Tensions between religious communities have fueled the conflict in CAR, and they have also intensified as a result of the conflict. To break the cycle of violence, inter-religious tensions need to be reduced. We’re working with UNICEF to pilot a project in Bangui designed to immediately reduce inter-community tensions, create a space for dialogue between religious groups, and promote non-violence and forgiveness within the community. By working with the media, youth, religious leaders, and the general community, this project promotes peace and dialogue in Bangui.
Media: Lack of access to accurate, reliable news in CAR is a major challenge. Armed groups manipulate the population by spreading rumors, and this misinformation creates fear and leads to violence. To counter these rumors, we support four radios of Bangui and have trained 24 journalists in conflict sensitive journalism. Following trainings, we bring together journalists, youth, and religious leaders to discuss issues like reconciliation and social unity.
Youth: While many young people have been manipulated into taking part in the current violence, the local youth also have the potential to be leaders in peacebuilding. We asked young artists in Bangui to take part in a contest called “Post Your Peace in the Central African Republic.” The artists were asked to draw posters focusing on peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. We received over 200 entries showing young people’s visions for a peaceful future. One participant told us, “I participated in this contest to help free my country from violence and from the crises that it is going through. I want to disarm hearts and minds of Central Africans so that a process of reconciliation can be started.” An independent panel selected five winners, and they got to see their posters printed and put up on the streets of Bangui.
Religious Leaders: Religious leaders can be critical voices for peace and have the power to help ease tensions between groups. To support this role, we organized meetings with representatives from different communities and religions to discuss how to build unity within CAR. Almost 100 religious leaders joined together to analyze the current conflict, discuss visions of the future, and create an action plan to promote tolerance. At the end of the discussions, participants agreed that poverty and bad governance actually fueled the conflict, not religion, and they agreed that religion could bring people together to support peace.
Community Rumor Management: While the media has an important role to play in managing dangerous rumors that can spark violence, rumor management must also happen at a community level. We are bringing community members together to learn conflict management skills and then put them to use managing rumors. Group discussions have been led in flashpoint areas of the city where widespread violence has occurred, and community members are putting their skills to use to de-escalate tensions.