Secure, Empowered, Connected Communities

Photo by Catianne Tijerina for CRS

The Central African Republic has been devastated by a series of violent conflicts and ongoing instability. CRS is working with communities to restore grassroots social cohesion, an important approach to breaking the cycle of violence. We are working with local structures of the Justice and Peace Commission and Inter-Religious Platform to repair the social fabric. We are strengthening resilience by training key religious and community leaders in social cohesion and trauma healing methods.

The success in CAR has allowed CRS to expand the project to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in fiscal year 2015.

PROJECT DETAILS

Official name of project: Secure, Empowered, Connected Communities

Project years: 2012-2015

Country: Central African Republic

Value of project: $14.9 million

Names of donors and partners: Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its counter-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Complex Crisis Fund (CCF) mechanisms.

CRS, with the following partners: Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Caritas Bangassou, the Justice and Peace Episcopal Commissions of Bouar and Bangassou, and the Central African Inter-Religious Platform 

GOALS OF THE PROJECT

The SECC program aims to enable cohesive, self-directed, and connected communities to avoid or reduce their exposure to threats associated with the presence of armed groups and ongoing conflict in areas most vulnerable to attack. The project also addresses ongoing interreligious/inter-communal tensions in CAR.

Initially conceived as a counter-LRA and community-based protection program in southeastern CAR, SECC responded to the current crisis by adding an objective in February 2014 to support communities’ ability to maintain and promote social cohesion and address inter-religious and intra-community conflicts. The program expanded to cover western parts of the country, including Bangui, where intercommunal violence had become widespread. 

NEED FOR THE PROJECT

Since 2012, the rise of the Seleka coalition in the Central African Republic and the competing emergence of anti-balaka militias have sparked social and political turmoil. Central Africans have witnessed terrible violence during this time and now face widespread trauma and the devastation of intercommunal relations. While the conflict has its roots in a history of poor governance and inequitable access to economic resources, conflict actors have seized upon differences in faith to divide communities. The resulting inter-religious dynamic has polarized a population struggling to rebuild their lives, livelihoods and communities, hence the need to integrate social cohesion programming into emergency response and recovery activities.

Although religion is not the root cause of the conflict, it can serve as a powerful tool in transforming individual behavior and uniting people in the common cause of peaceful reconciliation. While many public institutions in CAR have collapsed, religious institutions remain strong and widely respected for their neutrality, and as such, faith leaders have a key role to play in defusing religion as a conflict driver. It is for this reason that CRS/SECC has chosen to work largely through religious leaders in the implementation of social cohesion activities.

HOW WE DO IT

CRS has revitalized and strengthened existing Diocesan and Parochial Justice and Peace Commissions and inter-religious platforms in an effort to promote peace, justice and social cohesion throughout the country. Working through these local partners, CRS has established nine community social cohesion committees (CSCC), which bring together 20 communities. Those include more than 70 individual villages and neighborhoods consisting of Muslims, Christians, women, youth, and village and neighborhood chiefs. With ongoing training and support from project staff, CSCCs work to develop risk and resource maps and implement community protection and social cohesion plans. These tools are designed not only to help mitigate and prevent violent conflict, but also to strengthen social cohesion and address conflict drivers at the community level.

Working in close collaboration with the Central African Inter-Religious Platform, CRS/SECC has trained more than 1,300 religious and community leaders as ambassadors of social cohesion. In Bangui, more than  600 religious, civil society, and government leaders have been trained in social cohesion principles, many of whom have proceeded to lead neighborhood-level mobilization activities, culminating in the launch of a national social cohesion campaign and the organization of a week of inter-religious action and prayer at the end of May 2014.

In Ouham, Ouham-Pende, and Nana-Mambere, parts of northwestern CAR that have been particularly affected by violence, 760 religious and community leaders, including women, youth, and CSCC members have undergone training covering topics such as social cohesion, conflict mitigation, and human rights. On two separate occasions and in partnership with the Interreligious Platform of Bouar, social cohesion training was provided to 130 church and mosque leaders.

