March 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 March 2007
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Guinea-Bissau

Expected Council Action
In March the Council will receive the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), mandated by resolution 1580. The Council in December renewed the UNOGBIS mandate for 12 months through an exchange of letters with the Secretary-General.

Guinea-Bissau had a low priority in the Council last year but events in the country in January and the situation in neighbouring Guinea may trigger greater interest. The UNOGBIS mandate expires on 31 December. Formal Council action on the Secretary-General’s report is not required, but depending on the conclusions of the International Contact Group on Guinea-Bissau, some Council members could seek a heightened level of Council attention.

Key Recent Developments
Recent events suggest that deep-rooted political problems have not been resolved. On 6 January the assassination of the former head of the navy, Mohamed Lamine Sanhá, led to fighting between protestors and security forces leaving one dead and several injured.

Former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior sought refuge in the UNOGBIS compound on 10 January, claiming that his life was in danger.  The government had issued a warrant for his arrest after he accused President João Bernardo Vieira of being involved in Sanhá’s assassination. Gomes also claimed that Vieira was systematically killing those who overthrew him in 1999. (Vieira fled to Portugal and remained in exile for six years until 2005 when he came back and won the national election.)

Gomes remained under UN protection for 17 days and left only after the Secretary-General’s representative in Guinea-Bissau, Shola Omoregie, persuaded the government to drop the arrest warrant against him.

Some members of the International Contact Group on Guinea-Bissau (made up of France, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, the Executive Secretariat of the Economic Community of West African States, and the Executive Secretariat of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries) met on 23 January in Guinea-Bissau. The next Contact Group meeting is scheduled to be held in March in Lisbon.

Options
Options for the Council could include:

  • Adopting a wait-and-see position. Given the Council’s past approach this is perhaps most likely.
    ” Issuing a press statement expressing concern and stressing the importance of political stability. This is possible if Council members feel that the situation has not improved since January.
  • Issuing a presidential statement is also possible should the Council be persuaded by the Contact Group to take a stronger position.
  • Asking the Secretary-General to prepare recommendations on what more UNOGBIS can do to support national reconciliation and security sector reform, especially taking into account the outcome of the Council debate on security sector reform on 20 February.

Key Issues
The flare-up between Gomes and Vieira is a clear indication that political reconciliation remains fragile. There seems to be a possibility of further violence unless these issues are dealt with.

Members will also be mindful of recent instability in Guinea. Regional repercussions are possible. Vieira is a long-time ally of Lansana Conté, the Guinean president. Guinea-Bissau has denied it has any forces in Guinea, although there have been reports of Portuguese-speaking troops in the country.

A future issue is whether the $460 million requested at the donor roundtable on Guinea-Bissau, held in Geneva in November, is actually being delivered.  So far the donors include the European Union, Spain, Portugal and Japan.  Investor confidence, already shaky, is likely to be further affected by the events in January.

Council Dynamics
Guinea-Bissau has been low on the Council’s radar screen since Brazil left the Council at the end of 2005. No member has wanted to take a lead role. Urgent demands from other parts of Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, Chad and Somalia, have kept the Council focused on these situations rather than on countries in the peacebuilding phase like Guinea-Bissau.  During 2006 some members attempted to change the reporting cycle from three to six months. Resistance from Argentina and Peru and a mandate renewal that takes place through an exchange of letters made it difficult to change the cycle. 

Underlying Problems
Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Falling revenue from its only cash crop, cashew nuts, and floods that ruined 85 percent of its rice production last year could result in an agricultural crisis in 2007. With most of the population involved in farming and 85 percent of them connected to cashew cultivation, poverty among farmers could lead to political unrest.

Growing discontent among civil servants may trigger a new problem. The government has found it difficult to pay salaries and provide basic services. As a result, there were labour strikes in the education and health sectors late last year. 

The growth of transnational crime is potentially destabilising. Guinea-Bissau is becoming a transit point for both cocaine and undocumented migrants to Europe. 

UN Documents

 Security Council Resolutions
  • S/RES/1580 (22 December 2004) revised and extended the mandate of UNOGBIS.
  • S/RES/1233 (6 April 1999) supported the decision of the Secretary-General to establish UNOGBIS.
 Reports and Letters of the Secretary-General
  • S/2006/974 (8 December 2006) was the letter recommending extension of UNOGBIS until 31 December 2007 and detailing the activities of UNOGBIS.
  • S/2006/946 (6 December 2006) was the latest report on UNOGBIS.
 Security Council President’s Letter
  • S/2006/975 (13 December 2006) noted the Secretary-General’s intention to extend UNOGBIS until December 2007
Other
  •  SC/8910 (15 December 2006) was the press statement expressing concern over the political and economic situation.

Other Relevant Facts

 Representative of the Secretary-General for Guinea-Bissau, Head of UNOGBIS
 Shola Omoregie (Nigeria)
 Size of UNOGBIS Staff
 22, including nine international civilians, two military advisers, one police adviser and ten local civilians
 Duration
 6 April 1999 to present

For historical background and a more complete list of UN documents please see our 23 December 2005 Update, and March and December 2006 Forecasts.

Full forecast