On a Different Note: The Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation, Jos
I try, sometimes more successfully than at others, to keep politics of this blog. Well, other than those directly affecting the arts and cultures. However, after a holiday period spent half following the latest developments of Sotheby’s plans to auction artefacts removed from Benin in 1897 – the part that prominently made it onto this blog – and half latest developments first in Jos and Maiduguri, then in Bayelsa and Abuja, I find it very appropriate to link you the blog of this Jos-based organisation: The Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation.
Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation (YACPIF) is an NGO based in Jos, Nigeria whose mission is to prevent conflict and achieve and sustain peace through a community approach. YACPIF utilizes interesting and engaging activities such as rallies and sports to bring rival armed groups together to create and build lasting relationships. YACPIF registers young people between the ages of 14 to 40 who will stand for peace in a conflicted community as ambassadors of peace.
This to me sounds like a very common sense approach to conflict prevention – and, maybe, there is a place for visual artists and the arts in this as well. As the recent report by the International Crisis Group on the historical and contemporary background to violence in northern Nigeria noted (the news coming out of Nigeria made that feel like appropriate holiday reading):
[Recent violent conflicts] are the product of several complex and inter-locking factors, including a volatile mix of historical grievances, political manipulation and ethnic and religious rivalries. However, the region has historically shown much capacity for peaceful coexistence between its ethnic and religious communities. Local conflicts are sometimes taken to represent the whole of northern Nigerian society, particularly by outside observers, which is far from the case. Traditions of peaceful coexistence show that conflict is not inevitable, and the right mix of social and political measures can alleviate the risks.
And, there seem to be indications that YACPIF’s peace ambassadors were already able to prevent further violence in Jos:
Gada Biyu/Kabong. In the first week of December 2010, Augustine Davou participated in the YACPIF Peace Cup Camp in Jos North. YACPIF has not been able to directly contact Augustine since then, but the following report has come from the Hausa Muslim community in the Gada Biyu area.
After they saw the dead bodies from the bomb blasts, the Christian youths were gathered to retaliate on the local Hausa Muslim community. The youths had started moving toward the Hausa community, but Augustine intervened to stop them from violence. Many of the youths said that they would not agree to put down their arms, but Augustine was a different voice, saying that they should not take the law into their own hands. By speaking peace, he was able to calm the Christian youths.
Angwan Rukuba. Luka Sambo has been involved with YACPIF from its inception. He mobilized the Christian youths from Jos North to attend the first peace rally in Kwararafa. Later, Luka helped to organize another peace rally in the Nasarawa area.
On Christmas Day, youth began demonstrating in Angwan Rukuba after the bomb blasts. Luka went to the site of the demonstration and reasoned with the angry Christian youths, telling them that it was not right for them to react by burning Muslim houses. At one point in his appeal for peace, some of the youth tried to beat him off, but security forces intervened. Eventually, most of the youths in Angwan Rukuba agreed to stop the violence and the demonstration was disbanded.
Bukuru/Gyel. The fighting between the Bukuru and Gyel communities was the most severe in the January 2010 crisis. Magaji Sule was one of the Muslim leaders of the fighting in this area. Two months later, tension began mounting between these communities and it appeared that a fresh crisis would start within hours. However, Rev. Pam was able to convince Magaji and the Christian youth leader to prevent the developing crisis by demanding that their youths put down their arms. Recognized a few weeks later as the first Peace Ambassador at the YACPIF Peace Rally in Bukuru, Magaji has continued to be a strong advocate for peace.
On Christmas Day after the bombings, Magaji helped to call together the Gyel and Bukuru communities to sign a peace agreement. Magaji describes the incident in these words, “When this thing happened, we called all our boys in the neighborhood, our parents, the youth and seniors, all of them. We said, Christians and Muslims, we must unite. We shouldn’t start fighting again. What happened there [where the bombs went off], Allah ya kiyaye. Here, we must stay in peace. We all sat together and decided for peace, and up until this time we haven’t had any problem.”
I should add that I’m grateful to Carmen for making me aware of the Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation, Jos (also see her latest column in the Weekly Trust).
So, on that note: I wish you all a peaceful 2011 and hope that initiatives such as this one not only successfully continue their important work but will also inspire similar projects elsewhere.
 … and then waking up the next morning, New Year’s Day, to the street in front of the estate on which I live cordoned off by police because a young man had been shot earlier in the morning and was in hospital in critical conditions …