Expected Council Action
The Council is expected in September to hold a briefing and consultations on Guinea-Bissau. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Bintou Keita will brief. The mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) expires on 28 February 2020.
Key Recent Developments
Guinea-Bissau remains mired in a political crisis that started when President José Mário Vaz dismissed popular prime minister and reformer Domingos Simões Pereira in August 2015. The constant turmoil has pitted Vaz and his political allies against his own party, The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
The Security Council went on a mission to Guinea-Bissau on 15-16 February to encourage authorities and political actors to keep to the 10 March electoral date for parliamentary elections, which were postponed twice during 2018. (The last legislative elections were in April 2014; in the period since, Guinea-Bissau has had seven prime ministers.) The Security Council visiting mission’s arrival coincided with the official start of the election campaign, amidst an increasingly tense and polarised environment, including student protests one week earlier in the capital, Bissau, that turned violent after being infiltrated by political actors. During their visit, members also advocated for institutional reforms, including the constitutional review that is intended to clarify the powers of the presidency and prime minister, and for holding the presidential election later this year.
On 28 February, the Council adopted resolution 2458, extending the UNIOGBIS mandate for 12 months and endorsing the Secretary-General’s recommendations for the prospective completion of UNIOGBIS’ mission by 31 December 2020.
On 10 March, legislative elections were held, with 21 parties competing for 102 seats. Voter turnout was 85 percent. International monitors and Bissau-Guinean civil society organisations assessed the polls as fair and credible. The PAIGC won 47 seats, retaining its position as the legislature’s first party. The Movement for Democratic Change, known as MADEM G-15 and created in July 2018 by PAIGC dissidents who have allied with Vaz, won 27 seats. The Party for Social Renewal (PRS), which is also aligned with Vaz, won 21 seats after holding 41 seats in the outgoing legislature. The PAIGC formed a governing coalition with three smaller parties: the newly formed United People’s Assembly (APU/PDGB), which won five seats and is led by 2014 independent presidential candidate Nuno Gomes Nabiam; and the Union for Change and the New Democracy Party, which both won one seat.
An impasse soon arose over electing the National Assembly (ANP) Bureau, which serves as the ANP leadership, and appointing the new government. The situation increased tensions and led to a series of protests in Bissau starting in May. By June, despite elections having been held in March, the government was still not constituted.
On 18 June, Vaz finally set the date of the presidential election for 24 November, doing so just days before his five-year term was set to expire on 23 June
From 19 to 20 June, a high-level ministerial delegation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) visited Bissau—the third ECOWAS mission since March. The delegation expressed ECOWAS’ determination to impose new sanctions on those obstructing political progress, according to a communiqué. Following the visit, on 22 June, Vaz appointed Aristides Gomes as prime minister after he had been nominated by the PAIGC in place of party leader Simões Pereira, their original nominee. Gomes had been serving as a “consensus” prime minister since April 2018 to organise the legislative elections. MADEM-G15 submitted a new candidate for the National Assembly’s Second Vice President, withdrawing the name of its party leader Braima Camara, which ended the impasse over the ANP Bureau.
However, Vaz did not appoint Gomes’ proposed government as requested by the ECOWAS mission. On 26 June, the ANP approved a resolution calling for the immediate cessation of Vaz’s constitutional functions as president and his replacement by ANP President Cipriano Casama.
On 29 June, during the 55th summit of ECOWAS heads of state and government in Abuja, West African leaders called on Vaz to appoint a new government by 3 July, based on the prime minister’s proposal, and a new attorney general, to be chosen by consensus. Vaz could remain as president until the presidential election though the new government should conduct all affairs, according to the summit communiqué. Council members issued a press statement on 3 July taking note of ECOWAS’ position and welcoming its decision at the summit to extend the mandate of the 600-person military force known as the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB) until April 2020.
Later that day, Vaz appointed the government based on Gomes’ proposal, and a new attorney general. The government is made up of the PAIGC and its allies, and is notable for the role of women, who hold eight of 16 ministerial portfolios and three of 15 Secretaries of State positions.
In other developments, on the eve of the legislative elections, Guinea-Bissau recorded its 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 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.
In a major corruption case known as Operation Rice of the People, the judiciary police in April seized more than 170 tons of rice donated by China at two locations, a warehouse reportedly owned by presidential adviser Botche Candé and a farm owned by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nicolau dos Santos. Investigators said the rice was being readied for illegal sale. His security detail thwarted an attempted arrest of dos Santos on 11 April. On 21 May, Prime Minister Gomes ordered the inspector-generals of the Agriculture and Interior Ministries to assume managerial responsibilities of their respective ministries due to the involvement of dos Santos and the interior minister in the scandal and for interfering with the judiciary police’s investigation.
On 29 July, the UN announced the appointment of a new Special Representative and head of UNIOGBIS, Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, succeeding José Viegas Filho, who completed his assignment on 18 May.
Key Issues and Options
Preparations for the presidential election in November are a key issue. A run-off election would be required if no candidate receives a simple majority. Institutional reforms, including the constitutional review, are likely to remain on hold until after the elections. The political crisis, along with poor governance, is contributing to socio-economic instability. Starting in May, 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. Another key issue is the ongoing preparation for UNIOGBIS’ transition and its prospective closure by 31 December 2020.
Within the 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee, members are expected to consider in September the Secretary-General’s annual report, issued each August, with recommendations on continuing the Guinea-Bissau sanctions regime, which imposes a travel ban on ten military officials who were involved in the 12 April 2012 coup. The last four years of political crisis have been attributed to political actors opposed to the military. This year’s report was expected to make recommendations for ending the sanctions regime in the event of a smooth presidential election and accession of a new president, prime minister and chief of general staff of the armed forces.
One option for the Council is to adopt a presidential statement with a strong message about completing the presidential election process this year. An option for the sanctions committee is to lift sanctions on some currently-designated individuals, signalling the benefit to the military of continuing not to interfere in the political situation.
Council and Wider Dynamics
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 have continuing concerns about transnational criminal organisations, drug traffickers and terrorist groups in the region exploiting the political instability. Despite the military’s refrain from interfering in the political crisis, members remain attentive to this risk given Guinea-Bissau’s history.
While members agree on the goal of ending UNIOGBIS next year, some 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.
Côte d’Ivoire is the penholder on Guinea-Bissau. Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea chairs the 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee. The two countries co-led the mission to Guinea-Bissau, organised during Equatorial Guinea’s Council presidency.
UN DOCUMENTS ON GUINEA-BISSAU
|Security Council Resolution|
|28 February 2019S/RES/2458||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNIOGBIS for one year.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|7 August 2019S/PRST/2019/7||This was on West Africa and the Sahel, which took note of the compromise leading to the prime minister’s appointment and setting the date for the presidential election.|
|29 August 2019|
|19 August 2019S/2019/664||This is a Secretary-General’s report on Guinea-Bissau and the activities of UNIOGBIS.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|3 July 2019SC/13870||This press statement took note of ECOWAS’ decisions on Guinea-Bissau at its 29 June summit.|
|26 March 2019SC/13746||Council members issued a press statement congratulating Guinea-Bissau for the peaceful conduct of legislative elections held on 10 March.|