Supporting sustainable peace in Guinea-Bissau: Making room for constructive dialogue between state and society


Mario Miranda, Independent Consultant, Guinea-Bissau

A young observer once told: “Our role here is to reduce tensions and facilitate dialogue. But this only works if we make it our priority to listen to people!” (sic-somewhere)

Undoubtedly, crisis prevention is a vital crossroads for the search for and guarantee of peace. This crossroads unfolds into scenarios, making visible the different actors involved in conflict - either triggering or suffering from political, military, social and economic upheavals. Even when conflicts are endemic in the history of a society, the prevention of conflict escalation and work towards peaceful transformation through dialogue remains important.

Guinea Bissau is an unstable country permanently subjected to political, economic and social turbulence. This is manifested, inter alia, in coups d'état, weak institutions, systemic corruption, generalized organized crime, economic crisis, human rights violations through the state and violent internal conflicts in the community.

Political elites use upheavals for personal profits, neglecting the harmful impacts on society they cause. As a result, the state is struggling to ensure the rule of law – its institutions are indifferent to social injustice and inequality and fail to protect human rights. Most of the time, people from different religious affiliations live together peacefully in Guinea-Bissau – about 40 per cent of the population are ethnic religions, 50 per cent Muslims and 10 per cent Christians. This good integration allows frequent foci of conflict between Muslims and members of ethnic religions as well as between different Islamic groups, with no harm to the peaceful coexistence of the religions.

The major challenges in Guinea-Bissau are unresolved conflicts between different social and ethnic groups about the supremacy in preserving customary and traditional characteristics of the respective ethnic groups. This leads to a concentration of political power possessed by the most influential ethnic groups – instead of power sharing between all groups.

The working experience obtained in projects developed by local partners and Weltfriedensdienst (WFD) in Guinea-Bissau shows that when the state is bankrupt, it is still possible to find endogenous resources within the communities to develop medium and long-term solutions for conflict transformation and for the prevention of new crises. Involving Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the prevention and peaceful transformation of political, military and civilian crises is thus crucial for building sustainable peace.

In order to ensure a democratic rule of law and the prevention of violence, it is essential to pursue efforts to combat poverty and social inequalities, to adapt education systems and to teach essential principles of citizenship and human rights in parallel. This all done "from the bottom up" has more assurance of sustainability than long-term future prospects from “top down”.

The stability of a country depends largely on the capacity of civil society to manage and adapt to change, supporting and investing in the functioning of formal institutions to encourage peace through informal activities. This can include making room for constructive dialogue and the facilitation of the dialogue between state and society – for example on how security and justice sector reforms should be designed. Organized civil society has to build the capacity within the communities to unlock the potential of bottom-up approaches and positive opposition to the governmental chaos.

That is why the expectation for Germany's cooperation in preventing civil conflict and building sustainable peace could be based on the following priorities:

  • To promote the pedagogy of peace education: by supporting the formation in the community and develop partnerships with regional delegations of the Guinean ministry of education aiming for the integration of peace education in the school curriculum.
  • To promote the involvement of local media in education campaigns for pro-active citizenship and the non-violent transformation of conflicts.
  • To promote mediation as an alternative tool in the absence of the judicial system in more remote areas and encourage local peacebuilding organizations to contribute to enriching jurisdictions with a new "multi-door courthouse concept", bringing judges to the communities, without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the courts.
  • To strengthen cooperation and direct involvement with CSOs / Think Tanks / International Organizations, the training methodology of CSOs might be improved, by disseminating and adapting the CSO Consensus of Siem Reap and the eight Istanbul Principles for CSO development effectiveness to the different social realities of each country, which necessarily requires an adequate and negotiated program with CSO representatives.
  • In the face of increased global upheavals, Germany should work towards an increased international collaboration in order to change mentality and behaviour of the governments whose countries generate international instability.