Guinea recently experienced its most serious political, social and economic crisis since independence.
A series of flawed elections, the impunity of the elite in power, a weak and disorganised political class, and a non-functional administrative state culminated in a popular insurrection in January and February 2007.
The insurrection brought civil society into a key strategic position. And, along with government and other decision-makers, civil society continues to orient and monitor the fragile accords that suspended the strike and reassured the population that things would change.
The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) began its work with Guinean civil society over seven years ago. Insufficient dialogue and acute divisions within the country had undermined democratic processes. IFES therefore made an effort to consolidate the newly established National Council of Guinean Civil Society Organisations (CNOSCG), a coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs), which advocates for reforms, engaged citizenship, dialogue and national unity.
IFES has helped to strengthen civil society through programmes designed to enhance the capacity of the coalition and its member organisations:
- CSOs were trained to design and implement several national civic education campaigns: over a million Guineans received information on participatory democracy, the constitution, rights and responsibilities, and the electoral process.
- Women were encouraged to engage actively in the electoral process as voters and potential candidates.
- Guinean leaders from all parts of the country, sectors and from the grassroots level were included: trustworthy local contacts were made early on to ensure that the widest possible range of people was included in the process.
- Dialogue platforms, led by an all-Guinean steering committee, brought together all the stakeholders – civil society, political parties, government experts, opinion leaders, senior citizens and security forces – to discuss Guinea's problems, identify solutions and develop strategies that could improve democratic processes.
This process was a critical step towards addressing many of the structural barriers to good governance. Although the January-February 2007 uprisings happened soon after this, the process provided a multi-sectoral plan for carrying the country out of crisis. Guinean civil society gained credibility as a result, and became a source of hope for citizens.
Unfortunately, along with this new-found popularity, inner divisions and rivalries surfaced within the social movement. Thus the main stakeholders – union leaders and the CNOSCG – were unable to strategise and plan the next steps. IFES then facilitated a series of meetings, which helped the civil society to define precisely the changes needed and make some progress.
Ten months later, although the country's elite groups are still fighting one another, they regularly meet. IFES is leading a nationwide United Nations peacebuilding initiative, in which over 5,000 citizens at the grassroots level are meeting to voice their problems and aspirations, and identify potential and existing sources of conflict.
This could well contribute to peaceful and credible legislative elections, scheduled for late 2008.
International Foundation for Election Systems-Guinea