Understanding and preventing political violence in Côte d'Ivoire (PREDIA 2021 - 2023)

A video tracing the activities carried out as part of the PREDIA project in Côte d'Ivoire, working to understand the factors that make an area vulnerable to political violence and to set up equipped Cadres de Collaboration acting to prevent such violence.

Local chief embraces change towards championing inclusive peacebuilding and governance in the Kasaï region

André Kalamba Dilondo, the chief of Kalamba village in the Tshofa local administrative unit, Mweka territory, Kasaï province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has played a significant role in promoting peacebuilding and inclusive governance between the Kuba and Teke communities in the troubled Kasaï region.

Since 2016, the once peaceful Kasaï region has been plagued by conflicts known as the "Kamuina Nsapu" conflicts. These conflicts originated a dispute over Prince Jean Mpandi’s alleged customary power as the chief of the "Bajila Kasanga" village in the Dibaya territory, Kasaï-Central province. The situation escalated in the Mweka territory, leading to a conflict between the Kete and Kuba communities in the Kakenge locality. The Kete community consists of the Luba people, an Indigenous ethno-linguistic group in the south-central region of the DRC, while the Kuba, also known as Bakuba or Bushongo, comprise around 16 Bantu-speaking groups in southeastern Congo.

As the conflicts unfolded, traditional chiefs with Luba connections, whose authority was also challenged, brought the conflicts to Kasaï province. In response, loyalists and other communities formed self-defence forces to protect themselves. Exploiting this turmoil, the Kete forcibly evicted some Kuba from their homes due to pre-existing land disputes. Chief Kalamba André, a respected figure within the Kete community, supported this action and claimed the confiscated houses, often referred to as “secondary occupations.” The situation worsened as violence erupted among the chief’s followers, the government, and the security forces involved. Traditional chiefs of Kuba descent also brought these conflicts to Kasaï province as their authority was contested. To counter this threat, loyalists and other communities aligned themselves with the loyalist forces, forming self-defence forces for protection.

However, Chief Kalamba, who was initially a warlord, has transformed into a champion of peace in his region. He has actively participated in numerous peacebuilding activities organised by Action pour la paix et la concorde (APC) in partnership with InterpeaceThese activities were funded by the Swedish Agency for International Development (SIDA) and were part of two projects: the Mediation and Reconciliation project initiated in 2019, and the Strengthening Inclusive Peace Governance in the DRC project in 2021. In the Kasaï region, Interpeace launched the programme "Strengthening Inclusive Governance of Peace in Kasaï and Kasaï Central" to build trust between national authorities and customary power. Unlike other conflicts in the DRC, the conflict in Kasaï primarily arises from tensions between customary power and authority rather than power struggles, identity, or resources. This has resulted in rivalries between the Luba and non-Luba ethnic groups, intensified by disputes over new administrative positions.

Chief Kalamba gradually recognised the significance of peace and harmonious coexistence in community development through the peacebuilding projects. In 2020, he reconciled with his adversary, Shakobe, a Kuba traditional chief, by signing a peace pact. During a 2022 dialogue on identifying dialogue zones and actors, Chief Kalamba announced that he had instructed his community members to return the houses they had confiscated from the Kuba.

Emphasising the importance of inclusion, Chief Kalamba stated: “Thanks to the dialogues and peacebuilding activities organised by Interpeace in collaboration with APC, in which I participated, and the awareness generated from these activities, I instructed my ‘Kete’ community members to release the houses of our ‘Kuba’ community brothers that they had occupied.”

Members of the Kuba community confirmed this progress during the 2023 journalists training event that focused on conflict sensitivity before, during, and after the DRC general elections held on 20 December 2023. Since then, the two communities have developed a mutually beneficial relationship and have even collaborated in resolving land conflicts in the Mpalulu forest, also known as Angola. Whenever issues arise among their members, influential figures from both communities come together to find suitable solutions.

During an event focused on inclusive peace governance and women's leadership, Chief Kalamba met Charlie Changa Bimuenyi, a peacebuilding activist from the Interpeace programme. Through her advocacy, Chief Kalamba agreed to include women in his royal council. Recognising the valuable roles women play in the community, he appointed eight women to this council.

Click here to learn more about Charlie Changa Bimuenyi

 

Livelihoods for Peace

The Livelihoods for Peace Paper explores the vital connection between livelihoods and peacebuilding in conflict-affected regions. As international commitment to peacebuilding grows, integrating livelihoods and peacebuilding programmes gains importance. Livelihoods offer tangible benefits, addressing the practical needs of communities, making them an accessible entry point for peacebuilding initiatives. But decent and sustainable livelihoods, if accessible fairly between and across societies, also contribute to peace and stability. Although the link between fair livelihoods and peace is well-established, there is a lack of comprehensive evidence or best practices. Livelihoods for Peace proposes a theory of change, focusing on four key areas: expanding livelihood opportunities, strengthening regulatory mechanisms, promoting cooperative livelihood activities, and enhancing access to social protection. These familiar livelihood interventions are designed on the basis of peace and conflict and market analysis, and integrate familiar peacebuilding methods such as dialogue, mediation, violence interruption, psychosocial recovery and reconciliation, fostering cooperation, trust, and resilience. Integrating peacebuilding and livelihoods efforts necessitates explicit theories of change, emphasising fairness, inclusivity, and gender sensitivity. Engaging experts from both fields and working at multiple levels ensures consistent outcomes and contributes to building enduring peace. Collaboration between governments, international agencies, civil society, and businesses is crucial, enabling conflict-affected communities to establish sustainable livelihoods and foster peace.

