Search for Common Ground (SFCG) is an international peacebuilding organisation that entered the Ivory Coast in 2005 with the primary goal of reducing tensions among communities and groups, to facilitate reconciliation, strengthen social cohesion and empower Ivoirians to be in charge of mediation in their own conflicts.
Working with a two-pronged approach aimed primarily at transforming conflicts non-violently and allowing for constructive social dialogue on key issues, SFCG started moderate radio programmes able to reach the entire country that promote peacebuilding and positive changes in attitudes and behaviours. Dialogue in the Ivory Coast is often highly politicised, with moderate voices marginalised and rumours that run rampant. These radio programmes focus on themes of tolerance, reconciliation and building bridges across divides, as well as providing positive news information, empowerment programming for children to discuss childhood issues and other programming aimed at discussing current issues in more moderate ways.
A television program called “The Team” was created in 2008 to dramatize cooperative ways of overcoming ethnic, religious and socioeconomic divisions and change the way Ivoirians think about their neighbours and themselves. An estimated 3.4 million people in the country watched the first season each week and mobile cinema screens brought the program to five cities, reaching some 15,000 viewers.
In 2008, SFCG began to hold a series of Solidarity events throughout the country that worked to encourage and catalyse local peace initiatives that would help to prevent and manage conflict. The sessions worked on exchange and dialogue between conflicting groups through the use of conflict-provoking questions, games, interactive theatre and sport, intended on encouraging local solutions of peace.
As well, SFCG sends in training and mentoring groups to help local peace activists refine their peacebuilding skills, so that they can effectively intervene in community conflicts. Individuals, who are in a position of influence, as well as youths, are particularly targeted to receive this mentoring, so that their inter-generational voice of reason can be all the more effective within their home communities. They work on perfecting their mediation and listening skills, learning how to reframe angry statements and elicit constructive responses and to analyse the causes and symptoms of upcoming conflict, to try and deal with aggressiveness before it manifests in violence. These peace leaders are then encouraged to transfer their skills and knowledge onto others and train others in their home communities to assist them in conflict resolution skills.
“I settled a land conflict between two Burkinabe who were fighting over a plot of land. They were about to use machetes to kill each other. I ran into them randomly in the field. Thanks to SFCG training on conflict management, I was able to analyze the situation, listen to each person, take them to compromise and finally, they dropped their machetes. It was a great joy. I felt like a new person.”- Youth Focus group participant
Alongside this mentoring and training programs, workshops and dialogue groups were set up in particularly vulnerable communities, allowing divided groups a chance to face each other and use role-playing, dramatisations and other guided interactions to discuss areas of disagreement or conflict. It also allowed them to develop mutual trust and begin to reconcile with each other in a relatively safe environment where voices would all be heard. Together they began to develop joint action that plans to deal with regular types of conflict between the different groups, to allow for the reintegration of refugees or ex-combatants back into the community and create their own local solidarity events that celebrate common interests such as art or culture.
Following the training, young people in several areas set up “Listening Clubs” or Peace Clubs in their schools or communities where they could gather to listen to radio programs and encourage respectful dialogue, or sensitise their peers to non-violent ways of mitigating conflicts, governance and democratic participation.
SFCG’s program 'Mobilizing Ivorian Women for Constructive Participation in Governance and Leadership', runs trainings, workshops and tailored radio programming to women’s needs and in 2007 set up a series of Women’s Leadership Symposiums; two at the regional level and one at the national level that brought together leaders from across the political, ethnic and identity spectrum to share experiences and build collaborative strategies toward women’s leadership.