Since the civil war of 1998-1999, Guinea-Bissau has experienced reoccurring cycles of violent conflict. The continued struggle for power between the military and political elite has been deeply divisive and has further polarised different agendas and interests, proving the necessity for a restructuring of the security sector with an innovative approach to peacebuilding.
At the request of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS, now renamed UNIOGBIS), Interpeace partnered with local organisation Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisa (INEP) in 2005 to investigate the situation in the country and evaluate the potential for creating a local initiative targeted to promote and collaborate for sustainable peace. As a result of this research, the programme Voz di Paz was created in 2007 with a mandate to assist in creating and broadening a dialogue about the key obstacles hindering peace in the country and supporting local, national and regional actors to participate in the prevention of future conflict. In 2010 it became its own independent local organisation.
In light of the context, it was recognized by the community that ongoing projects and efforts at resolving the issues at hand were not effective. Two main reasons for this were identified: the root causes were not being tackled and a big divide between levels of society existed, which was not conducive to creating trust between them.
Therefore, the Voz di Paz initiative consulted the population and all concerned actors and found four basic principles that were key to break the cycles of failed projects targeting a reform of the security and defence sector:
- Provide access to information about SSR;
- improve the dialogue between the Security forces and the population;
- promote the wide-spread participation of the Security forces in shaping the final structure of the reform;
- provide feedback to the institutional actors of the reform.
This vision of inclusiveness and participation was used in both the ‘peace-mapping phase’ and the ‘formulation of peace visions and solution phase.’ By setting up Regional Spaces of Dialogue (RSD), where leaders in the communities acted as facilitators and created a space that encouraged debate about various issues, the program created a culture of dialogue to build bridges between all stakeholders, such as citizens, structured constituencies, organisations, and the military. These relieved many tensions throughout the country as the population began to work together to solve their issues. Together, the communities came up with four of the most important issues that needed to be addressed: ineffective state institutions and bad governance, poverty, poor administration of justice, and tribalism.
Participatory Action Research – has proven to be effective in building mutual understanding and trust between various groups in society and the security sector and it allows all stakeholders to get a stronger grasp of the different needs of the population. It also empowers citizens since it makes them feel included and significant because it gives them agency in determining their own destiny, as well as a deeper understanding of the necessary actions and actors relevant for change. This adds to the sustainable aspect of the program because people are then motivated to continue with it even after the project is over.
Highest Ranking Officials – A challenge encountered was maintaining the extensive involvement of the highest ranks of the security sector, including generals, the police, political parties and the business sector. In the evaluation of the Voz di Paz/Interpeace programme it was concluded that it is imperative to foster a relationship with this network in order to have a consequential influence in conflict mediation in this sphere.
Inclusiveness and Status of Neutrality – Even though they are often difficult to maintain in certain aspects of the implementation process, the two were identified as key characteristics of the program that allowed it to be as successful as it has been.
The program has thrived in developing a nationwide debate about the causes of conflict and, simultaneously, using this strategy to promote dialogue as a non-violent tool for the negotiation of multiple stakeholders’ interests. In 2010, about 85% of the population was familiar with the program and the national debates, which is in part due to the clever use of the media, especially radio broadcasts, to disseminate the information.
Furthermore, one of the most successful aspects of Voz di Paz has been the set up of the regional permanent structures, the RSDs, since they have served as role models in the community for nonviolence and good governance through the collaboration based on trust between the people and the local state representatives. Through the use of a brochure, they have also managed to circulate information about SSR and explain how it can be used as an opportunity for change. Lastly, Voz di Paz has already had an effect on some of the political-military elite by inspiring the Commission of National Conference for Reconciliation to use a similar inclusive-approach for the National Conference.
Roots of Conflicts in Guinea-Bissau: The voice of the people, Voz di Paz, 2010.