DRC: Strengthening women’s leadership for peace in Kasaï

The Kasaï region, once an oasis of peace, has experienced a deteriorating security situation in recent years due to a highly violent conflict of customary origin in the Bajila Kasanga village within the Dibaya territory, Kasaï-Central province, one of the 15 new provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Emerging in 2016 from Jean Prince Mpandi’s demand for legal recognition of his authority by state authorities, this conflict led to the rise of the “Kamwina Nsapu” militias, who spread terror across the entire Kasaï-Central province initially, and later throughout the five provinces of the Kasaï region, commonly referred to as the “Grand Kasaï.”

This conflict resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the region, marked by numerous loss of lives, looting, destruction of basic infrastructure, and massive population displacements, significantly hindering local, provincial, and regional development. A crisis of trust exacerbated tensions between community members and between populations and state institutions, threatening reconciliation and reconstruction efforts due to lingering wounds.

Thérèse MBELU, one of the women traumatised by the atrocities of the “Kamuina Nsapu” phenomenon, shares her story:

"I lived in Tshikula, in the Dibaya territory, the epicentre of the ‘Kamuina Nsapu’ phenomenon. I was staying with my sister-in-law, whose husband lived in Kananga. The militiamen stormed our home and beheaded my sister-in-law right before her eyes. Then, they tied my father-in-law to a tree and executed him. These two events profoundly affected me. I began experiencing hypertension and gastritis attacks whenever these memories resurfaced. Physically weakened and inconsolable, life seemed meaningless; I was utterly desperate. In addition to my eight children, I took on the responsibility of caring for my sister-in-law’s orphans.

In October 2022, a national non-governmental organisation (NGO) called “Travail et droits de l’homme” (Work and Human Rights), working in partnership with Interpeace and with the financial support from Peace Building Fund in DR Congo (PBF-DRC), conducted a mission to identify cases of women traumatised by the “Kamuina Nsapu” conflict in Tshikula. Jean Marie Kajibwe, the president of the permanent dialogue group (GDP) in Dibataye, who was aware of my situation, invited me to participate in this gathering where several other women were also present. After attending the sessions, each of us individually shared her story. I was referred to the chief medical officer at Tshikula Hospital, who listened to my account and recommended me to a psychosocial assistant. This assistant began providing me with regular guidance and support. Over time, these interactions greatly comforted me, and I gradually came to realise that it was not the end of the world.

In March 2023, the TDH team returned to Tshikula and asked each of us about her desired career paths among three options: tailoring, soap making, and pastry. Personally, I chose soap making because I had worked in it once before, although with limited success. Our soap making group consisted of 30 learners, under the guidance of Madame Esther, for a duration of two months. During this time, we acquired new skills and practical knowledge. These sessions also provided us with an opportunity to share our painful experiences and find solace in one another. Since then, these memories haunt me less frequently, and my health has improved.

Currently, I have improved the quality of the soaps I produce, and they are well-received by everyone. However, I am limited by resources. I sell my soaps at the markets in Tshikula and Nkufula. Every two weeks, I use three kilogrammes of caustic soda, six measures of oil, and three measures of water to produce 180 soaps. Each soap is sold for 500 Congolese francs ($0.18). With my modest capital of 60,000 FC ($22), I earn a profit of 30,000 FC ($11) from each production cycle, allowing me to cover my children’s school fees and support my two orphans.”

Therese Mbelu expresses heartfelt gratitude for the initiative taken by Interpeace, in collaboration with its partner “Travail et droits de l’homme,” to restore hope and life to women traumatised by the effects of the “Kamuina Nsapu” conflict. She testified that, at the beginning of the training, each woman was withdrawn and introspective. However, as they interacted with one another, they learned to share their experiences, find solace, and gradually rediscover the joy of living. These women have come together to form A Village Savings and Credit Association (AVEC), where they gather every Sunday. Despite facing challenges due to their vulnerability, they remain confident in themselves, hoping that any assistance in income-generating activities would enable them to work harder, improve their economic situation, and save within their AVEC.

A barometer of political violence, participatory engagement, and citizen mobilization for peaceful elections in Côte d'Ivoire

In Côte d'Ivoire, the socio-political environment and democratic governance remain fragile in many localities, more than a decade after the 2010 post-electoral crisis that officially claimed more than three thousand lives. The population's low level of participation in the management of public affairs, coupled with persistent tensions surrounding the appointment of certain customary or political authorities, and a feeling of abandonment and mistrust towards certain government authorities, provide fertile ground for the political manipulation of latent conflicts and tensions within communities.

