Living in harmony and respecting the rules of democracy. Two thousand Ivorian children have put this into practice under the leadership of Mireille Critie Thobouet of the Center for Research and Action for Peace (Cerap). Despite Côte d’Ivoire’s politically turbulent times since 2002, some of its institutions continue to show exemplary democratic practices.
The inhabitants of 41 “peace villages” in Côte d’Ivoire have become model citizens. These mini-states were born as part of a program launched by the Center for Research and Action for Peace (Cerap) in 2007. Ahead of a proposed citizenship programs for schools, 179 teachers and supervisors received training in citizenship and conflict management. Upon their return to their various establishments, they created clubs or future villages open to pupils from primary to secondary schools. To ensure cohesion, the movement has created a newspaper and also organises an annual camp. The movement is represented in 37 institutions in eight cities spread across Côte d’Ivoire: Abidjan, Bouake, Yamoussoukro, Man, Daloa, Daoukro, Bondoukou and Korhogo.
“The children start their own electoral commission,” says Mireille Critie Thobouet, head of the experiment, “and then follow the different levels of the electoral process to elect a village head, who later appoints his ministers. Each year, the children proceed to elect their new village heads. They know, unlike many adults, what a single ballot and a voters’ list represent… Members of the peace village are charged with the election of class delegates at the Sainte-Marie d’Abidjan high school, one of the most famous in the Ivorian economic capital.”
Learning about citizenship and conflict management includes an essential social cohesion component in a country that has been experiencing a continued socio-political crisis since 2002, and where prejudices are easily handed down from adult to child. For example, before 2002, there was a strong Burkinabe community in rural Ivory Coast, but relations between the two communities have since been strained. “At Bondoukou (East),” Mireille Critie Thobouet reminisces, “we met with Ivorian and Burkinabe children who were not on speaking terms. The children had simply reproduced the attitudes of their parents, while repeating what they heard in the news. We compiled some of these prejudices.”
Another example is the measure of relevance of the “peace villages”. “We organized a clean up operation in a predominantly Christian town, where Muslims are not allowed to have a place of worship. This did not prevent a Muslim pupil to sweep inside the community church. When asked why he had done so, he replied saying that it was normal because we all pray the same God.” Whilst awaiting a mindset revolution, peace is being felt within the family circle. “Parents talk about a significant improvement in their children’s behavior at home. They sound less aggressive and more conciliatory.”
For the thirty-year-old Mireille Rolande Critie and the children, it is all about a continued collaboration for a peaceful co-habitation . The young woman’s field of speciality is human rights, particularly those of children. She reaches out to those in distress – in the street or in prison -, and for three years now, she has been doing her level best to make citizens of them. At the peace villages, “the children learn about accountability,” says the young woman. “I can assure you”, she says with a smile, “I have a special relationship with all the 2 000 children.” Mireille’s project counts about 2000 children.
In Côte d’Ivoire, the peace village project has generated interest. Other cities, like San Pedro and Oumé, have benefited from Cerap’s technical assistance to establish villages outside the framework of the project. The experiment will be completed by the end of 2010. Mireille Critie Thobouet, on the other hand, will continue with her research work which is expected to lead to the publication of a teaching guide on the creation of a peace village. Her study will be proposed to the Ivorian Ministry of Education as part of the national education curriculum.
A similar peace village project was started in Chad this year. Burkina Faso has also begun considering the idea.