Although the sign marking the location of Kagnoubé is just like any of the hundreds of others that line the roads of The Gambia, the changes that the community is currently leading are nothing short of extraordinary. This Mandinka community has been participating in Tostan’s Peace and Security Project, which strengthens peace-building at the community-level by reinforcing the communication and problem-solving skills learned during Tostan’s human rights-based education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). In recent months they have led development initiatives and mediations that allow them to better manage conflict and support peace in their village.

The community’s Peace Committee and the Community Management Committee (CMC) – democratically selected during Kagnoubé’s participation in the CEP – are leading these efforts. Traditionally, in many African villages, such groups are composed of the oldest and wisest male leaders — such as the village chief and imam — but in Kagnoubé, women and youth are now participating and often leading the process.

Take Seny Darboe for example. As Coordinator of the Community Management Committee, leading the community has become second nature to her. Since 2009, the year Kagnoubé completed the CEP, she has created and managed a bank account for communal funds to support numerous development activities. The CMC has led initiatives to clear dry grasses from around the village to prevent bushfires and to promote the community’s health by encouraging women and children to attend the health clinic. They have also succeeded in defusing a conflict between two families in the community through mediation.  Recently, the CMC realized that these activities served more than one purpose: while they furthered human development by protecting the community from environmental dangers, preventable diseases, and community conflict, they were simultaneously promoting human security as well.

Kunfiri Jamba is another example of a leader who is supporting peace in the community. Kunfiri is a member of the village’s Peace Committee, and she has become a peace messenger. After taking part in Tostan CEP classes about conflict analysis tools, mediation tips, and women’s potential role in resolving community conflict, she shared the information with her husband who in turn shared the information with his brother, the village chief. Together, Kunfiri and the village chief are equipping the Peace Committee with newfound capacities.

Interest in peace and security are not limited to just these women or the community groups where they are active participants. Because CEP classes have drawn on the Mandinka custom of sanaweyaa, or inter-ethnic group jokes often used in mediation, and the importance of peace according to Islam, they carry messages that are culturally relevant to all members of the village. In fact, songs — such as one outlining the parts of a conflict tree (a tool used for conflict analysis) — composed by participants in the class have become quite popular and can be heard being sung by all members of Kagnoubé.        

In the coming months, the Peace and Security Project is aiming to spread the peace-building strategies at play in villages like Kagnoubé across borders into neighboring countries. Soon, Gambians will have the opportunity to share the changes they have experienced with Senegalese communities who are also participating in the Peace and Security Project, who in turn will share with Bissau-Guineans. These cross-border meetings to discuss security in West Africa have the potential to lay the groundwork for sustainable peace across the entire region.  And that is something extraordinary.

Story by Hannah Fitter, Tostan.