This article is the fourth in a series of stories on how the “Unis dans nos différences” project financed by the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments directly impacts the lives of individuals.
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. 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.
Jean-Pierre, 19, is one of the many young talents in the city of N'Zérékoré, in Guinée Forestière. This young and committed debater brilliantly uses his words to promote peace in his region.
Jean-Pierre’s greatest joy in life is mastering the art of speech and captivating his audience. It was at the school peace club in N'Zérékoré that this young man discovered his passion: debating. The club trains students in communication techniques to boost their commitment to promoting social cohesion. The students are then able to apply their newfound knowledge via various cultural activities and school competitions.
“In the debating competitions, the topic ‘Guinea is a family’ resonated the most with me. I heard my opponent say we weren’t family. These examples remind us of our current situation, and the divisions at the heart of our communities. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to find arguments that highlighted what we had in common, and we won,” Jean-Pierre remembers.
In February, Jean-Pierre had to convince a much larger audience that his arguments were valid when he came up against the opposing teams. As part of “Unis dans nos différences”’ (United in our differences), a project implemented by Search for Common Ground (SFCG) with the help of EU funding, a peace festival was organised in N'Zérékoré. For several days, nearly 100 young people from peace clubs in different regions organised debates, interactive theatre, dance, and projections of short films about peace.
“It was a unique experience in terms of accepting each other. Normally, in these competitions, there’s always a team that storms off in anger. But this time, when each winner was announced, the whole room stood up to applaud. The general feeling was of loving your neighbour. The only thing that mattered was this common reason that brought us all together: peace,” he explains.
During the festival, the young leaders became role models for the country in how to live together in greater harmony. Hailing from different communities, with varying outlooks on culture, politics and religion, they soon forged new friendships which transcended their differences. “It was the first time that I met people from other towns. It was amazing; we shared a lot and learned from each other. Their performances moved me and I can safely say the country is full of talented young people,” he says. Today, these young Guineans spread a common message of peace and tolerance in their communities.
Those few days simply re-affirmed Jean-Pierre’s passion. However, the aim of “Unis dans nos différences,” stopping violent extremism and promoting social cohesion, gave the young man a new focus. “My new motto is based on an idea which really moved me: Guinea is a family. The messages of peace which came from these debates are now a part of me. Wherever I go, I will be a messenger of peace. I want to be living proof that a new generation is taking shape. A generation that doesn’t take part in mobs and stone-throwing. We’re going to make the country proud of us,” he concludes.
As part of Unis dans nos différences, a project funded by the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), 40 peace clubs have been established in secondary schools, communities and universities all over the country. These clubs offer young people a place to develop their skills in fields such as positive communication, leadership, dealing with rumours and conflict mediation and management. Together, the young leaders from the different clubs participated in a national peace festival where they harnessed their creativity and commitment to develop the best initiative to promote living together in harmony. The activities included dance, theatre, debates and making short films.