Community peacemakers build bridges in post-Ebola West Africa

By Emily Deeming

06 January 2017: The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has been declared over by the World Health Organisation. But the crisis has had a big impact on community security. Emily Deeming reports on work to rebuild trust in areas that continue to be divided by disease.

Community-based peacebuilding projects have helped heal divides brought about by the Ebola crisis. Image: Conciliation Resources

When it was announced that an Ebola Treatment Centre was going to be built on the outskirts of Bossou, tensions rapidly escalated
In the already tense Mano River border regions of Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, Ebola destroyed relationships between and within communities – creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion – as well as further eroding trust in local authorities, health workers and security officials. Community-based peacebuilding platforms are working across the region to address these conflicts, including in Bossou in Forest Guinea.

Bossou is a village located at the very heart of the Ebola outbreak. The region has long been politically, socially and economically marginalised, creating weak relationships and mistrust between communities and governments.

So when the Ebola crisis hit, many in the village believed the authorities were to blame. Hélène Zogbelemou, a community peacebuilder, explains:

"The rumour was that the President of Guinea needed seven tanks of blood. For this, they had to kill massively. People did not understand that Ebola was a disease. “

When it was announced that an Ebola Treatment Centre was going to be built on the outskirts of Bossou, tensions rapidly escalated. On the day it opened, a group of young people from the village burnt down the Ebola centre, while female elders attacked the office of the local Mayor. Nyanda Bamba is a youth leader who was involved in the attack:

“We believed Ebola was a poison. If Ebola was going to come to our village, everyone must rise up. So every youth stood up.”

A community meeting with District Platforms for Dialogue. Image: WANEP

A platform for dialogue

Through community meetings and events, the DPDs are helping to destroy some of the myths around the spread of the Ebola virus.
With tensions rapidly rising, key community members turned to the local District Platform for Dialogue (DPD) for support. DPDs are community-based peace platforms, working to overcome tensions in the border regions of Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There is a network of 18 DPDs in total, established and supported by peacebuilding NGO Conciliation Resources and national peacebuilding partners.

These platforms are comprised of respected community members, an important factor in their establishment and success, says Hélène:

“People trust us because we are from the same community, we speak the same language.”

Through community meetings and events, the DPDs are helping to destroy some of the myths around the spread of the Ebola virus. They are also bringing together communities and local authorities to discuss their grievances and rebuild trust. By providing this space for dialogue, the DPDs support the reconciliation of Ebola survivors, families of victims, and frontline Ebola workers with their communities. 

So far over 13,000 people have taken part in these community dialogue sessions.

In Bossou, the local DPD spoke individually with female elders, youth in the community, and local officials, before bringing together all sides to share their problems and explore common solutions.

Today we talk

Today we talk... there is real harmony in the community"
The Mayor of Bossou, Cyrille Lizo Doré, credits these local platforms for rebuilding trust within the community:

“We are very satisfied with the DPD’s work. Thanks to this platform, where [before] the people of Bossou were not talking to each other, today we talk… there is real harmony in the community today.”

Watch Dialogue for Peace to find out more about the story of Bossou and read more about Conciliation Resources’ work on Ebola-driven conflict.

 

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Comments

png download on Feb. 15, 2017, 10:56 a.m.

I admire their hardworking to destroy the myths and build the trust among the community. Respect. I hope the Ebola epidemic will be cured completely soon.