Philippines city honored for ending sectarian violence with ‘Arms to Farms’ peace initiative

An abandoned house in a Muslim community of Kauswagan, the Philippines, burned in 2000. Local strategies to make peace later worked, earning the city a peace prize. (AP Photo)

The city of Kauswagan in the Philippines was awarded the inaugural UCLG City of Bogotá Peace Prize for its novel effort to convince secessionist rebels to lay down their arms — and till the soil.

The reintegration programme, “From Arms to Farms”, was implemented with support from the national government. The initiative worked with the Moro, a Muslim community from the southern Philippines.

According to a statement by the judges who picked the programme, what impressed them most “is that the local government of Kauswagan managed to bridge the relation between peace and socioeconomic development.”

The announcement was made last October by United Cities and Local Governments, a global organization that supports cooperation among municipalities and related networks, associations and partnerships. A report issued last month took a deeper look at the Kauswagan programme, as well as award finalists from Brazil, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kauswagan, a small city located just north of the autonomous Muslim territory of Mindanao, is noteworthy both for the strides it has made toward peace and the lessons it offers other cities.

Stoked by disputes over land ownership and inequality, the Moro have a long history of rebellion dating back centuries to the era of Spanish explorers, the report explains. As violence intensified during the early 2000s, with fighting along religious lines, so did poverty.

The 2010 election of Rommel Arnado as mayor was a game changer, the prize jury says. He viewed the conflict in the context of broader social and economic issues such as hunger, poverty and inequality. “Without food there can be no peace,” the former mayor said. 

With support from public and private partners, former Moro rebels were enrolled in agricultural education programmes that taught them a trade and helped alleviate hunger.

Another goal was to improve relations between the local Christian and Muslim populations. This was accomplished through “peace path workshops” that brought both sides together for discussions aimed at overcoming prejudice and animosity.

“Through these workshops,” the report says, “the façade that tensions were the inevitable result of religious differences rather than socio-economic grievances, was dismantled.”

In addition to Kauswagan’s programme, four other finalists were selected from the 46 applications submitted from around the globe.

  • Palmira, Colombia holds a music competition that provides youngsters with an alternative to street violence, drugs and crime.
  • Cali, Colombia, a magnet for people displaced by civil strife, helps traumatized children express themselves by publishing their stories about war and conflict.
  • A “peace district” in a dangerous section of Canoas, Brazil aims to prevent violence through employment opportunities and social projects for young people.
  • A remote territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo that borders Rwanda and Burundi created “peace committees” to reintegrate militia fighters into society.

The prize jury consisted of former mayors of the Hague, Sarajevo, Kigali, Hiroshima and other cities, human rights and peace advocates, current and former U. N. officials and academics.

During the October awards ceremony at the UCLG World Congress in Bogotá, UCLG President Mpho Parks Tau emphasized the critical role local governments can play in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals intended to guide global development through 2030.

One of those goals is largely focused on promoting peace and reducing violence, a set of issues that local authorities can impact through their policies and actions.

Learn more about the Peace Prize here.

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David Hatch is a correspondent for Citiscope.  Full bio

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