Between 2013 and 2019, Moyamba and Pujehun districts suffered overall deteriorating relationships between communities and multinational companies investing in the large-scale agriculture and mining sectors in these communities. These two districts were not a place you wanted to be, owing to social unrest, and seeming ashes of fear within and between communities.
“Two and half years after UNDP’s supported Multi-Stakeholder Platforms launched in Moyamba and Pujehun districts, women, youth, and communities are building bridges of peace and fostering social cohesion. More women have gained access to farmlands for vegetable gardening and rice farming through Grievance Redress Committees,” says Alhaji Mohamed Bawoh, Chairman of Sahn Malen Grievance Redress Committee during the Exit Meeting held in Bo District on 29th March 2022.
Today, the Multi-Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs) and Grievance Redress Committee (GRCs) have brought empathy within and between communities in Malen and Makpele chiefdoms of Pujehun District, and Lower Banta and Upper Banta Chiefdoms in Moyamba. This has established a structure that is now trusted for addressing local conflicts, grievances and empowered grassroots women and youth to dialogue on issues and concerns instead of erecting barricades and causing mayhem and unrest in the community.
For these two districts that share common socio-economic activities, these structures are evidently helping communities and the local leadership (including chiefdom authorities, Section Chiefs, Ward councilors, women, youth, and council stakeholders) to unite, learn and reflect more about peaceful co-existence in their daily engagements.
Youth involvement in conflict prevention was an ‘art of peace’
“Youth involvement in the GRCs and MSPs has empowered me to help others participate and understand why peace matters,” said Vandy B. Kamara, a youth, and the Secretary of Makpele Grievance Redress Committee, Pujehun District.
For Vandy, his participation in the monthly GRC meetings feels like having a support group that listens to the concerns of youth and finds local solutions. “Youth were always at the forefront in erecting road and rail blocks. I don’t know how I could have responded further to the many challenges we had in my Chiefdom if not for my support group,” he posited with the feeling of hope and success as he beamed with a smile.
The active involvement of youth in the GRCs in all four chiefdoms provided a glimpse of their role in the unrest between communities and large-scale investment companies. However, “No one has humbled, taught, or inspired me out of social conflicts and unrests more than the GRC. I am in awe of how youth were brought together with other people that we clashed with- that is what I called an art of peace,” Vandy concluded.
Mainstreaming Women’s roles in mitigating localized resources-based conflicts
Throughout this intervention, UNDP was particularly concerned about the role of women in mitigating resource-based conflict and delivering key results that contribute to peace and promote social cohesion in all four chiefdoms in Moyamba and Pujehun districts. Forty-five (45) out of one hundred and thirty (130) members of Section Grievance Redress Committees (SGRCs) in Pujehun are women, while Moyamba District has forty-four (44) women out of the one hundred and forty (140) SGRC members.
Over the project’s duration, these women were empowered on governance issues and legal frameworks on human rights, gender, and land rights in Moyamba and Pujehun districts.
“With a set of new skills in advocacy, I was able to mobilize other women to convince the Paramount Chief to lift a ban on female cultural activities which were prohibited because of the social unrest in the Chiefdom,” said Haja Adama Senge, Mammy Queen of Malen Chiefdom and member of the Chiefdom Grievance Redress Committee.
For the Mammy Queen, learned conflict resolution skills have also helped them solve household problems with empathy and understanding, creating another fount of community connection.
Today, communities in the two districts enjoy improved relations with companies, with no strikes or roadblocks reported since project inception.
Stakeholders and sustainable peace
Our intervention in Moyamba and Pujehun districts was guided by the assumption that resources-based conflict can only be addressed through the combined effort of many different groups, agencies, and sectors. Central to this outlook was to ensure that communities and stakeholders (including, Paramount and Regent chiefs, Town chiefs, women and youth leaders, members of parliament, civil society¸, companies and councils’ representatives) are able to work together on a common objective. This multi-stakeholder approach has enhanced local representation, inclusivity, and transparency, contributing to the broader ownership and sustainability of the conflict resolution strategies.
The two districts have found a model of best practices for resolving localized resources-based conflicts in rural communities. Through the Office of the Vice President, with support from implementing partner – Fambul Tok, a “One Fambul Framework” is identified, and a planning process is underway to ensure the establishment of grievance mechanisms in every district.
Courtesy of the UN Peace Building Fund and through the Government of Sierra Leone, UNDP and WFP launched the “Mitigating Localized Resources-Based Conflicts and Increasing Community Resilience” project in 2019 in Pujehun and Moyamba districts. Prior to this project, findings showed that the two districts were characterized by violent social unrest, land conflicts, and overall deteriorating relationships between communities and multinational companies investing in the large-scale agriculture and mining sectors in these communities. The project thus seeks to promote peace and social cohesion in these areas through a combination of peace dialogues, through grievance redress committees and community policing, and by supporting sustainable agriculture as well as the creation of income-generating opportunities for the people.