This article is the third in a series of stories on how work financed by the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments directly impacts the lives of individuals. The fourth and final entry as a part of the “Unis dans nos différences” project will follow over the coming weeks.
Guinea has been going through a fragile and turbulent democratic transition since 2008. Extreme poverty, weak governance, and lack of equal access to basic services and resources are fuelling resentment and mistrust in the State‘s ability to promote positive change for its people. Tensions, conflicts, and violent clashes between different groups are affecting the country’s fragile stability and resilience.
Through the project “Unis dans nos différences,” the IcSP aims to strengthen local actors’ (youth, women, local authorities, religious and traditional leaders) capacity to manage conflicts peacefully and to promote social cohesion and tolerance, while preventing the spread of radicalisation and violent extremism.
Moussa is an Imam. In the Guinée Forestière area, he is proving that religion aims to bring everybody together, without exceptions.
In 2013, 40 km from N'Zérékoré, the city where Moussa lives, three youths were accused of being thieves and beaten by the guards of a service station. A few hours later, two of them died as a result of their injuries. “The guards and the youths were from different ethnic groups. What began as an isolated incident then turned into an ethnic conflict that engulfed the region,” Moussa remembers.
In less than three days, a spiral of violent retaliations followed, leading to over 100 deaths. “Each community wanted revenge. People were accusing and killing each other. It turned into a religious war, and churches and mosques were set on fire. When the conflict reached N'Zérékoré, my niece was burned alive in her own home. Even now, my heart still aches whenever I think about it,” confides Moussa.
The fires may be out now, but the consequences are still being felt. The divisions of the past that led to a conflict of this magnitude remain. For the past two years, Moussa has been one of the religious leaders appointed as resource persons to prevent identity-based violence through the project “Unis dans nos differences”’ (United in our differences), implemented by Search and financed by the European Union.
“We work in harmony with local and religious leaders to identify the obstacles to peace in our communities. This allows us to identify the roots of the problems which remain between the communities and to act on them directly,” explains Moussa.
In N'Zérékoré, religious leaders are a part of most people’s daily life and so their voices play a vital role in spreading reliable information, raising awareness in communities, and strengthening social cohesion. “Before, Christians and Muslims used to be scared of each other. Even religious leaders like us were not entirely infallible. Thanks to the meetings organised by Search, I understood just how crucial it is for imams, pastors, and priests to unite their voices. Our communities are religious and they place a lot of significance in what we tell them,” he says.
Indeed, in both churches and mosques, religious leaders come together to set an example and to send out a common message of peace and tolerance. “Seeing an imam and a priest together in the same place of worship promoting peace has a huge impact on our followers. We remind people that we pray to the same God. How we worship may be different, but in Islam as in Christianity, we are told to do good and not evil,” adds Moussa.
Seven years have passed since the conflicts of 2013. However, Moussa’s fight to strengthen community ties in N'Zérékoré is not over. “I hope such events will not happen again. I want to spread Search’s work throughout our communities and especially amongst young people. When a conflict erupts, our children are the first to head to the streets. That’s why it’s my mission to keep helping my peers understand that we are all one family, we are indivisible and share the same blood,” he concludes.
As part of the project Unis dans nos differences, which is financed by the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), religious leaders from different faiths and religious movements in the town of N'Zérékoré were trained in preventing violent extremism, managing conflicts and positive leadership. Using this knowledge, they were able to initiate actions such as dialogue sessions and radio programmes to promote living together in harmony and to address existing tensions. Today, Muslim and Christian associations work together to promote peaceful coexistence in their communities.