Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), which expires on 28 February. Prior to this, the Council will undertake a visiting mission to Guinea-Bissau, followed by a briefing on the mission. (For more information, see our brief on the Security Council’s visiting mission.)
Key Recent Developments
Organising legislative elections has remained a priority in trying to move Guinea-Bissau beyond a political crisis that has now lasted three and a half years. The elections were delayed twice in 2018.
On 19 December 2018, Guinea-Bissau concluded its voter registration. The next day, President José Mário Vaz issued a decree setting 10 March as the date for the legislative elections. Vaz’s announcement complied with a call by the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) during a 12 December ministerial mission to Bissau that the date of the legislative elections be determined before the 22 December ECOWAS summit of heads of state and government. At this summit, West African leaders mandated the chairman of ECOWAS to impose sanctions, on the basis of recommendations from the president of the ECOWAS Commission, against political stakeholders and others who obstruct the smooth conduct of the electoral process.
On 7 January, the National Electoral Commission announced that the election campaign for the 10 March poll would run from 16 February to 8 March. After the vote, the Supreme Court of Justice will consider possible complaints from 14 to 17 March, with the definitive results to be announced on 19 March.
On 8 January, the Guinea-Bissau public school teachers’ unions signed an agreement with the government to resume classes after a four-month strike over payment of salary arrears, which kept schools closed.
Regarding UNIOGBIS, the Secretary-General submitted a special report to the Council on 6 December 2018 on a strategic assessment on the mission. The report highlighted that the mission’s ability to implement its mandate has been hindered by a lack of national leadership and political will. It proposed a phased reconfiguration and then withdrawal of UNIOGBIS, which with its predecessor mission, the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau, has been present since 1999.
According to the report, UNIOGBIS should continue in its current role through mid-2019 to support upcoming elections. The assessment found that the mission has been valued by interlocutors on the ground, who say that in the current politically sensitive electoral cycle, the joint presence of UNIOGBIS and the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (the 600-person military force deployed by ECOWAS) is “critically needed”. During the second half of 2019, UNIOGBIS should be reconfigured into a streamlined good offices mission and develop a transition plan, according to the assessment. The third phase would see tasks transferred to the UN country team, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and international partners, with the mission exiting by 31 December 2020. The Secretary-General has already directed UNOWAS to increase its engagement in Guinea-Bissau and, after UNIOGBIS leaves, could encourage ECOWAS and the international community to remain attentive to Guinea-Bissau’s implementation of ongoing reforms and issues of drug trafficking.
The Council last met on Guinea-Bissau on 21 December 2018, holding a briefing and consultations with Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun on the electoral process and the Secretary-General’s special report. While widespread violence was unlikely, Zerihoun said, “Guinea-Bissau risks lurching from one political crisis to another unless decisive steps are taken by the government to meet the new election date”. On 27 December, Council members issued a press statement stressing that legislative elections should take place prior to the presidential election foreseen in 2019. It noted members’ intention to deliberate on the findings and recommendations of the Secretary-General’s special report in negotiating the next UNIOGBIS resolution in February 2019.
Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC)
At the 21 December Council meeting, Ambassador Mauro Vieira (Brazil), chair of the PBC’s Guinea-Bissau configuration, emphasised the PBC’s potential role in helping develop and support any transition plan for UNIOGBIS.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue is Guinea-Bissau’s keeping to the current electoral calendar, starting with the holding of legislative elections as scheduled on 10 March, since their continued delay undermines constitutional provisions and risks provoking further political instability. There have been concerns about the government’s commitment to timely elections, especially relating to Vaz who, according to the Secretary-General’s August 2018 report on Guinea-Bissau, is thought to want to combine the legislative elections with the presidential election later this year. The political crisis has pitted Vaz against the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), to which he belongs, and he has often aligned himself with the second largest party, the Party for Social Renewal (PRS) and a group of dissident members of the PAIGC.
Besides the elections, other processes that should occur according to the Conakry Agreement—brokered by ECOWAS in 2016 to end the crisis and advance reforms—include agreeing on a stability pact and undertaking a review of the constitution. On 17 January, the Organizing Commission of the National Conference for Peace and Development delivered a draft stability pact to Vaz, intended to break the cycle of successive governments over the last three-and-a-half years. The constitutional review is especially important to clarify the powers of the president and prime minister, disputes over which were one of the causes of the political crisis.
During the visiting mission, Council members may reiterate several messages to Bissau-Guinean authorities and political actors, including the need to conduct credible elections without further delays and to complete the constitutional review before the presidential election. They may further emphasise that implementation of the Conakry Agreement is the primary framework for peacefully resolving the political crisis, maintaining political stability and building sustainable peace.
Considering the proposals from the Secretary-General’s special report are a further key issue. For the mandate renewal, the Council may decide to reconfigure UNIOGBIS into a streamlined good offices mission during the second half of 2019, and signal that UNIOGBIS should exit by the end of 2020, as proposed by the Secretary-General. In this regard, the Council could request that the UN develop a peacebuilding plan in consultation with national and international interlocutors, including the PBC, that identifies tasks that could be assumed by other UN and international entities, resources required and potential capacity gaps.
Another option is to make the reconfiguration and withdrawal of UNIOGBIS contingent upon achieving benchmarks, particularly the completion of the electoral cycle and the formation of a new government. This could be done through setting such benchmarks in the resolution, or mandating a short renewal period, allowing the Council to assess the situation in June (when the electoral process, in a best-case scenario, should be completed) and then work out the details regarding potential changes to UNIOGBIS.
On Guinea-Bissau, the Council tends to follow the lead of ECOWAS, seeking to support its decisions or agreements. In Bissau, representatives from ECOWAS, the AU, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), the UN and the EU often act together to defuse tensions. Members maintain concerns that transnational criminal organisations and drug traffickers or terrorist groups in the region can exploit the political instability. Despite the military’s having refrained from interfering in the political crisis, members remain attentive to this risk given Guinea-Bissau’s history, including a military coup after the first round of the 2012 presidential election.
On UNIOGBIS’ future, Council members have appeared generally supportive of the assessment’s recommendations in December 2018. Some have cautioned that the electoral cycle should be completed before deciding on UNIOGBIS’ reconfiguration and exit.
Côte d’Ivoire is the penholder on Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea chairs the 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee. Equatorial Guinea, which holds the Council’s February presidency, has been active on the issue. As chair of the committee, the country’s ambassador, Anatolio Ndong Mba, travelled to Guinea-Bissau in June 2018 and has said that after the presidential election, the committee would revisit the question of whether to maintain the sanctions regime imposed following the April 2012 coup.
UN DOCUMENTS ON GUINEA-BISSAU
|Security Council Resolution|
|28 February 2018S/RES/2404||This resolution extended the mandate of UNIOGBIS for an additional year.|
|6 December 2018S/2018/1086||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the strategic review of UNIOGBIS.|
|16 August 2018S/2018/771||This was the Secretary-General’s report on Guinea-Bissau and the activities of UNIOGBIS.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|21 December 2018S/PV.8438||The Council was briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brooke Zerihoun and the Peacebuilding Commission’s chair of its Guinea-Bissau configuration, Ambassador Mauro Vieira (Brazil) on UNIOGBIS.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|27 December 2018SC/13650||Council members issued a press statement expressing concern regarding the status of preparations for legislative elections, which they stressed should take place prior to the presidential elections foreseen in 2019.|