The Tahoua region, located in western central Niger, borders Mali in the north. In this area, non-state armed groups have carried out regular deadly attacks over the past few years. The rural commune of Tassara, in the region's north, is home to some ten thousand forcibly displaced people who have sought refuge in the commune.
Lying at the junction of the Sahara and the Sahel, Tassara experiences low levels of rainfall each year; there is only a limited abundance of natural resources for the locals. With the arrival of an increasing number of displaced groups, clashes over natural resources have risen.
To prevent and mitigate the risk of inter- and intra-community conflicts, the Niger Community Cohesion Initiative, led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has established thirty peace committees in thirty villages in Tassara. Each committee is comprised of four members: the chief of village, a community leader, a youth representative, and a women's representative.
In total, 120 community members were designated to form the peace committees in the commune of Tassara, including 30 women, who were trained on their roles and responsibilities as peace committee members, communication techniques with the communities, and conflict prevention.
These committees, which serve as a platform for communities to share their concerns and needs, use traditional conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms such as negotiation, mediation, and friendly banter to strengthen social cohesion. Additionally, the inclusive nature of these committees reduces the feeling of marginalisation of some social groups often left out of the public debate such as youth, women, or ethnic minorities.
"When people dig wells without community consultation, for example, it might cause a dispute, especially between farmers and herders. The peace committee intervenes to find a compromise," explains Kamae.
Kamae is one of the village chiefs in the commune of Tassara. He is also a member of the peace committee established in his village.
"At the end of the rainy season, grass is high, and the risk of fire is great," Kamae says, recalling a dispute resolved by the peace committee.
"One day, a herder camped in the grazing area with his animals and caused a bushfire. Everyone mobilized to stop the fire, but a clash broke out between him and the community. We intervened as peace committee members and explained to him that grass benefits everyone and that he must be careful. Otherwise, he, his animals, and the village would not have enough to eat. He apologized to the community and went camping elsewhere," he explains.
"People feel safer thanks to these committees that contribute to maintaining peace in our village, which is significant for us because, without peace, life is impossible. We have already solved many conflicts since the establishment of the committee", says Kamae.
Between July 2020 and December 2021, 210 peace committees have been strengthened and/or created in various villages in Diffa, Tillabéri, and Tahoua through the Niger Community Cohesion Initiative.
With the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, the European Commission Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, the Bureau of African Affairs of the United States Department of State, and the Peacebuilding Fund, the IOM seeks to increase communities' cohesion and resilience to conflict, insecurity, and threats by violent extremist organizations and strengthen their trust in local government authorities and state structures.