The Foreign Service Journal, May 2004

52 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 0 4 F O C U S O N A F R I C A F ROM THE A FRICA F ILE : T HE B UILDING B LOCKS OF S UCCESS In early March, we sent an appeal via AFSANet asking members with experience at African posts to share brief vignettes about ways the U.S. has helped foster positive change, or could do so. We thank all Foreign Service per- sonnel who shared their observations and experiences. In fact, we received so many thoughtful responses that we will run more next month. — Susan B. Maitra, Senior Editor Conflict Resolution and Development Go Hand in Hand Under the bright African sky on a hot summer after- noon, over 2,000 women, men and children gathered around the local meeting place. Imagine a sea of colors: people dressed in their brightest batik, curious children in ragtag outfits, government officials decked out in suits, military men in fatigues and traditional leaders draped in ceremonial cloth. Faces were lit with happiness, sadness, remembrance and forgiveness as mothers lamented lost sons and fathers bemoaned lost solidarity. People from different families, villages and ethnic groups had come together for the first time in over 20 years to talk about peace: to voice their grievances and start to repair the damage inflicted by civil war. The people met for two days, both to share in cultural events (theater, dance and sport) and to hold an inclusive dialogue. I am part of the team in USAID’s Senegal mission that sponsors local and international NGOs to organize com- munity peace-building activities such as the ceremony described above, using traditional means to break pacts of revenge and end the circle of violence in the Casamance region of southern Senegal. In response to one of the longest-lasting conflicts in Africa, a low-level war for suc- cession that has affected over one million people, we designed a special program that could meet development needs in such an unstable environment. The program rationale posits that if the people respon- sible for and affected by the conflict have the opportunity to improve their economic well-being, political empower- ment in development issues and social cohesiveness, then much of the discontent that indirectly fuels the fighting would be decreased, direct channels for reconciliation would be increased, and peace will ensue. Our approach has been to remain neutral on a political level, facilitate dialogue between the belligerent parties, implement activ- ities without formal peace accords, directly fund reconcili- ation activities, and assist and empower the people harmed by the fighting — not always by focusing on the conflict. For example, without spotlighting the rebellion, our NGO partners have assisted communities to identify their strengths/weaknesses and prioritize problems. Solutions are co-funded, complementing community resources. Assistance mechanisms are flexible and quickly implemented, with an eye to local capacity-building and sus- tainability. Solutions have includ- ed canoe transport for isolated islands, health huts and school classrooms, community grocery shops, and labor-saving devices such as grain mills. Economic development via the private sector has also been an effective tool. Our NGO partners took local nat- ural resources (cashew nuts, sesame seeds) and taught pri- vate entrepreneurs to produce and/or process them, to manage their businesses, and then created marketing channels to sell production. The result: new jobs and income that will continue after development funding ends. Less poverty equals less discontent. Peace in the Casamance is, unfortunately, not yet a signed deal, but momentum at many levels has increased. The government and rebel forces have made noticeable progress in the last year via formal meetings and announcements on key issues. Refugees and internally displaced people have started to voluntarily return. M EMBERS SHARE STORIES OF PROGRESS FROM AROUND THE CONTINENT .