Post.)
Olivia: Why were you interested in playing a leadership role in the REWARD project, in particular?
Sam: After spending some 16 years working in the most difficult regions in Africa and Asia, such as post-war Sierra Leone, Karamoja in Northern Uganda, the Turkana regions of Kenya, Darfur in Sudan, and the marginalized Terai regions of Nepal—all working with local peace structures to lay down solid foundations for sustainable peace and reintegration—working for the REWARD project, particularly with political leaders and civil society organizations, crowns it all. Being able to reach and plan with West Africa's policy makers through the REWARD project is in many ways further fulfilling my dream. If political leaders are engaged in mapping collective strategies to peace and development through early warning and early response to conflict and diseases, that will go a long way to mitigate unnecessary suffering for mankind. Better policies, alternative strategies for peace, should be the concern of our leaders in West Africa.
*REWARD is an acronym for Reacting to Early Warning and Response Data.
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