Matar Chaib lives in a war zone. His town of Bria, in the Central African Republic, has been controlled by warring armed groups since 2013. Despite living at the heart of conflict, he knew that peace was possible, and knew that he could make a change to help protect the people of the town.
In March 2013, the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition overthrew President Bozize, and seized power in Central African Republic (CAR). When the rebels entered Bria, the capital of the Haute-Kotto region, in 2013, mistrust, fear and rumours quickly started to spread – and tensions began to rise between different communities and ethnic groups within the town.
Deeply concerned for the town’s safety, Matar Chaib decided to bring together leaders from different communities within Bria to take action and prevent violence against the civilian population.
This was the beginning of Bria’s Local Peace Committee (LPC). In the Central African Republic, LPCs are community-led structures that play a vital role in leading reconciliation processes. In a city abandoned by state authorities and police forces, Matar Chaib and the other LPC members quickly became the primary contacts for the local armed groups:
We started talking to them. We were used to meeting them anytime. Whenever something concerning the population went wrong, we met the local armed groups to discuss the impact on civilians.
In 2016, when tensions began to escalate among different factions of the Seleka, Matar and his colleagues travelled up to 90km by motorbike to the surrounding areas to mediate between the different groups – they talked to them about the humanitarian suffering resulting from the fighting inside the city:
Some understand easily. Others do not. We need to go slowly, one step at a time, until everyone is ready to engage into direct dialogue with the other parties. Everyone is speaking about peace, everyone wants peace. Even the leaders of the armed groups.
After long negotiations led by the LPC and involving the Sultan from Ndele and a parliamentary delegation from Bangui, the Seleka factions signed a non-aggression pact on 21 September 2017 – the International Day of Peace.
For Matar Chaib the signature of the agreement has been a major milestone. While killings have occurred since, they have not triggered reprisal attacks as was the case before. From Matar Chaib’s perspective, things are slowly changing:
Displaced people are coming back to visit their houses. Those who are lucky enough to not have had their houses destroyed or burnt down start cleaning them.