You have to forgive. I want to work for peace, so I have to start with myself, I need to forget the past. If I don’t forget, I cannot be an actor for peace for others.

Godfroy Kasai lives in the 7th arrondissement in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR). He is a devout Christian and secretary of a local peace committee (LPC), established by Conciliation Resources to address community tensions. 
Godfroy became involved in the peace committee when a local pastor told him that one was being set up in his community. At the time he was working with local women’s groups:

I put myself forward as available to work hand-in-hand with them. He told me it was going to be made up of Muslims, Protestants and Catholics. And I thought, ah, something is starting to happen in this bad situation we’re in.

The conflict in CAR erupted after the rebel coalition called Séléka took up arms against the government and in March 2013 overthrew President François Bozizé. Following the election of a new president in February 2016, CAR is holding on to a fragile peace. Godfroy was himself affected by the Séléka:

I was looted three times in a row, but I have forgiven them. You have to forgive. I want to work for peace, so I have to start with myself, I need to forget the past. If I don’t forget, I cannot be an actor for peace for others.

The Séléka raped and looted scores of unarmed civilians, which resulted in tit-for-tat violence as Christian militias calling themselves anti-Balaka (meaning ‘invincible’ in Sango) retaliated with knives and machetes. Before the LPCs were established, Godfroy describes the deteriorating security situation in his arrondissement:

The 7th arrondissement contains the largest army base in CAR. During those events, the Séléka seized this army camp, which became the Séléka’s base. Our arrondissement was flooded with the Séléka and scenes of abuses, rapes and looting. Many people fled to the other side of Congo-Zaïre, everybody was living in fear.

The CAR conflict is broadly misunderstood as a sectarian war between Muslims and Christians but it is more deeply rooted in poverty, disenfranchisement and under-development after decades of poor governance and chronic instability. 
In total there are seven peace committees – five in the capital and two in other regions. Despite the challenges of the ongoing volatile security situation, Godfroy believes the LPCs have made people feel hope again and brought divided communities together:

The fear we had in relation to the Séléka, most of whom are Muslim, meant that there was no longer any trust between Christians and Muslims. I remember that there was an imam who was in hiding at the time. But I persuaded him to become a member of our peace committee. Conciliation Resources made a major contribution to increasing moderation within the community, because Muslims and Christians can live together again.

He cites a powerful example of reconciliation where a LPC has helped to reduce tensions between the anti-Balaka and the local Wangou population. 

When the anti-Balaka burned down a village in Wangou, the villagers no longer accepted the anti-Balaka. In Africa, eating together is an act of forgiveness, an act of love. We were able to reconcile the two groups through a peace committee project where we could meet and eat together. That’s when I realised that people are prepared to forgive each other. If we hadn’t been there to initiate this process, there would have been killings.

The LPC has also set up another project which gives Muslim and Christian youth the opportunity to work together. 

Our thinking was that if the young people can’t find work, all it takes is a little tension for these young people to stoke the fire and then the situation escalates. So we gave a little support to those young unemployed people, in order to contain them. If they can find employment, they will be able to take control of their own lives and they won’t get involved in politics, they won’t be manipulated.

The peace committee in the 7th arrondissement is made up of 12 people. Godfroy says in spite of their religious differences, there is no conflict between members

When proposals are made, ideas expressed, we discuss them in a spirit of mutual respect.

The peace committees are part of a project ‘Support for community dialogue and peacebuilding in CAR’, funded through the European Union Instrument for Stability.