Voters in Guinea — Bissau heads to the polls this Sunday, in a presidential and parliamentary election many hope will bring stability to the tiny West African nation.
Postponed several times, the elections will be the first to take place since the 2012 military coup which ousted interim President Raimundo Pereira. They are widely seen as essential to restoring constitutional order, economic growth and development.
"This is the first time I am going to vote. My aim is to choose a Government that can solve the problems of the country and provide education for youth. With the elections, all these things might happen," says Diamantino Barai an 18-year-old, student, residing in Bissau who will be voting for the first time.
Like many women and men in Guinea-Bissau, Barai is anxious about the future. More than two-thirds of the population is living on less than two US dollars a day and the country's development indicators are among the lowest on the continent. For instance, life expectancy only totals 48.6 years.
"I'd like to call on all Guineans to not only go out and vote in peace, but to commit to accepting the results. What Guinea-Bissau needs is a return to constitutional normalcy. Only then will the country be able to get back on a more robust development pathway," said Gana Fofang, United Nations Deputy Special Representative and Resident Coordinator in Guinea-Bissau.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been supporting the election cycle in the country, managing a USD $6.6 million basket fund that includes financing from the European Union, South Africa, Japan, the UN Peacebuilding Fund, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Turkey and Brazil.
The funds were used to help the National Election Commission (NEC) organize the ballot, buy voting materials, organize civic education activities and train election officials. For the first time, the Commission has its own, fully refurbished building in the capital, Bissau.
UNDP delivered voting materials, including 800,000 ballot papers, 6,000 ballot boxes and 6,000 voting booths and bottles of indelible ink.
A vast civic education campaign took place, with door to door visits to communities and voter outreach activities in public places. Some of these activities took place in schools, where children for the first time learned about what it means to vote.
Community radios and private and public radio stations broadcast messages of peace and educated voters on how to cast their ballots. In total, 1,000 civic education agents and 15,170 polling station officers were trained.
Financed by the Peacebuilding Fund, the Gorée Institute, a Senegal-based civil society organization, established a crisis cell with women from two national NGOs deployed in the field to monitor potential incidents. The operation is coordinated by UN Women.