Religious Leaders Building Peace in West Africa
USAID PDEV II staff with local Imams in Niger.
To counter the appeals of radical religious groups in West Africa, the USAID Peace through Development II (PDev II) program helps strengthen the position and voice of moderate religious figures in Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso. The program works directly with Imams and local Islamic scholars to develop progressive religious school curricula and train Koranic teachers to incorporate more moderate religious messages.
USAID PDev II partnered with the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and the Union of Imams in Chad to conduct a two-part training in February and June 2012. Twenty-five Imams attended the two, week-long workshops, which were focused on building capacity in conflict resolution and community management. Specific topics included managing rumors, analyzing social problems, mediating community grievances, and communicating effectively. Participants left with concrete strategies and tools to help them foster more peaceful, stable, and tolerant communities.
As part of the training, participants were asked to use the skills learned in the first workshop to develop and implement a plan that addressed a leading social problem in their individual communities. During the June workshop, participants reviewed all of the community initiatives. In total, 30 community initiatives were launched and reviewed as part of the training.
One community initiative addressed a local conflict about who should assume tribal leadership after the passing of the former traditional leader. The discussion on this issue had polarized the community, and there were threats of violence. The Imam involved in the intervention was able to establish himself as an authority and resource for the community. His new skills in peace building and conflict resolution earned the respect of community members, and his work as religious leader and educator has been easier and more effective since the USAID PDev II training.
A second initiative was led by a young, university educated Imam who brought together youth from his neighborhood to create a local Youth Committee. The Committee held meetings to discuss how young people could help improve conditions in their neighborhood. They established a list of activities they could implement themselves at low or no cost. One activity was to address cleanliness and environmental issues by cleaning and unclogging sewage channels. The City Council noticed the good work of the Youth Committee and began to provide additional support for the Committee’s activities. It is expected that the Youth Committee will soon establish itself as a permanent organization, encouraging youth to step up and make a positive difference in their community.
USAID PDev II is funded by USAID and implemented by a consortium of international nonprofit organizations, led by International Relief and Development (IRD) in collaboration with the national governments of Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso. In each country, the partners, including IRD, Search for Common Ground, Equal Access International, and the Salam Institute, align their activities with national strategies and priorities. The program is scheduled to run from November 2011 through October 2016.