The longstanding conflict in northeast Nigeria has negatively affected communities and their coping systems. Movement of populations, internal and international displacement across borders have fractured community mechanisms including on dispute resolution. Nonetheless, there is optimism in the face of crisis. Communities recovering from conflict, like those living in Bama town, Borno State, are looking to return and rebuild a better life.
Bama Local Government Area, bordering Cameroon, was once a thriving cross border commercial hub and an important trade route between Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad until it was hit hard by the conflict in the north-east Nigeria. As the military has regained control and the town begins to recover from the devastating conflict, people of different backgrounds have begun to gradually return.
But with many different cultures and views, how can a community recovering from conflict be united once again to live in peace and collectively rebuild?
To promote community cohesion in Bama, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the Support to Reconciliation and Reintegration initiative funded by European Union, is strengthening local infrastructures for peace to contribute to effective community transitions from conflict. In Bama, a community-based social cohesion platform was established collaboratively between the State Government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and it serves in building social unity and local peace.
The committee works to give a voice and represent views of all community members. Made up of traditional rulers, religious leaders, youth, women, head of IDP camps and other critical peace actors, its main goal is to ensure everyone feels represented and heard, while building unity.
Such platforms in communities open dialogue spaces, within these conversations they build social cohesion, where healing from the trauma of the conflict is being promoted, local disputes, including inter and intra communal are being resolved, difficult dialogues on sensitive topics such as reintegration are beginning to happen.
Hajja Ali, is a member of Bama’s community platform and plays a critical role in representing the voices and concerns of women and girls: “This platform is providing an avenue where women and girls can voice their issues without holding back. When they bring their issues to me, I carry it to the platform and adequate solutions can be provided”.
As women and girls are often hit hardest in conflict, Hajja uses the platform to address critical issues like security and gender-based violence. Her participation helps to support and expand spaces for women to participate in local decision-making structures that promote peace and stability.
The creation and continuous capacity building of the platform has been a needed development in the town, helping to promote cooperation in the community. Before the platform was established, the community of Bama witnessed many disparities between different groups which has often led to internal conflict.
Hajja reflected, “Personally, I go about the community telling people the importance of living in peace, because dwelling in disunity will delay our development. I’m grateful for this platform, it has really helped all members exchange ideas and through that recommendations which are useful to the community are generated”.
Community cohesion lies at the heart of what makes a safe and strong community. Promoting it through the creation of strong community networks, based on principles of trust and respect for local diversity, nurtures a sense of belonging and confidence inpeople.
This EU supported project enhances stability through the provision of alternatives to violence and enhanced social cohesion and is implemented as a partnership between the UNDP, IOM and UNICEF in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe States.