On September 25th, people from 32 villages traveled to the small community of Niaming, Senegal (less than 5 miles from the Gambian border) to celebrate the UN recognized International Day of Peace. These community members came from both sides of the Senegal-Gambia border and have all recently participated in Tostan’s Peace and Security Project. The meeting aimed to raise awareness of peace and security issues in the region and to explore best practices and lessons learned in conflict resolution and mediation.

Proposed and organized by community members in Niaming, their Community Management Committee (CMC), and their recently created Peace Committee, the event provided a way of sharing what they had learned through their participation in the Peace and Security Project.  Another important objective was to give Niaming’s Peace Committee, made up of five dynamic members of the community representing men, women and youth, the chance to tell others about their successful mediations throughout the border region.

The cross-border meeting was attended by over 200 people including a significant number of women — key, though often overlooked, stakeholders in the peace and conflict resolution arena.

Several speakers linked the meeting to the Muslim religion, which places an emphasis on peace. The relationship between peace and development was also discussed, recognizing the fact that development cannot take place without peace and so the two issues are inseparable. Health, education, and economic empowerment were some of the examples given as aspects of human security that cannot progress in an environment where conflict is commonplace.

Many participants stated that the border that separates Senegal and The Gambia has become increasingly meaningless, as conflicts and other problems often ignore manmade borders. Speakers from both countries highlighted the remarkable work done by Niaming’s Peace Committee. Community members from various social strata described how the Peace Committee has solved conflicts across the region, including the case of a local Imam who hadn’t spoken to his brother for 20 years. Representatives from The Gambia echoed their appreciation of the Niaming Peace committee and said they had sent delegations across the border to ask for its help.

To deepen community members’ understanding of how the conflict resolution and mediation process works, Niaming’s CMC had prepared an amusing and informative sketch which revolved around a man who accused his neighbor’s cows of destroying some of his crops.  When the neighbor refused to accept the blame, the son of the man whose crops were destroyed took revenge by sneaking into the neighbor’s fields and stealing some of his peanuts. The accused man’s son caught him in the act and proceeded to take him directly to see the Village Chief. The Village Chief asked the Peace Committee of Niaming to help him to mediate the disagreement and eventually, the men were able to come to a resolution — the neighbor promised to work harder to keep his cows from encroaching upon his neighbor’s fields, and the man whose fields were destroyed promised, in return, to control his son, since stealing is a serious crime in the community.

Overall, the cross-border meeting proved to be a great success, with many participants sharing important insights on issues of peace and security, serving as powerful examples of how peace can be achieved from the grassroots up.