“Peace Caravans” Encourage Local Dialogues to Head Off Tensions in Côte d’Ivoire
The social cohesion project — launched by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) — brings divergent groups together through the interchange of ideas.
One bright summer morning last year, hundreds of people gathered in Guézon, a town in western Côte d’Ivoire, for a “Peace Caravan” inter-community dialogue on social cohesion. This initiative, like the “Peace Caravans” in Guinea, was part of a multi-country project led by DPPA and UNOWAS aimed at creating a space where community members could discuss social divides and identify solutions to common problems. The Peace Caravans were held at locations chosen based on the prevalence of conflicts and the presence of multi-ethnic communities.
The impetus for the event occurred in December 2020, when what started as a simple dispute between one youth from outside Guézon and a local hunter turned into violent intercommunity clashes . The incident caused the death of five people; several others were injured, dozens of homes were set on fire, and some residents fled for their lives. The level of violence revealed the persistence of latent conflicts linked to land and national identity. Over a year later, tension between the communities remained palpable.
Last summer’s event in Guézon was held against this backdrop. “The atmosphere inside the yard was tense,” said Grace Kpohazounde, the UN Peace and Development Advisor in Côte d’Ivoire, who helped organize the caravans. “Everyone seemed to remember the painful episodes that struck the city over a year ago.”
Local solutions to local problems
A local woman who attended the dialogue shared her thoughts with Kpohazounde and M. Falley, the Director General of Social Cohesion at the Ministry of Reconciliation and National Cohesion. “I did not want to participate in the dialogue,” she said. “I did not feel comfortable with members from the other [non-native] community. What happened is unfair. They are not natives of this locality, yet we welcomed them, gave them land and they can’t even respect our customs. At least with this dialogue, I have the opportunity to express myself freely on what happened,” she said.
“We explained to her that while she feels this injustice, the non-natives also feel that no matter how hard they try to integrate, they continue being considered as ‘strangers,’ and sometimes feel marginalized,” said Kpohazounde. “We tried to make participants see the conflict dynamics from the other perspective.”
The UN also organized dialogues in 10 other localities in the country experiencing intercommunity conflict: Bangolo, Daoukro, Douekpe, Duekoue, Laberaba, M’Batto, N’Douci, Odienne, Ouangolodougou and Tagadi. In Odienne in the northwest, intercommunity violence over control of territory in July 2022 led to the death of three youth.
In N’Douci in the southeast, tensions between two groups of youths led to one death. The cause of these tensions was rivalry between native and non-native youth involved in the same commercial activities.
In the northeastern region, conflicts mostly related to transhumance (the movement of livestock) intensified as a result of the increase in cross-border population movement across the Sahel region. The inter-community dialogues gave an opportunity for communities to have open and frank discussions about the problems that undermine social cohesion and identify solutions to those problems.
The Peace Caravan in M’Batto, a town in south-central Côte d’Ivoire, was attended by M. Kassi Kadio Eugène, the local Member of Parliament for M’Batto. In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, there were clashes in M’Batto between its various communities. “Since the incidents that took place in November 2020, this is the first time I am engaging with the cadre of the non-native community,” he said.
Speaking after the event, he said that “before the organization of the inter-community dialogue in our city, we were not really speaking to each other. And as time went by, the tension became more and more tangible. We risked that this situation would increase the probability of new conflicts.”
In the northern and eastern regions, the inter-community dialogues were particularly useful in bringing together the population with the local administration, including the defense and security forces. These efforts complemented other UN initiatives in the region funded by the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund. These included a cross-border project between Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina-Faso to enhance governance and social services in the Bounkani and Tchologo regions in the North-East, and a project for an inclusive and community-based management of natural resources in the Gontougo region.
The dialogues in the northern regions were critical in fostering open discussions between farmer and herder communities in the context of transhumance-related tensions. In the west, south and centre regions, the project facilitated intergenerational and interethnic dialogues. In the west, discussions also focused on innovative ways to address persistent land conflicts.
Around 2,000 individuals — including women, youth, and traditional and religious leaders — participated in the dialogues throughout Côte d’Ivoire. The recommendations made during the dialogues are being followed up by local peace committees.
The link between local social cohesion and national peacebuilding
By promoting social inclusion and cohesion in community levels, DPPA and UNOWAS aimed to help consolidate the national political dialogue and reconciliation efforts that were carried out by the Government after the October 2020 presidential election. There have been positive developments in the national peacebuilding context, such as a peaceful legislative election in March 2021; a fourth and fifth round of political dialogue from November 2021 to March 2022; high level meetings between the current President and his political opponents, former Presidents Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo; and an inclusive celebration of the National Peace Day in November 2022, with the participation of opposition figures previously in exile. Nevertheless, several root causes and drivers of recurring conflict require attention, such as land issues, national identity, transhumance-related conflicts, and political tensions.
The implementation of the social cohesion project in Côte d’Ivoire was conceived in partnership with the Ministry of Reconciliation and National Cohesion, which has also integrated these initiatives into its broader strategy for reconciliation and national cohesion.
“The initiative has contributed towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” underlined UN Resident Coordinator Philippe Poinsot, “because social cohesion, human rights and peace are all determining factors in their success.”