‘Thinking with Our Own Heads, Walking with Our Own Feet’ in Guinea-Bissau

This article, written by Silvia Arjona Martín, was originally published on the AECOS website with the title “Fresh Air for Guinea-Bissau” [es] on 26 August 2013. Read the first part on Global Voices: Fresh Air for Guinea-Bissau: A Country in Search of Prosperity.

[Editor's note: Since this report was originally published, the transitional president of Guinea-Bissau stated on 8 October that a new date for the general elections would be decided during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit of heads of state, which will be held at the end of this month].

Democratic presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau have long inspired insecurity and distrust amongst the country's citizens. Few people believe that voting will go off without a hitch, including voting in the upcoming elections formerly scheduled for 24 November 2013.

Paula Fortes, an Afro-Brazilian journalist with Guinean roots, declares herself to be skeptical while waiting to see what will happen. She does not believe that things will change, although she hopes that they will, but she sees the future in her country as very uncertain due to its continuing lack of political stability. It may be that the experience of living through the 1998 war – when she had to leave Bissau at age 14 with a bag containing her most personal belongings and go quickly to the port in search of the boat which would take her to Cape Verde – that prevents her from seeing a prosperous future. She recalls those events with a great deal of sadness, as if they were a big scar on her life.

It is for this reason, and because of the shame which she still feels when she sees that they are “interfering with” her country (referring to the latest coup d'etat) that she began to form part of the Movement for Citizen Action (MAC) [pt], a movement created after the coup by a group of young people outraged by so much unjust political insecurity. The movement follows the slogan exhorted by the national hero Amílcar Cabral during his era:

pensar por nuestras propias cabezas y andar con nuestros propios pies

thinking with our own heads and walking with our own feet

The aim was to question what was happening and how to come up with constructive solutions “leaving aside the imaginary world”, because according to Fortes, it is necessary to differentiate the world of ideas from the world of actions. To show the importance of social activism as a means of bringing about change, she says:

Una cosa es decir que estoy pensando en plantar un árbol y otra cosa es decir yo planté un árbol, es decir, puse una semilla y estoy obligada a regarla todos los días para que la planta no muera

It is one thing to say that I'm thinking about planting a tree, but it is quite another to say that I planted a tree, that is, I planted a seed and I was obliged to water it every day so that the plant wouldn't die

The young journalist also believes that the level of reflection in Guinea-Bissau is “low” and that the preferred option is always to turn to international assistance to resolve problems. But “we must all be the protagonists of change in our country”, she exclaims with a confident gaze and raised voice in one of the rooms of the Guinean League for Human Rights in Bissau from where she now works.

Changing the names of some streets and junctions in Bissau has been one of MAC's actions in protest following the coup d'etat./ MAC

Changing the names of some streets and junctions in Bissau has been one of MAC's actions in protest following the coup d'etat. Photo courtesy MAC

Elizabeth Myrian Fernandes, another memberr of MAC who usually participates in the radio programme which they broadcast on Sundays, also feels that she is planting a seed, above all with the djumbais (a Creole word used to refer to a meeting where people can express themselves freely and without any restrictions) which they carry out in the interior of the country with Guinean youth. “What is political transition?” and “What do they expect from democracy?” are two of the key questions in these dynamic and highly participatory meetings whose aim is to empower young people and to reflect collectively about what is happening in Guinea-Bissau.

The latest djumbai was held in the capital of the Biombo region, Quinhamel, where some 25 people shared the problems which they observe in their town as well as the responsibility which they have for resolving them. Amadú Mbalo, 22 years old, claims that the main problem in the region is the lack of social organisation to tackle these difficulties and the local authorities themselves, as a result of the lack of political will which they show towards the community. At the end of an intense day of debate and discussion, he was convinced of the importance of the djumbai because “it has allowed us to think about future action and to bring together more young people with the aim of working harder and better for our region”, he said smiling and proud of the day.

A group of young people from Quinhamel particpate in the djumbai organised by MAC./ S.A.

A group of young people from Quinhamel particpate in the djumbai organised by MAC. Photo by Silvia Arjona

This movement, which has a horizontal structure and self-finances its activities, is considering the path which it will take following the end of the political transition, although the decision of how it will do so is yet to be taken.

The recent invitation to participate in the international day of active citizenship entitled DEEP Global Conference “Building a Global Citizens Movement”, which will be held in Johannesburg at the beginning of November and where they will share their experience of social and political activism, has prompted an increase in their strength, enthusiasm and appetite to continue their fight. A fight which has not always been easy – some of the people involved remain anonymous for fear of potential political reprisals – but which they believe must be continued because of the breath of fresh air that it brings to the country. And because, with movements such as this, the dreams of all of Guinea-Bissau could be achieved very soon.

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