This risk is particularly acute during elections. On the occasion of the local elections (municipal and regional on October 13, 2018) and the presidential election on October 31, 2020, violent confrontations within the population took place. In some localities, in addition to these tensions, accusations of pressure, manipulation of the electoral process and falsification of results were made between supporters. These cycles of political and electoral violence are further exacerbated by the lack of support for local democratic governance mechanisms, which are often weakened.

In response to these threats to peace and cohesion, Indigo Côte d'Ivoire and Interpeace, with the technical support of their partner SeeD (Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development), carried out a consultation process and a survey called SCORE, to analyze the key determinants and levers for preventing political violence in the country.

One of the key messages to emerge from this research is that "a locality's vulnerability to political violence is illustrated by a context in which communities tend to withdraw into themselves and avoid integrating with others".    

Such contexts can be identified by the uneasy nature of daily interactions between social groups (political, religious, ethnic) and the easy transition from "harmless" events (e.g. a soccer match or a car accident) to inter-group conflict. This dynamic weakens the social bonds between communities, predisposing them to violent confrontation.

In response to these findings, the “Cadre de Collaboration” (CdC - Collaboration Frameworks) have been set up. This collaborative governance engineering of conflict prevention and management initiatives at local level has produced satisfactory results, such as the absence of violence observed during the municipal, senatorial and regional elections in 2023, in the areas where the project was implemented.

In Béoumi (central Côte d'Ivoire), for example, the CDC was set up in a context of great mistrust between communities. However, thanks to their actions, the first members of the collaborative framework, essentially made up of influential members of a single community, managed to integrate members of other communities into the group. They achieved this by canvassing relevant and influential actors to facilitate the participation of other communities in community-building initiatives; the latter were subsequently invited to the various workshops and dialogue sessions with the CDC, which facilitated their adhesion. Thanks to this strategy, the framework has a heterogeneous and inter-community coloration and now carries out activities in the different neighborhoods of the locality.

Similarly, the town of Divo (in the south of the country), which was notorious for inter-community clashes at every election, whether local or national, was able to win the bet of "Zero violence" at the last poll.

 "In Divo, our CDC is quite young, dating back to March 2023. But before that, the town of Divo was marked by a succession of post-electoral conflicts. And these conflicts have remained etched in the collective memory. As a result, violence peaked in August 2020 (presidential election), resulting in loss of life (...). There was a certain polarization between natives and non-natives. The CDC initiated a number of actions aimed at these people, who were heavily involved in the violence of 2020. There were talk-debates with women who were also actively involved in the conflicts, and also a meeting with young people. This helped us enormously, as this year's regional and municipal elections took place peacefully. The CDC met with the political candidates and staff, and they got involved in the peace process. They resolved to talk to their militants to ensure that this year's elections take place in good conditions, and that's what's been done", says the sub-prefect of Divo.

Several of the region's administrative authorities have expressed the wish to see a Collaborative Framework set up in their constituencies. And indeed, as the 2025 presidential election approaches, there seems to be a major need to scale up and strengthen these prevention structures and mechanisms within the areas most affected during previous electoral cycles, as expressed by the stakeholders. The aim is to prevent divisions between supporters of different political leaders turning into community conflicts in the long term.

As the Ivorian Minister for National Cohesion, Solidarity and the Fight against Poverty, LOGBOH Myss Belmonde DOGO, put it at the close of the project: "As the project draws to a close, and with the 2025 elections looming, anticipation must be the watchword. We need to step up the pace so that we don't just act on the eve of the elections and reap positive results. That's why I'm inviting Interpeace, Indigo, SeeD and others to join us in building the future. (...) It's important to be able to extend this collaborative, citizen-based governance engineering beyond the localities that have already benefited, because the results show that this is an approach that can really help reduce violence and conflict in a sustainable way, and above all through the commitment and ownership of everyone", she asserted.

The head of the European Union delegation to Côte d'Ivoire, Ambassador Francesca Di Mauro, agrees: "We are all looking ahead to the upcoming elections, particularly the presidential elections, which are generating a great deal of excitement and therefore potentially present risks. This general context arouses our attention and challenges us all to consider our responsibility and our role in ensuring that the democratic game and the animation of political life are not opportunities for violence, but rather moments of dialogue to build a harmonious and peaceful society".

In line with these orientations, one of the main recommendations of this survey is the short-term implementation of a barometric tool enabling an early warning and response system based on the results of the SCORE analysis, going hand in hand with the scaling-up of collaborative frameworks throughout Côte d'Ivoire.

Access all SCORE survey results here and the summary report of analyses and recommendations here.

Coach Abou, from victim to peacemaker

Coach Abou recounts his experience in Béoumi (Côte d’Ivoire), and how he was able to transform the trauma he suffered during the Ivorian crisis into a peace-building impetus, thanks to the Collaboration Framework of Interpeace's PREDIA project.