A Forgiveness Method In Sierra Leone

It is quite possible that forgiveness is one of the most potent human tools to heal rifts, conflicts, hurts and the many other harms humanity is known to commit. Civil wars, tribal strife, armed conflicts, the globe is unfortunately rife with them, and all, it seems, could benefit from a dose of forgiveness. In most instances, past conflicts could also benefit from its practice. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa brought the idea to the forefront, demonstrated how powerful it can be and taught us that wherever forgiveness is trying to forge new bridges among former adversaries, it is undeniably noteworthy. Right now it could be of use in places like Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Kenya, Uganda, even Zimbabwe and Darfur… and for all we know be more effective than the status quo.
A very good example of forgiveness in action is what John Caulker is attempting in Sierra Leone. A former undercover worker for Amnesty International, Caulker is trying out a new version of achieving forgiveness in a country that was devastated by a long and very bloody civil war that began in 1991. He calls it Fambul Tok, Krio, an English based creole, for family talk. It is an old Sierra Leonian way of sitting around a bond fire and talking to resolve disputes. In this case it is an alternative to prosecution. Not only is prosecution a Western concept and the court system throughout the country in shambles, prosecution primarily focuses on the defendants and leaves out an important part of the equation, the victim. Fambul Tok is also hoped to be an opportunity for confession of war crimes, and hopefully the release and healing that can come from them. Many of the perpetrators were victims themselves, abducted and forced to fight by a group now infamous for chopping off limbs of civilians. They had to kill, main rape or be killed.
Caulker tries to be realistic. He says he doesn’t want to make the mistake that this in itself constitutes reconciliation because he knows that what he’s doing is only the start of a process. It’s a village by village approach–so far 35 have signed up–where victims are listening, even if not necessarily talking, all in all a good beginning when there are still so many wounds to heal, reconciliation has such a long way to go, and people have so much to overcome.
Early efforts at a TRC in Sierra Leone failed, partly because they were not as rooted in the communities, raised too many hopes and perhaps set people up for disappointments. But Fambul Tok while a longer-term process may feel more authentic than anything that may seem too much like a Western institution. Meanwhile Caulker does believe in the future of his method, “People will not forgive if someone does not come forward to them in person to acknowledge what they did…Someone has to acknowledge that this person was hurt, that restores dignity to the victims.”