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Jun 21, 2017

Supporting local villages to end war in Senegal

In our last report, we wrote about the successful gathering of women leaders from 21 villages, who convened in the town of Djiamande to formally "call the rebels home" to their communities (with your support!). Their actions included rituals, traditional song and dance, and community meetings to discuss the peace process. The rebels' spiritual obligations to fight for independence were formally removed by the regional priestess of the sacred forest, assisted by women from the villages throughout the area. In case you missed it, this local news report, from Senegal, includes footage of the event:

News report from Senegal: event led by women in Djiamande
(subtitled, 2 minutes)

Our current total raised through GlobalGiving since we began fundraising last year is $6,053. Thank you! We spent $5,800 of that money on the gathering of women leaders in Djiamande. Because local villagers donated bags of rice and people gave each other rides to the events, we were able to reduce costs of food and transportation so that each donation we received stretched a long way. 

Now, we have turned our attention toward next steps. Since the gathering in Djiamande, we have raised $253 through GlobalGiving which we have set aside to support a series of community meetings and peace advocacy with combatants. Our fundraising goal for this is $4,500. To plan the next phase of work, our Senegalese peacebuilding associate, Joachim Diene, has been gathering information about community needs in Goudomp Department, Casamance, which has been hard-hit by the conflict. In that area, there are a number of dormant rebel encampments, and nearby villagers recently became worried those encampments could be reactivated—by rebels returning from The Gambia due to the political changes, and by combatants who were not influenced by our previous programs with priestesses. 

The Casamance region of Senegal strongly values the traditional democracy of its local villages; it is said that each village is a republic. The collective advocacy of villages in Goudomp, together with our previous efforts with women in the areas of Oussouye and the Blouf, could be a deciding factor that keeps rebel forces involved in the peace process and prevents them from taking up arms again. 

In order to allow us to fundraise over a longer period of time, we have included this newest initiative as part of our overall project on GlobalGiving rather than as a separate microproject. As a result, we have increased the goal for our project. 

Thank you for your support of grassroots peacebuilding in Senegal!

Gathering of priestesses in Oussouye
Gathering of priestesses in Oussouye
Women leaders gathered in Djiamande
Women leaders gathered in Djiamande

Links:

Mar 24, 2017

Senegalese women leading peace - event video, and next steps!

Women leaders gather in Djimande, 12/28
Women leaders gather in Djimande, 12/28

Now that our program's major gathering has taken place, we have planned some next steps. We want to keep you informed about what has been accomplished, and tell you about the new microproject we are launching as a result!

Background: Villages in the Casamance are afflicted by landmines, raids, and drug trafficking -- the results of over 30 years of low-intensity warfare between the national government and an armed independence movement. The people of Senegal's Casamance region are weary of this conflict. They want peace. This means rebel fighters will need to return home and readjust to community life. A national peace process is now politically possible, but after three decades of conflict, it will take work at the community level to make this peace a reality.

REPORT ON THE EVENT:

On December 28, women leaders from 21 villages gathered in the town of Djimande to formally "call the rebels home" to their communities. Their actions included rituals, traditional song and dance, and community meetings to discuss the peace process. This local news report, from Senegal, includes footage of the event:

News report from Senegal at our Dec. 28 event (subtitled, 2 minutes)

The rebels' spiritual obligations to fight for independence were formally removed by the regional priestess of the sacred forest, assisted by women from villages throughout the area. At the time when village men joined the fight for Casamance independence, the priestess accorded them sacred vows and spiritual protections. Breaking these vows is widely believed to bring about death for the fighters or their loved ones. That is why these women came together, with your support, to “undo” those vows and ask the men to dedicate themselves to the peace process.

As a result of the December 28 event, rebel fighters are now able to lay down their weapons, participate in the peace process, and look ahead to reintegrating into village life. When we held a similar gathering with priestesses in the region of Oussouye, rebel raids on those communities stopped. We hope that the same peace will hold in the area surrounding Djiamande!

Due to the post-election crisis in the bordering nation of The Gambia, it was important to act right away, even though our fundraising had not quite met its target. (We have reduced the project goal to reflect actual hard costs). Program participants and peace advocates brought their own bags of dry rice and other goods in order to help feed the hundreds of people in attendance. Karuna Center also made donations to this project, and we take no administration fees for this project.

NEXT STEPS:

Political changes in the neighboring nation of Gambia have created new worries for communities in the Casamance. Villagers are concerned that rebel forces that were sheltered in the Gambia will become active once they return to Senegal. In response, we are launching a new microproject that will help local villages unite to prevent further violence. Our goal is to raise $4,500 over the next 90 days.

The microproject: In one particular area, east of our gatherings with the priestesses, there are a number of dormant rebel encampments. Nearby villagers are becoming worried that fighters returning across the border from The Gambia will reactivate these encampments. They could potentially be joined by a small number of other rebels who did not take on sacred vows and were not impacted by our earlier peacebuiding programs with priestesses. Our microproject will reach out to these groups of people who did not participate in our earlier programs.

