In Guyana attempts to develop either a single cross party national identity, or multiple identities had failed. The opposition was boycotting parliament, there were widespread street protests and a real fear that Guyana was becoming a failed state.

Almost 2 years before the elections, the Governance and Democracy programme of UNDP had initiated a project in which donors pooled resources to enable the UN to manage a single conflict resolution/violence prevention programme, aimed at ensuring peaceful elections, allowing all groups to feel included in national decision making and their community development and to start to feel there was a common shared future for the whole country.

Growing frustration

Myers says that although the UN had gone through the processes, very little had been achieved:

“The UN held widespread consultations, with the university, trades unions, media, business sector, youth and womens’ associations, religious leaders and human rights activists who identified the main problems and proposed solutions. There was support for the ongoing political dialogue process… however, after eighteen months there had been very limited success, and both the international donors and general public were frustrated with lack of progress and the rising violence levels.”

The UNDP decided to recalibrate the approach to focus on youth and youth violence but to do this they needed to involve civil societymore broadly which they did with a threefold strategy:

  • Recognising that there was almost no local capacity in mediation skills in Guyana, they identified key people across all organisations who had a personal interest in conflict resolution and conflict transformation including trades unions, faith communities, NGOs, and local government ministries. They were invited to conflict resolution and transformation training and some of them went on to train others in their own organisations.
  • Local governments were asked to identify young people in their communities who had leadership potential, who would reach out to their peers involved in violence, and engage with them using the skills they had learned in conflict resolution and transformation. The group represented different ethnic groups and included both men and women.
  • NGOs were invited to tender through adverts in the local newspapers to support the young people in their work at community level. Organisations were assessed and selected based on their past experience and capacity and were offered UN training.
It was an ambitious project and while the young people were able to engage some of their ‘harder to reach’ contemporaries in communities that were experiencing less conflict, in some of the most conflict prone communities it was more difficult.

Hard to reach

“The programme was a wide ranging attempt to introduce conflict resolution skills across thewhole society to create a ‘critical mass’ of people who believed peace was possible. Even though some of the most ‘hard to reach’ were left out of the project, enough of the public were involved to overcome the remaining spoilers and make the project successful. More specifically, it created a sense of alternatives to violence at the time of the 2006 elections – people were inundated with peace messages from every direction. The elections were the first in living memory to take place without violence and the peacebuilding initiative will always be seen as having contributed to this.”

Changing language

“While not all politicians acknowledged the impact of the peacebuilding movement, there has been a change in their rhetoric that includes language such a “social cohesion, inclusion, unity and change,” a marked departure from the divisive discourse of the past.”