Pastor Marcelin Ndebalet Mesmin has more reason than most to want revenge. In 2002 his father was killed by rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) - 11 years later his 16 year-old-daughter was also killed:
Her death was an enormous shock for me and my family and at first we wanted her killers to be executed. Today we have gotten over this shock. I have let go of my hate because violence and revenge do not solve problems.
Inspired by his conviction that the cycle of violence in CAR can only be broken through forgiveness, with support from Conciliation Resources, Pastor Ndelabet helped to establish a Local Peace Committee (LPC) in his home town of Bimbo in 2014. The aim of the LPC, which includes both Muslims and Christians, is to prevent conflict through dialogue, mediation, and discussion.
Unlike most of the capital Bangui’s districts, Bimbo, was for the most part spared the violent conflict that hit CAR when the Séléka rebel coalition seized power in 2013. In response to widespread violence and looting by Séléka elements, predominantly Christian local self-defence militias, the so-called anti-Balaka, formed. Clashes between the Séléka and the anti-Balaka plunged CAR into a cycle of revenge killings.
While Bimbo was less affected by the violence itself, the conflict’s consequences were still felt in the town. With the presence of anti-Balaka fighters and the destruction of the main mosque, the town was for a long time deserted by the Muslim population.
As a pastor and Secretary General of the LPC, Marcelin Ndebalet regularly talks to the local anti-Balka militia in Bimbo, whom he knows very well:
The anti-Balka are the kids from our neighbourhood. They are the youth that live together with us. One of them told me everything he had done. I told him ‘Kiddo, now that peace is returning little by little, you need to stop’. He told me ‘Father, I will abandon all of this and I will get baptised.'
As well as talking with the local militia, pastor Ndebalet seeks to actively include anti-Balaka in the LPC’s activities. Today, some of them are members of the LPC’s youth section. They participate in the Committee’s peace activities and talk to their own group about peace and non-violent conflict resolution.
As part of his work for the LPC, Pastor Ndebalet also advocates for the return of the Muslim population to Bimbo and the reconstruction of the district’s only mosque:
I have the freedom to go to church. I have always been able to preach. But my Muslim brothers weren’t as lucky. They even had to celebrate Ramadan at home. As an actor for peace, I cannot accept that I can pray with the worshipers while my brother, the Imam, is not able to preach to his community.
However, the LPC’s advocacy faces resistance from the local authorities who fear increased tensions between Muslims and Christians; in Bimbo distrust against Muslim communities is still strong. Pastor Ndebalet knows that this work will take time:
We need to change deeply embedded behaviours and habits. I pray that Central Africans forgive one another in the name of peace.
For him, the reconstruction of Bimbo’s mosque would be an encouraging and symbolic step in this direction and a “tangible proof for social cohesion in Bimbo”.
From 2014 to 2015, the Local Peace Committees were supported through the project “Support for community dialogue and peacebuilding in CAR”, funded by the European Union Instrument for Stability (IcSP). Conciliation Resources supported the establishment of the LPCs by training members in conflict analysis, mediation and advocacy. Conciliation Resources continues to collaborate closely with the LPC, providing mentoring and financial support.