Having completed Tostan’s 19-session module on themes related to peace and security, such as conflict resolution and mediation, the Senegalese community of Niaming, which lies close to the border of The Gambia, democratically elected a five-member Peace Committee. Two men, two women, and one youth were chosen and quickly got to work. Up to that point, arguments between husbands and wives, siblings, parents and children, and neighbors at times went unsettled or spread into new conflicts. Since the establishment of the Peace Committee, however, many of the community’s conflicts have been resolved.
Twenty years before, the relationship between the imam of the village and his younger brother was damaged due to a family conflict and they had not spoken since. When the Peace Committee was established, the younger brother asked if they could intervene. They went to the imam to ask what had happened and why he was angry, persuading him to open up by explaining that living side-by-side in the same community means that they are all his family. They asked if he would be open to talking with his brother if he came to visit him. When he agreed, the team prepared the younger brother and asked him to speak honestly and openly. They advised him to buy kola nuts and offer them to the imam, a traditional sign of respect. In the end, the brothers reconciled and are working to rebuild their relationship. The Peace Committee explained that after mediations like this it is important to follow up and make sure that concrete steps are being taken to maintain peace and that concerned parties are still talking and sharing their feelings.
The Peace Committee in the nearby village of Hamdallaye Alpha also experienced success after participating in the Peace and Security Project. In one case, two neighbors were disputing over the ownership of land they both were cultivating. The Peace Committee was summoned and, after some effort, successfully solved the conflict. One neighbor, Khalidou, agreed to let his elderly neighbor cultivate the land this year on the condition that it be returned to him the following year. This agreement served both parties well and the neighbors remain on good terms.
Peace Committees, like those in Niaming and Hamdallaye Alpha, recognize the importance of promoting peace beyond their local communities as well. One community member explained, “I can now say that my community lives in peace, but how can we really say that if our neighboring villages don’t have the same peace we have? We are not an island unto ourselves.”
As neighboring communities learned more about the Niaming and Hamdallaye Alpha Peace Committees and their successful mediations, delegations have come to seek their intervention. Some people even crossed the border from The Gambia to ask for help in mediating disputes. As mediation and conflict management skills spread, the Peace Committees ensure that the Peace and Security Project’s impact is felt across the region.