West African caravan promotes peace from the ground up
Richelieu Allison (left) meets with Vice President Joseph Boakai of Liberia in November during a peace caravan through West Africa. Photo courtesy of Richelieu Allison
A caravan led by former Rotary Peace Fellow Richelieu Allison journeyed through four countries in West Africa in November to promote peace-building at the grassroots level.
The peace caravan consisted of two buses with about 40 Rotarians and representatives of the West African Youth Network, a group that mobilizes and trains young people to restore peace and human rights in the region. The caravan traveled to border towns in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Côte d'Ivoire to help resolve deep-seated disputes and increase the involvement of local residents in the peace-building process.
Bloody civil wars ravaged Sierra Leone and Allison's homeland of Liberia in the 1990s, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 people and displacing three million more, many of whom fled to neighboring countries.
"I saw summary executions. I witnessed the recruitment of my friends who, as young as eight, were sent to the battlefront," Allison says.
"The peace caravan's initiative is to seek a people-to-people alliance for peace in parts of West Africa where stability is needed most," he says. "During conflict, local people, especially young people and women, are the most vulnerable. Therefore, it's necessary to involve them in all the processes for peace-building and finding alternatives to violence."
The caravan, which included workshops and peace vigils, began in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Rotary Club of Freetown provided technical and logistical assistance. The initiative was also sponsored by a Dutch charity, Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, and supported by Rotary clubs in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
"Rotary is fully committed to promoting peace," says Freetown club president Sheila John. "The peace caravan brings together youth leaders, government representatives, and traditional leaders from postconflict and fragile states in West Africa."
One of the caravan's first stops was Monrovia, capital of Liberia. The group was greeted by dignitaries including Joseph Boakai, vice president of Liberia and past president of the Rotary Club of Monrovia; Francis Kaikai, head of civil affairs for the United Nations Mission in Liberia; and John Ballout, a member of the Liberian senate.
After graduating in 2006 from the inaugural class of the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, Allison was determined to put what he learned into practice. He returned to work with the West African Youth Network in Sierra Leone, which he cofounded in 2001.
Allison also organized the construction of "peace huts" along the Mano River Union Bridge, which connects Sierra Leone and Liberia.
RI President Ray Klinginsmith notes that 516 Rotary Peace Centers alumni, including 54 Africans, already are making a difference through grassroots efforts and key decision-making positions in governments and organizations around the world.
"It is this growing network of peace fellows like Richelieu Allison, who has returned to his homeland and is applying directly what he learned, that makes me believe that peace is possible and Africa will have a peaceful and prosperous future," says Klinginsmith.
Allison says that witnessing the devastating affects of war has driven him to promote peace and human rights.
"I have dedicated my life toward working against the vices of war that have the tendency to fuel violence and conflict," says Allison. "There is still a need to ensure that the people in West Africa continue to reconcile their differences."
Written for Reconnections