This blog was co-written by Mark Kamara, Programme Coordinator for U-Report, and Corina Pickering, Partnerships and Communications Manager Restless Development.
Kalangba is a rural village in Bombali District, which is in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, with a population of 3,000 people, according to the last census in 2016. It is a multicultural community; the majority of its citizens belong to the Loko ethnic group, with minority Fula and Mandingo populations.
There has been ongoing tensions and conflict within the community, ever since the elections in 2018. Different political views have led to tensions, with people arguing or not talking to each other for long periods of time. In the ataya bases, meeting places where people, mostly young men, come together and drink a strong type of tea, some young people were fighting, and arguments were breaking out in market places and schools.
The community leaders (Councillor and Section Chief) recognised the size of the problem in their community. They began to organise a peace march, and invited everyone in the community to attend. They even asked people who had relocated (to other parts of the country, such as the capital city of Freetown) to come back to the community for the march. They asked them all to wear black and white—a symbol of peace—as a way of avoiding political party colours, red and blue, that could trigger more conflict.
As a part of our U-Report project, Restless Development staff supported young volunteers to go to Kalangba, and hold a meeting with the Councillor and Section Chief. They explained the U-Report project, and proposed to them that they hold a meeting with the community on peacebuilding, more specifically to discuss a recent U-Report poll. U-Report is a social messaging tool and data collection system developed by UNICEF to improve citizen engagement, inform leaders, and foster positive change. It sends SMS polls and alerts to its participants, collecting real-time responses, and subsequently publishes gathered data. There are over 152,000 U-Reporters in Sierra Leone, and 8.4 million worldwide, who are voicing their opinions about issues they care about.
“U-Report is very useful for community development, if only the community takes ownership of it, and they sign up in numbers.The Councilor of Kalangba
During their initial meeting, the leaders told the volunteers about the conflict they’d been having in their community, and the march they had organised. They asked the volunteers to hold their meeting with the community the following week, after their peace march.
The next week, after the peace march, the volunteers held their meeting with the community. They had a great turnout, with over 100 people coming to the meeting.
The community discussed the U-Report poll – the poll said that youth unemployment was what was causing conflict across Sierra Leone. But, in Kalangba, people disagreed, and said that it was political differences that was causing their tension and conflict. The volunteers asked them questions, centred around what was affecting them in their community. For example, they asked ‘what is the main source of conflict in this community?’ and ‘who is responsible to keep the peace in this community?’, and gave options such as the police, the Councillor, or the Paramount Chief. There was no straight answer among the people – the responses were very mixed. However, in the end, the Section Chief took the mic, and said ‘it’s true that various leaders do have a responsibility, but it is the responsibility of every single community member to keep the peace in the community’.
The community then came up with some resolutions—agreeing what they would each do to ensure a peaceful community going forward:
Resolution 1. During elections, we will receive all politicians coming to the community with open arms, not restricted to only supporters welcoming their own party’s candidates.
Resolution 2. Community leaders (e.g. Paramount Chiefs, Section Chiefs, or religious leaders such as pastors and imams) should not openly support or campaign for a political party.
Resolution 3. When political parties hang their political campaign materials in the community, nobody should tear them down as long as they are on public buildings.
Resolution 4. Political discussions are prohibited in certain areas where tensions often rise (such as ataya bases, youth centres, and football matches).
After these resolutions, women began chanting songs about peace, people were happy, and people who were before against each other, hugged.
It’s clear that young people have an important role to play in resolving conflict and building peace in Sierra Leone. And, with 80% of Sierra Leoneans under 35 years old, if the sector can support young people to build resilient and sustainable communities, we will see a more peaceful Sierra Leone.
How can you get involved?