Filomena Mascarenhas

A former government minister in Guinea-Bissau, Filomena Mascarenhas is a deeply committed peacebuilder. Since 2007, she has been an active member of the Voz di Paz programme, which focuses on giving Bissau-Guineans a voice in the peacebuilding process. Working across all the Voz di Paz initiatives, Filomena shared with us her motivations, learnings and some of the areas she is most proud of.

Filomena told us about what inspires her as she works to help Guinea-Bissau build lasting peace.

Where do you get your motivation to build peace?

I feel it is my obligation to contribute to the peace process in Guinea-Bissau. I believe that everyone with a good heart can help. I love the challenge of harnessing the knowledge gathered in the consultations that we run across the country and transforming the results of the discussions into something positive, useful and effective.

Can you tell us more about the Voz di Paz programme and the ‘Regional Spaces for Dialogue’?

Voz di Paz has created forums across the country known as ‘Regional Spaces for Dialogue’. Here communities work to tackle obstacles to peace and cope with the most pressing challenges: the lack of state, governance issues, poor administration of justice, poverty and ethnic divisions. We are now fostering the development of a national network of these spaces so more people can have access and experiences can be shared.

Over the last three years with Voz di Paz, what has stood out in your mind?

There are three areas for me. Firstly, the only way to understand a country’s issues is to listen. By doing this, problems can be listed and understood, effectively producing an X-ray of a situation. Secondly, if peace is to be reached, it must not be exclusive. There needs to be local ownership of the solutions throughout all communities. Thirdly, fairness, respect and tolerance in every action taken are the three pillars of success.

You say, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ to build peace. Can you give us one example?

In a dialogue session in Bambadinca, just 150 km from Bissau, an example of cattle theft was discussed. This example of conflict in the country concerns one ethnic group, the Balant, who were typically blamed for cattle thieving by another ethnic group, the Fulanis. In a tragic turn of events, two children were found murdered. They were thought to be spies linked to cattle thieving. When I heard this story, I thought it would be impossible to overcome, but the Bissau-Guineans showed they had both the heart and the will to build peace. The situation was resolved through a Mediation Committee set up by Voz di Paz.

Your programme goes beyond the borders of your country. Can you tell us how?

Central to our work and to lasting peace are our citizens that live abroad. We involve the diaspora in consultations and send them newsletters so they get a neutral perspective on what is going on. We also welcome peacebuilders from around the world to experience what we do first hand. We recently welcomed João Boavida, the Director of the Centre of Studies for Peace and Development (CEPAD) from Timor-Leste. While we learned from him, he also began planning to implement some of our learnings in Timor-Leste. Serge Ntakirutimana from the Burundi programme has also been in town to share his experience with the team.

What are your hopes for the future?

Bissau-Guineans are tired of not having peace. It is simple, I want to help lift my country out of this situation.