CRS’ signature social cohesion workshops cover topics such as conflict analysis, appreciative inquiry, personal responsibility, forgiveness, leadership and practical mediation techniques. Various metaphors allow participants to visualize the dynamics of conflict. A tool called the “barometer for peace” is used to map participants’ views on the current status of social cohesion, good governance and national pride in CAR. At the end of each workshop, participants work together to draft a common vision for their country. Programming emphasizes a process of binding, bonding and bridging which aims to restore the social fabric across faith and ethnic lines.

Trauma healing activities respond to the early recovery needs of Central Africans who have been severely impacted by violence, human rights violations and material losses. Trauma healing is necessary in order to break cycles of violence and establish environments in which intercommunal relations and trust can begin to be restored.

BY THE NUMBERS

  • More than 1,300 religious and community leaders have been trained as ambassadors of social cohesion.
  • Nine community social cohesion committees (CSCC) were established, bringing together more than 70 individual villages and neighborhoods consisting of Muslims, Christians, women, youth, and village and neighborhood chiefs.
  • More than 500 religious and community leaders, traditional healers and journalists have participated in SECC trauma healing workshops, with 85 trained to lead community-level trauma healing activities.

SUCCESS STORIES

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, CRS/SECC held a meeting with two representatives of USAID, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires David Brown, Imam Omar Kobine Layama of the Central African Inter-Religious Platform, a local imam, and anti-balaka representatives.  The objective of the meeting was to discuss how SECC social cohesion programming has helped the 7th arrondissement to become a model or pilot area of Bangui where imams and anti-balaka are working together to restore peace and rebuild social cohesion.

Jean-Baptiste Talla, the CRS regional technical adviser for peacebuilding who has facilitated many SECC social cohesion workshops, explained the transformation of an anti-balaka captain, Hervé Yombo, following the training. It was because of CRS’ social cohesion training that Hervé decided to quit the anti-balaka and work for peace.

He called Jean-Baptiste shortly afterward and told him that he wanted to start leading an awareness-raising campaign in the neighborhood, but Jean-Baptiste told him, “No, wait for things to calm down a bit first.”

But Hervé did not want to wait. He said, “If we wait, the enemies of peace will come and destroy what we’re doing.”

Jean-Baptiste then compared this to something he says during the workshop. “If you light a candle, often the wind will come and try to blow it out. But this man is holding his candle and I’m so proud of him.”

Here are some other quotes from the meeting:

“We, the anti-balaka, we need to approach our Muslim brothers to give them confidence. We have also, through CRS’ social cohesion training, raised awareness among many anti-balaka members. We learned during the CRS workshop that the problem is not unique to CAR. Rwanda and other countries have had war but have managed to advance and rebuild their countries. We need to copy these examples in order to reconcile. If we wait, we cannot advance for peace.” - Hervé Yombo (former anti-balaka captain)

“What CRS has done – it’s truly given us something necessary for the “vivre ensemble” (peaceful cohabitation). Thanks to CRS, we Muslims, we imams, we pastors and priests, we are now together. A pastor sheltered me for a month. I ask CRS to go out to the other parts of the country and to not forget us but to continue accompanying our work. We do not have a mosque – it was destroyed – but with the help of our anti-balaka brothers we have been able to hold Friday prayers again, and now they’re talking about helping us to rebuild the mosque.” -- Imam Mohammad Idriss Koyakonzou

Hervé then added: “We want to rebuild this mosque, if we have the means, in order to show everyone that we are serious about wanting peace. We want to go to other parts of the country to convince our brothers also.”

During  the closing ceremony of the first round of workshops, Imam Omar Kobine Layama said, “These workshops came at just the right moment because through the training we received we now understand that for a country to be stable and peaceful, we need good social, cultural, political, and economic cohesion…We must join forces in order to disarm the hearts of every citizen who is filled with vengeance and hatred.”  

OTHER CRS RESOURCES

1. Country Page for Central African Republic

2. CRS' Peacebuilding in Central African Republic

3. The Archbishop and the Imam: A Message of Peace in CAR

4. In Midst of Central African Republic Violence, Workshops Aim to Restore Peace

5. Youth Leaders Working for Peace in Central African Republic

6. Video: CRS Responds to the Deepening Central African Republic Crisis

7. A Young Man's Courage to Fight for Peace in Central African Republic

8. Central African Archbishop: "We Believe It's High Time That Justice is Reborn"