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Early warning mechanisms key to calming ethnic tensions

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By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group

The Rwenzori region in Uganda is volatile, simmering tensions between different ethnic groups. The region has a dense concentration of different ethnic groups, including minorities such as the Basongora, Banyabindi, Bakonzo, Bagabo, Bakingwe among others.

In north western Cameroon, conflicts are often rife as ethnic pastoralist communities such as the Mbororo – Fulani move into lands occupied by cropper ethnic communities, leading to standoffs over scarce resources such as water and grazing lands.

A similar situation is playing out in northern Kenya, in the semi-arid counties of Isiolo and Marsabit, where ethnic pastoralist communities often clash over dwindling resources.

In light of these powder keg situations, early warning mechanisms can be the difference between peaceful resolutions to conflicts, and bloodshed.

Sali Django, the Programme Coordinator at Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) from Cameroon says proactive early conflict resolution mechanisms should be adopted before situations become worse.

‘When conflicts go to government courts, it is often a case of one party winning it all, and the other party losing everything. The same is true for traditional courts. What we are promoting is a win-win situation for all aggrieved parties, through dialogue,’ says Sali.

Sali further explains that in the dialoguing approach, the interests of all warring parties are taken into consideration and they are then given the opportunity to amicably reach a resolution to their conflicts.

As forces such as climate change exacerbate prolonged droughts, populations increase, adding pressure on land, tensions between different ethnic groups are likely to rise going into the future.

At a one-day Advocacy and Networking meeting held on 23 November in Fort Portal, Uganda, under the UK AID funded ‘Network for Peace’ project, participants — who included various stakeholders, ranging from partners, to peace ambassadors and cultural leaders, mulled over conflict resolution mechanisms.

The meeting was attended by the project’s consortium partners; Minority Rights Group International (MRG), KRC Uganda, Isiolo Gender Watch from Kenya, Cameroon Network of Human Rights Organizations (RECODH) & Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) from Cameroon and Uganda’s Community Development Resource Network (CDRN).

Partners in the project have developed Short Message Service and web-based portals, through which potential signs of conflicts can be reported by trained peace ambassadors.

Beyond stopping ethnic conflicts, early warning mechanisms can also be deployed to nip in the bud emerging challenges, such the growing terror threat in Uganda, or the threats of election violence in Kenya ahead of next year’s elections.

Photo: Sali Django, the Programme Coordinator at Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA) from Cameroon. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo / MRG.

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