posted on Mon 9 Sep 2019 3:27 PM
Guinea-Bissau: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (10 September), the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on Guinea-Bissau. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita and the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Guinea-Bissau configuration, Ambassador Mauro Vieira (Brazil), are expected to brief. The session comes ahead of Guinea-Bissau’s presidential election on 24 November. The mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) expires on 28 February 2020.

In February, a Council visiting mission went to Guinea-Bissau to encourage national authorities to hold legislative elections on 10 March without further delay, after they had been postponed twice in 2018. Guinea-Bissau had been mired in constant political instability, with seven prime ministers since August 2015, when President José Mário Vaz dismissed popular prime minister Domingos Simões Pereira. Simões Pereira is the leader of The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), to which Vaz also belongs.

Elections took place smoothly and as scheduled, resulting in a new majority coalition led by the PAIGC. An opposition coalition was formed by upstart party the Movement for Democratic Change (MADEM G-15), made-up of PAIGC dissidents, and the Party for Social Renewal (PRS), which have been both allied with Vaz. An impasse soon arose over electing the leadership of the National Assembly and appointing the prime minister. By June, a new government had still not been constituted.

On 18 June, five days before his five-year term was set to expire, Vaz finally announced that presidential elections would be held on 24 November. After a high-level mission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to Bissau on 19 and 20 June threatened sanctions against those obstructing political progress, Vaz appointed Aristides Gomes as prime minister on 22 June. Gomes, whom the PAIGC nominated in place of Simões Pereira (their original nominee), had been serving as a “consensus” prime minister since April 2018 to organise the legislative elections.

On 3 July, a government of the PAIGC-led coalition was finally appointed. The breakthrough occurred following further ECOWAS pressure during its 29 June summit of heads of state and government in Abuja. West African leaders called on Vaz to appoint a new government, based on the prime minister’s proposal, and a new attorney general, to be chosen by consensus, giving a 3 July deadline. The summit also sought to settle the controversy over Vaz’s tenure, deciding that he should remain president until the election, though the new government should conduct all affairs.

Assistant Secretary-General Keita is expected to brief on developments since the Secretary-General’s 19 August report on Guinea-Bissau. She is likely to focus on electoral preparations. The candidate field for the presidential race is becoming clearer. The PAIGC nominated Simões Pereira on 23 August, and Vaz announced his candidacy on 29 August. Other candidates include former prime minister Carlos Gomes Júnior, who had been favoured to win the 2012 run-off presidential election that was interrupted by the 12 April 2012 coup d’état, leading to his exile. Keita may flag opposition parties’ concerns about the process to correct the voter registration list for about 24,000 people unable to vote in the March parliamentary elections. She may advocate for donors to support the approximately $6 million cost of the election.

The PBC’s Guinea-Bissau configuration last met on 6 May. Vieira is likely to inform the Council of his plans to visit the country in October ahead of the presidential election, and he may affirm the PBC’s readiness to support the reconfiguration of UNIOGBIS and its transition. When the Council renewed UNIOGBIS’ mandate in February, it endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendations for the prospective completion of UNIOGBIS by 31 December 2020.

Council members are likely to echo messages from their 3 July press statement, issued just hours before Vaz appointed the new government, which  commended the leadership of ECOWAS, welcomed the extension of the mandate of the 600-person military force known as the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau until April 2020, and took note of its positions on the latest impasse over the government and Vaz’s term. Council members can be expected to call for holding a free and credible presidential election on 24 November, and for stakeholders not to take any actions that could undermine the electoral process and to respect the results.

Members may be interested in preparations for the UNIOGBIS transition. While agreeing on the goal of ending UNIOGBIS next year, some members have cautioned about the need to complete the electoral cycle before implementing significant changes to its configuration. In a 7 August presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, the Council reiterated its call for UNIOGBIS to gradually draw down and transfer its tasks to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel. Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, the new Special Representative and head of UNIOGBIS, was appointed on 29 July, succeeding José Viegas Filho, who completed his assignment on 18 May.

Members could raise concerns about the fragile socio-economic situation, due in part to the last four years of political crisis. This past spring, public services were halted regularly as workers organised weekly strikes over salary arrears and demands for higher wages, while a teachers’ strike that started in October 2018 continued.

In other developments, at the start of this month, Guinea-Bissau recorded its largest seizure of cocaine of 1.8 tonnes, during an operation that arrested three Colombians, 4 Bissau-Guineans and one Malian national, according to initial reports. Earlier in the year, on the eve of the legislative elections, Guinea-Bissau recorded its previous largest seizure of cocaine: 789 kilos, hidden in the false bottom of a truck. Malian businessman Mohamed Ben Ahmed Mahri, who was involved in organising the March shipment according to information obtained by the Mali Panel of Experts assisting the 2374 Mali Sanctions Committee, was sanctioned (travel ban) by the committee in July for using financial gains from drug trafficking to support terrorist groups.

On 11 September, the Guinea-Bissau 2048 Sanctions Committee is expected to discuss the Secretary-General’s 29 August report on Progress made with regard to the stabilization and restoration of constitutional order in Guinea-Bissau. While the report states that the sanctions regime, which targets 10 military officials involved in the 2012 coup with a travel ban, serves as a useful deterrent to potential spoilers in light of the current political situation, it suggests that a peaceful election and transfer of power could be a benchmark for the Council to consider ending the regime. Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba (Equatorial Guinea) is planning to undertake a mission to Guinea-Bissau in October ahead of the election, as the chair of the 2048 Committee. A second-round run-off will be held if no candidate receives a majority.