On January 27, 2011, EWMI and its partner, Prison Fellowships Liberia (PFL), held a community outreach meeting in Gbarnga, Bong County, Liberia. The meeting was the fifth in a series of public outreach discussions with leaders and citizens to be held in four targeted counties (Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, and Grand Bassa), an integral part of EWMI’s Community and Detainee Reconciliation in Liberian Localities (C-DRILL) project. Recognizing the prevalence of mob justice and the propensity of citizens to accuse each other of criminal misconduct over relatively minor disputes, C-DRILL works to address the causes of conflict in Liberia through a community outreach and mediation program before the conflict becomes violent or before an individual is arrested and placed in extended pre-trial detention.
In Gbarnga, mediators trained by EWMI and PFL engaged local leaders and citizens in a discussion focused on the root cases of violence and how to resolve disputes relating to these issues before violence erupts. The C-DRILL team conducted a role play exercise demonstrating the use of mediation, and disseminated a comic book developed by EWMI’s mediation advisor, Laurie Cooper, which, in a simple and accessible fashion, recounts three different stories relating to disputes and how to peacefully resolve them. During the meeting, local Liberian leaders, including the mayor, the chief magistrate, and the district public defender, responded to questions and issues raised by other local leaders – traditional leaders, NGO representatives, and representatives of local unions. Police and corrections representatives also attended the meeting, and were available to raise and answer questions.
A feedback session was held at the end of the meeting in Gbarnga, during which people were asked what they were going to do with the information learned. A common theme was that everyone can act to help mitigate conflict in the community, instead of resorting to mob violence. A representative of the Muslim community said, “We are now serving as ambassadors to our community.” Another person defined a mediator as a “bridge builder.” The magistrate closed the session by exhorting the participants to go out in the communities and implement what they have seen.