In February 2020, one of the most influential women peacebuilders in Gbaya Community passed away at the age of 100 years. During her lifetime, Koko Didi1In Gbaya’s mother-tongue, Koko means Grand. It is a nick name for aged persons or grandparents. So, Koko Didi means Grand-mother Didi. She is officially identified as Zo’o Didi.  I’m indebted to her for providing me with deep insights and knowledge about Gbaya peacemaking practices and ceremonies. was widely respected for her successes in the use of local cultural practices in preventing and resolving many local conflicts among the Gbaya communities and their neighbors in East-Central Cameroon and Western Central African Republic (CAR).2This article is based on some of the findings of my APN-funded research. I express my gratitude to Simon Inou for his comments on the first draft of this paper.

While United Nations (UN) Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) passed in October 2000 included provisions for the equal and full participation of women in decision-making and the implementation of policies and actions in the field of peace and security, the Gbaya community of Cameroon had long established cultural practices that recognized the leadership role of women peacebuilders.3Beloko, D.-B. L’homme Gbaya, son histoire, sa culture. Ngaoundéré: EELC, 2002.; Christensen, Thomas G. An African Tree of Life. New York: Orbis Books, 1990.; Formal interview with Koko Didi, September 4, 2018 at Meiganga.

Among the Gbaya people, the Oko’o Nga’a mo (women of peace) have long been the main local peacebuilding actors. Oko’o Nga’a mo or Oko’o Pi-Nga’a mo is the Gbaya designation for women of peace.4Christensen, Thomas G. An African Tree of Life. New York: Orbis Books, 1990. They are true guardians of the Soré5The Anona senegalensis locally called Soré, is a shrub that grows in the wooded savannah of the high plateau of Adamawa in West and Central Africa. It is best known for its taste and pharmaceutical properties. (the tree of peace among Gbaya communities).6Christensen, Thomas G. An African Tree of Life. New York: Orbis Books, 1990. Their main role involves practicing the Soré Nga’a mo ritual for resolving conflicts and building peace among the Gbaya, and between them and their neighbors.7Amina Djouldé, Christelle. “Reporting on “Oko’o Nga’a mo”: Women and Peacebuilding rationales within the Gbaya Community of Cameroon and Central African Republic.” (forthcoming). In addition, they are responsible for legitimizing the authority of village chiefs, performing purifying rituals for villages after conflict, an epidemic or natural disaster, reconciling former enemies, and consolidating peace in villages, homes, and even families.

The Soré Nga’a mo ritual is a female institution of peace based on a cultural peacebuilding ritual performed especially by post-menopausal women.8Amina Djouldé, Christelle. “Reporting on “Oko’o Nga’a mo”: Women and Peacebuilding rationales within the Gbaya Community of Cameroon and Central African Republic.” (forthcoming). Koko Didi was the oldest and the most powerful and well-respected of these women of peace in Meiganga, in the Adamawa Region of Cameroon, where she lived. Koko Didi made impactful contributions to peacebuilding at the local level in ways that could be related to UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS).

As an illustration, on the eve of the democratic transition and first multi-party elections (1992 to 1993), ethnic conflict broke out in Meiganga (Cameroon) and between the Gbaya (predominantly Christians) and the Fulani (predominantly Muslims).9Ndanga, Dieudonné and Henri Alexis Ndanga. L’identité Gbaya. Essai de reconstruction de l’Histoire et des coutumes des Gbaya de l’Est du Cameroun. Saarbrücken: Edition Universitaire Européenne, 2014. This conflict took place against the background of what the Gbaya perceived as resistance to Fulani hegemony which was traced back to Ousman Dan Fodio’s jihad of the early 19th century.10Lovejoy, Paul. Jihad in West Africa During the Age of Revolutions. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2016.;Bah Thierno, Mouctar. “Le facteur peul et les relations inter-ethniques dans l’Adamaoua au XXe siècle.” In Peuples et cultures de l’Adamaoua (Cameroun), edited by Hermenegildo Adala and Jean Boutrais, 61-86. Paris: Ostorm, 1992. This was an explosive element in the context of Cameroon’s return to multiparty democracy. The Gbaya supported the ruling party, Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), while the Fulani were perceived as supporting one of the main opposition parties, the Democratic Union for Progress and Development (DUPD).11Burnham, Philip. Gbaya. the Heritage. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1997.; Burnham, Philip. The Politics of Cultural Difference in Northern Cameroon, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996. The government deployed soldiers to end the inter-ethnic conflict. However, the military approach failed to resolve anything. Other efforts by the government towards peaceful reconciliation between the two communities were also unsuccessful. So, the government authorities decided to adopt and use a local, cultural indigenous approach towards restoring peace in the area.

The government requested Oko’o Nga’a mo Koko Didi to perform the Soré Nga’a mo ritual to help end the conflict and restore peace.12Formal interviews with Koko Didi, September 13, 2018 at Meiganga. Formal interview with Koko Didi, September 6, 2018 at Meiganga. Because, in Gbaya community, peace is an institution organically built around women. After the performance of this ritual, the Gbaya stopped any further hostilities towards the Fulani and similarly the Fulani made peace with the Gbaya. Koko Didi was also one of the key members of the reconciliation commission between the Gbaya and the Fulani. By performing the peacemaking ritual, Koko Didi took responsibility for reconciling the erstwhile belligerents, defusing social tensions, and putting an end to the conflict. She also helped to ritually cleanse and purify the post-conflict environment. Koko Didi’s actions were concrete cases demonstrating that peacebuilding roles are not exclusively for men and peacebuilding is also a matter of cultural beliefs.

Koko Didi served her people and country as Oko’o Nga’a mo, a woman ‘who throws peace.’ She provided traditional and religious leadership in local peacebuilding. People trusted the Soré Nga’a mo ritual of peace and blessings by Koko Didi because she was considered a priestess of God (So-Da). As a priestess, she focused on propitiatory and prophylactic measures to promote peace and well-being between the community and God.13Formal interview with Koko Didi, September 4, 2018 at Meiganga. Koko Didi’s peacemaking activities were primarily through rituals for purification and blessing. In everyday life in Meiganga and the neighboring areas, she focused on prophylactic, conciliatory, and restorative measures to promote peace and well-being within the community, Cameroon, and the rest of the region. Since the 1990s, Koko Didi was often invited to official ceremonies (national holidays, ministerial administrative visits, and launch of electoral campaigns) and development activities such as commissioning of roads or schools, to perform the Soré Nga’a mo ritual to promote peaceful co-existence.14Formal interviews with Jean Mo’o Ndo’o, Yadji, Kaigama, and Aliou, September 11, 15 and 17 2018 at Meiganga, Doha, et Dir. Formal interview with Koko Didi, September 4, 2018 at Meiganga.

She initiated many Gbaya women in Meiganga and surrounding areas as Oko’o Nga’a mo (women of peace). They are well-respected women who through their peacemaking rituals and actions help restore calm necessary for peacebuilding activities and community development. The performance of peace rituals dispersed disruptive forces and neutralized violent behavior. Such ceremonies are also believed to exorcise negative elements in people such as evil, disease, misfortune, and dissension. Given her illustrious legacy as a local peacebuilder, Koko Didi can be considered as a true African heroine and change agent when it comes to promoting and maintaining peace in Cameroon’s Gbaya community.

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