On the Road With the Peace Caravans of Guinea
The new social cohesion project — launched by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and the United Nations system in Guinea — brings divergent groups together through the interchange of ideas, arts and culture.
O n a mild November evening in Koundara — a town in north-western Guinea close to the borders with Guinea-Bissau and Senegal — youth leader Foutamata Binta Diallo watched her neighbors dance and sing at an event celebrating local culture. Songs meant to galvanize and energize wrestlers mixed with Cognagui melodies, which accompanied the Sampatché dance. Men and women danced behind sacred masks, under the gaze of children and locals.
“Our cultural traditions, like the Sampatché dance and wrestling, are elements that our parents used to bring people together, to talk about cohesion and spread peace messages in our localities,” said Diallo.
The event was part of a “peace caravan” initiative organized by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and the United Nations system in Guinea, to promote social cohesion in ten towns in the four regions of the country: Forest Guinea, Lower Guinea, Fouta Djallon and Upper Guinea.
Guinea After the Coup
Less than a year following the swearing-in of President Alpha Condé for a contested third term in office, the military staged a coup d’état on 5 September 2021, which ousted Condé and led to the country’s suspension from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.
The sites where the peace caravans were held were chosen based on the prevalence of conflicts, the presence of multi-ethnic communities, as well as local actors that use tools for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, such as inter-ethnic pacts. The aim of the caravans would be to create an inclusive space to discuss social divides and — hopefully — identify community-owned solutions to conflicts.
On the Road
Some 600 participants attended the launch of the caravan tour at the University of N’zérékoré in the south of Guinea, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh, and the transitional Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté.
In his remarks, Special Representative Annadif said that “I call on all Guineans, especially the youth and students, to work to build a culture of peace and to resolutely turn away from voices that call for violence, confrontation, discrimination and hatred. The youth must resolutely work for a prosperous and peaceful future in a united and democratic Guinea.”
In addition, a high-level panel for intergenerational dialogue discussed social cohesion in the country, while local chiefs, traditional and religious leaders, as well as local authorities and representatives of women’s and youth associations, moderated a debate on the multi-sectarian relations between different ethnic components and the role of women and youth in peacebuilding.
In Kindia, the prevention of land disputes and the concerted management of land were discussed at the caravan. One of the recommendations formulated by the community, including the local administrative authorities, was the need to reform the estate and land code.
In Mamou, a city in the Fouta Djallon region, several hundred locals gathered in schools, mosques and youth centres. to discuss cultural diversity and social cohesion. The debate, which was broadcast live by ten local radio stations, also included the views of women who had been victims of gender-based violence, who spoke to raise awareness about the need to receive adequate support from state authorities.
In Boffa, where foreign bauxite mining companies operate, community members discussed corporate social responsibility and youth employment. Conflicts over land — in Boffa and in the country and continent as a whole — are often the result of the reduction of arable land caused by mining companies. Forests and wildlife are destroyed by mining activities. Additionally, the poor redistribution of mining wealth creates frustrations that can spill over into violent protest, while a lack of job opportunities pushes young people to leave the country.
Participants recommended the establishment by mining companies of vocational training centres to create job opportunities and prevent illegal migration. These recommendations were then passed along to the companies by the administrative authorities of the town in collaboration with customary and religious authorities, as well as youth representatives and women’s leaders.
In Labé, the administrative capital of the Fouta Djallon region, a group of youth were trained by the city’s Municipal Youth Council on community dialogue techniques and then deployed in 15 “hotspot” zones. They addressed issues of local concern, such as youth participation in peacebuilding efforts, as well as the role of culture in efforts to live together peacefully.
The University of Amadou Niang in Labé hosted a conference on social cohesion with the participation of the governor, elders, religious leaders, women’s groups and students. The Conference provided an opportunity to exchange the sectarian relations uniting the different ethnic groups in Guinea, including the inter-community peace agreements, for example between the Malinké and Peul groups.
Oumar Kane, a senior political affairs officer at DPPA/ UNOWAS and the team leader for Mano River Basin Cluster, Coordinator of the Peace Caravans project, told Politically Speaking that tensions between groups can boil over into violence, as they did during the 2020 election cycle. As Kane noted, the Caravans are an attempt to find consensus:
“The initiative was created to bring people together regardless of ethnicity and religion to talk and agree on local solutions and resolve their disputes, without the need for state interventions … the project in Guinea showed that discussions with local communities themselves can go a long way to calming political and ethnic divisions.”
The Peace Caravans project is simultaneously taking place in Côte d’Ivoire. It is a project funded by DPPA’s Multi-Year Appeal.