Civil war has disrupted the lives of millions of people living in post-conflict countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Communities are left with physical destruction to village infrastructure and social divisions amongst combatants and victims. How do community members, once in conflict with neighbors, move forward with the traumatic memories of war? Every year, development dollars are allocated to transitional justice programming in these war-torn countries, yet the effects of this programming have not been addressed in development economics literature.
Sierra Leone’s eleven-year civil war ended in 2002, affecting the entire country. Despite the passage of almost a decade since the end of the war, many parts of the country have not fully recovered from the conflict. Physical damage to public goods, such as buildings and water pipes, remains. Many former combatants, who were children during the war, have not returned to their villages—possibly fearing they will not be accepted.
Fambul Tok International has developed a community-based reconciliation initiative to help communities rebuild. Fambul Tok’s programming provides an alternative to commonly accepted transitional justice mechanisms, such as retributive war crimes courts or truth and reconciliation commissions, both of which have had a presence in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Few community reintegration and reconciliation models, like that of Fambul Tok, have been rigorously evaluated, and evidence on best practices are lacking.
Fambul Tok’s approach to reconciliation engages community leaders to organize a forgiveness bonfire and cleansing ceremony in the village. At the ceremony, victims, perpetrators and witnesses all have the opportunity to publicly describe their experiences. Perpetrators are given the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and victims the opportunity to forgive. After the ceremony, the community is brought together through activities such as communal farming and designating a peace tree for dispute resolution. These ongoing activities are designed to promote social interconnectedness and build social capital.
One hundred sixty randomly selected villages will receive this intervention. Twelve individuals in each of these villages, as well as in another 160 comparison villages that do not receive the program, will receive a baseline survey collecting data on socioeconomic status, trust, psychosocial well-being, social networks, and specific war-time experiences. An additional village-level survey will be administered in each village to a group of community leaders to garner information on the village’s war experiences and active community projects like communal farms and schools. A follow-up survey will be administered to the full sample one year later.
To understand how reconciliation affects conflict, researchers will analyze how the program impacts individuals’ attitudes toward violence, the incidence of disputes and crimes in the community, and the mechanisms used to resolve disputes. An assessment of whether reconciliation serves as a base for economic development will be conducted through analysis of how the program affects economic activity. The study will further measure whether individuals within treatment communities are more willing to work together or contribute resources for communal ends.
In addition to seeing if reconciliation improves social and economic outcomes, we hope to identify the mechanism through which it affects behavior. We plan to identify the mechanism through the use of behavioral games, which will be conducted in a subset of the communities. Behavioral games are complementary to respondent interviews, insofar as they measure differences in observed rather than reported behavior. The behavioral experiments are designed to disentangle four different components of intra-group behavior: in-group altruism, out-group altruism, reputation and trust. By overlaying four different types of experiments, we can test for different mechanisms through which a change in perceptions and beliefs leads to changed behavior.