The Caritas Freetown-JPC Programs Manager spoke to ACI Africa on the sidelines of a three-day workshop that was organized by AGIAMONDO, a German development agency that is working with partner organizations to promote peace initiatives in conflict regions.
The meeting brought together Civil Peace Service (CPS) workers that AGIAMONDO has strategically placed in Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) already running grassroots peace initiatives in various parts of the country.
Representatives from various organizations that the German development entity has partnered with also attended the AGIAMONDO-CPS partner meeting. These are Justice for Peace and Human Rights Commission (JPHRV), Advocacy Aid (ADVOCAID), Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR), Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (WAVES), Green Scenery Sierra Leone (GSSL), and the University of Makeni (UNIMAK).
Participants at the meeting shared their work in various kinds of advocacy, promotion of access to justice especially among vulnerable groups, as well as what they are doing to prepare the citizens for a peaceful election.
Those who spoke to ACI Africa expressed concern that tension was already building in the country that “has a history of violence” and a tendency to slide into unrest that is mostly perpetuated by the youth and the police, as well as by politicians who use criminals to intimidate their opponents.
Highlighting some of the areas considered hotspots in Sierra Leone, Eliza noted that Waterloo, a town in the country’s Western region is usually one of the most affected places whenever violence erupts.
With a peri-urban setting, Waterloo is known to be a home of ex-combatants and soldiers who participated in the country’s worst civil war that ended in 2002 following 11 years of immense devastation. Some of these, the Caritas Freetown official said, are usually used to perpetrate acts of intimidation against political opponents in an electioneering period.
Other hotspot areas are slum communities surrounding Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Here, youths who are jobless and use drugs are also used by politicians to cause chaos.
Eliza told ACI Africa that the justice and peace arm of Caritas Freetown has always embraced dialogue in various peace mitigation initiatives in the areas served by the Catholic Church in Freetown.
“First, we seek to understand the violence triggers and the parties involved. We respond to people’s economic challenges and provide psychosocial support and counseling,” she said, adding, “Our initiatives have greatly roped in the police and the youths since we understand that the two groups are the major actors in most violent activities around Freetown.”