We will convene two series of community meetings, to help villages forge a local peace process and advocate collectively against further violence by rebel forces. We anticipate these villages will send delegations to the rebel encampments, to advocate against further violence. Because the area of Casamance served by this microproject has different customs, community meetings (with both women and men) are more appropriate than gatherings with priestesses.

The collective advocacy of these villages could be a deciding factor that keeps rebel forces involved in the peace process and prevents them from taking up arms again. This region of Senegal strongly values the traditional democracy of its local villages. This project is developed and led by Senegalese peacebuilders who understand how to support and leverage local leadership so that rebel combatants and villagers can work together in the peace process so that the rebels in this area, like those impacted by our previous initiatives, will be able to lay down their weapons and return home.

Thank you for supporting grassroots peacebuilding in Senegal!

Dancing was part of the ritual actions for peace
Dancing was part of the ritual actions for peace
Women approach Djimande to lead the 12/28 rituals
Women approach Djimande to lead the 12/28 rituals
Singing was also part of calling the rebels home
Singing was also part of calling the rebels home

Links:

Dec 19, 2016

Thanks to your support, this project will go forward beginning December 28 2016!

We have good news! Thanks to your support, this project will go forward beginning on December 28, 2016!

Brief background on the project: After 34 years of fighting, rebel factions in the Casamance region of Senegal are ready to engage in a peace process, and the people want a negotiated settlement that will bring an end to war. However, the villages' independence fighters assumed sacred vows and spiritual protections at the beginning of their cause. Breaking these vows is widely believed to bring about death for the fighters or their loved ones. 

Traditional village priestesses also want to see an end to the conflict, and they are ready to act as peace leaders. But releasing so many fighters from their sacred vows all at the same time is a large undertaking, involving hundreds of women, dozens of villages, and very specific rituals. In the local context, the cost is expensive. This project supports village priestesses and women of the bois sacré (sacred forest) to formally “undo” the fighters' vows, purify the combatants, and release them from their obligation to fight. Through rituals and community meetings, they will help free the rebel combatants to return home to their communities, begin the work of rebuilding their lives, and enter into peace negotiations. With a small investment of funds, a significant obstacle to peace can be lifted.

We look forward to sending you a full report on program activities in January. For now, we have three key updates as we prepare to go forward this month:

1. Increased community involvement is offsetting costs:

As you may be aware, our goal for this program was to raise $8,500; we didn't quite get there, and we are proceeding anyway. Since the program needed to go forward immediately—without the full amount needed to cover costs—many of the people who will be involved in this program have pooled their resources to offer in-kind support. Program participants and peace advocates are bringing their own bags of dry rice and other goods in order to help feed the hundreds of people who are expected to attend. Others have come together to offer the women rides to the program site to lower transportation costs. Our program coordinator, a highly skilled peacebuilding expert and facilitator, is also donating time. (In order to make sure hard costs are covered, Karuna Center is not taking money to administer this program.)

With this impressive surge of community support, the program will go forward beginning on December 28.

2. The shifting political context means we should act right away:

The bordering nation of the Gambia experienced a stunning electoral upset on December 1, 2016. This event is having an impact on the Senegalese peace process. The Gambia’s incumbent President of 22 years has ties to the Casamance and shares an ethnic background with many of the Casamance independence fighters; many of the rebel combatants who will be engaged in our program are actually living in the Gambia.

Now that the incumbent Gambian President has been defeated, the Senegalese rebels living in the Gambia have a more uncertain future. They feel a more urgent need to return home to their villages in the Casamance and begin the process of reintegrating into village life—but without the priestesses’ intervention, they will be unable to do so.

Meanwhile, our program coordinator has been reporting from meetings within the Casamance that the priestesses are eager to implement the project in December. During one local peace network’s meeting with combatants and villagers at the end of November, the rebel combatants themselves reiterated their desire to return home to their villages as soon as possible and enter into dialogue with the state.

3. Our action builds on previous success, but will be culturally specific to the Blouf area:

This project comes on the heels of a very successful initiative that we organized in the nearby area of Oussouye, Casamance. That initiative brought together 500 priestesses and women leaders to free the combatants of that zone from their obligation to fight. As a result of the priestesses' actions—which included “undoing” the vows, and holding community meetings to move the peace process forward—rebel raids on villages that area stopped. At the end of their activities, the women of Oussouye urged the women of the Blouf area to do the same. Because each area of the Casamance has its own specific cultural traditions, only the priestesses of a given cultural area can lift the oaths of combatants in that zone.

This project will take place in the Blouf area, home of rebel faction leader Salif Sadio (who has been more reluctant to negotiate) and many of the independent movement's most committed fighters. The combatants originally took their oaths in the village center of Djimande, where a central priestess presided over all of the rituals. For the ceremonies beginning on December 28, the central priestess will preside, assisted by 2 or 3 other priestesses, in the presence of a large number of women leaders representing a total of 23 area villages. Though these women are not formal "priestesses" they are each representative of their village and play a core traditional spiritual role. 

Links:

 
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