“Even if our opinions differ, that does not prevent us from living in harmony”
This article is the second in a series of stories on how work financed by the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments directly impacts the lives of individuals. More entries 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) capacities to manage conflicts peacefully and to promote social cohesion and tolerance, while preventing the spread of radicalisation and violent extremism.
In the north of Guinea, Fatoumata helps pave the way to greater tolerance within her community.
In the city of Labé, Fatoumata, Prefectoral Director of Social Work, the Advancement of Women and Childhood, works daily for the good of her community. However, not long ago, her work placed her at the centre of the country’s political divisions. Tensions related to a constitutional referendum that would pave the way for a third presidential term have been acutely felt in the region for several months now and exacerbate the risk of increasing violence in the region.
Mainly because of her role within the prefecture, Fatoumata rarely came into contact with somebody with a different political leaning to her own. “I was very outspoken. I didn’t want to hear anything about the opposition or come into contact with anyone from a different party to mine. I thought that since I work for the government, it was my duty to fully support it no matter what,” she said.
Since then, things have changed for Fatoumata. With the help of a previous project, Fatoumata overcame her initial prejudices to work together with people from different political backgrounds to prevent and combat violence in Labé through an early warning and response system. Today, the project “Unis dans nos différences” (United in our differences), implemented by Search and financed by the European Union, brings them together once again to further develop these capabilities.
Thus, through training on the prevention of violent extremism, Fatoumata and local figures on the frontline of these prevention efforts have been able to gain the tools necessary to respond to rhetoric and attitudes based on exclusion and violence.
“This training helped me understand that I was wrong and to change my behaviour. I stopped being so radical and entrenched in my ideals. Since then, I have been tolerant towards everyone. We are all Guineans, we need to accept each other. Even if our opinions differ, that does not prevent us from living in harmony,” she said.
Today, Fatoumata is working to ensure that this change occurs in everyone she meets. “The change in myself has had a direct impact on my community. I gained the right tools to bring people together,” she added. Fatoumata places particular emphasis on training for young girls, so that they can also respond to attitudes contributing to violence. “Women are the backbone of peace and development in the country. Without their input, there will be no peace. I work each day to raise their awareness so that they can unite, reach out and work together for a better future for our children,” she said.
These awareness-raising campaigns are already bearing fruit and Fatoumata often acts as a mediator during conflicts within the community. “We need to continue with and increase these training courses so that they can include key persons in all violent hotspots. People need to understand that violence will not help us solve Guinea’s problems. We must also initiate dialogue with and listen to others, and be tolerant in order to promote a way of living better together,” Fatoumata concludes.
As part of the project ‘Unis dans nos différences’ (United in our differences) financed by the European Union's Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), the local and administrative authorities of the city of Labé have benefited from experiential training in techniques for preventing violent extremism, positive communication and conflict transformation, and have been involved in collaborative initiatives such as public forums (Tribunes d’Expression Populaires). This initiative is based on the Common Ground approach (CGA) of Search, aimed at bringing people together despite their differences for lasting social change based on common interests. Today, the authorities have the tools and network required to work together, with civil society and community leaders, to promote social cohesion and to prevent attitudes and rhetoric that exclude others.