Expected Council Action
In August, the Council will hold a briefing followed by consultations on the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS). Special Representative and head of UNIOGBIS Rosine Sori-Coulibaly is expected to brief. A representative from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) may also brief. Because special measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic are still likely to be in effect, the meetings are expected to be held under the open and closed videoconference (VTC) format.
The mandate of UNIOGBIS expires on 31 December.
Key Recent Developments
Guinea-Bissau has experienced frequent political instability—including four coups d’état and more than a dozen attempted coups, with the military playing a particularly strong role in the country’s political life—since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974. In the period since the 2012 coup, Guinea-Bissau has gone through multiple political crises, but without interventions by the military. In 2019, political tensions flared again. Guinea-Bissau was supposed to hold a presidential election before the five-year term of President José Mário Vaz ended on 23 June 2019. This would have led to Guinea-Bissau’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another. When Vaz repeatedly delayed setting the date for the presidential election, serious concerns were raised by international actors, especially those most engaged with Guinea-Bissau and referred to as the Group of Five, composed of the UN, AU, EU, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), with the latter playing a particularly active role.
The election was held on 24 November, contested by 12 candidates. The leader of PAIGC, Domingos Simões Pereira, won 40.13 percent of the vote. Placing second with 27.65 percent was Umaro Sissoco Embaló of the Movement for Democratic Change (MADEM-G15), a party formed by PAIGC dissidents in 2018. Vaz ran as an independent and received only 12 percent of the vote. As no candidate won a majority, a run-off election between Simões Pereira and Sissoco Embaló was set for 29 December 2019. On 4 December 2019, third-place finisher Nuno Gomes Nabiam, leader of the United People’s Assembly-Democratic Party of Guinea-Bissau, signed a political pact with Sissoco Embaló to support the latter’s candidacy.
In the 29 December 2019 election, Sissoco Embaló received 53.55 percent of the vote, with Simões Pereira garnering 46.45 percent. While observers deemed the elections peaceful, PAIGC challenged the results on 3 January in the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) over the tabulation methods used by the National Election Commission (CNE). The SCJ ordered a re-count, and following a stand-off of several weeks, the CNE repeated the tabulation and re-confirmed Sissoco Embaló as the winner on 25 February. PAIGC filed a new challenge with the SCJ on 26 February.
Not waiting for the court’s decision, Sissoco Embaló held a swearing–in ceremony in a hotel in Bissau on 27 February and declared himself President of the Republic. Former president Vaz and Nabiam presided over the ceremony, which most foreign diplomats and representatives of international bodies did not attend. Among the public figures who did attend the ceremony was Antonio Indjai, a retired general who is listed by the 2048 Guinea–Bissau Sanctions Committee for having led the 2012 coup.
In a 28 February decree, Sissoco Embaló dismissed the government of Prime Minister Gomes, and unilaterally appointed Nabiam as the new prime minister. In support of Sissoco Embaló, the military promptly took over all state institutions, the SCJ and the national broadcast media. At the beginning of March, Guinea-Bissau had two competing governments: the government led by Prime Minister Gomes endorsed by the National Assembly, and another led by the de facto authorities, supported by the military, with Sissoco Embaló at the helm and with Nabiam as his prime minister.
In the days that followed, the de facto authorities replaced key government officials as well as engaging in harassment and intimidation of several public figures. Prime Minister Gomes went into hiding, and several ministers, as well as PAIGC presidential candidate Simões Pereira, left the country because of concerns for their personal safety. Several SCJ judges received threats.
The Security Council discussed Guinea-Bissau in consultations under “any other business” on 5 March and received a briefing from Sori-Coulibaly. In a press statement that same day, Council members called on the parties “to respect the legal and constitutional frameworks and the democratic process to resolve the post-electoral crisis”. They further “called on ECOWAS to urgently send a high-level political mission to Guinea-Bissau” to help resolve the crisis.
Meanwhile, ECOWAS had been planning a joint mission to Guinea-Bissau with the AU and the UN that was scheduled to arrive on 18 March. Neither that mission nor the high-level mission called for by the Council took place because Guinea-Bissau’s borders were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a 22 April communiqué, ECOWAS announced that following its in–depth analysis of the situation in Guinea-Bissau, its Heads of State and Government had decided to recognise Sissoco Embaló as the winner of the 2019 presidential election and asked him to appoint a prime minister in conformity with constitutional norms and form a government by 22 May. The four other members of the Group of Five, the AU, EU, CPLP and the UN, issued a statement that same day, taking note of the ECOWAS decision.
In the next several weeks, Sissoco Embaló held consultations in Bissau with representatives of the Group of Five as well as with leaders of different political parties. His efforts to form a government by 22 May were unsuccessful. Under the country’s Constitution, the party with the highest number of votes in parliament nominates the prime minister, and the country’s president then endorses the appointment. Following the 2019 legislative elections, PAIGC, which won 47 seats, and together with its allies held a majority in the 102-member National Assembly, would not recognise Nabiam, who had been appointed by Sissoco Embaló’s 28 February decree.
According to UN sources, several members of the National Assembly were subjected to intimidation, and one was kidnapped in May (and later released). Sissoco Embaló also threatened to dissolve the parliament. Eventually, some alliances shifted within the different parliamentary groups, and on 29 June the assembly approved the Nabiam-led government programme. In a 1 July press statement, members of the Security Council expressed concern at recent incidents and called on Guinea-Bissau’s defence and security forces not to interfere in the political process in Guinea-Bissau. They also “reminded all stakeholders that they may consider taking appropriate measures in response to further developments in the situation in Guinea-Bissau”.
Against the backdrop of the political upheavals, there were also new developments concerning drug trafficking, a perennial problem in Guinea–Bissau that emerged following the country’s 1998-1999 civil war (political instability and frequent coups combined with its coastal geography made the country a useful transit point between Latin America and Europe for the cocaine trade). In September 2019, the country’s law enforcement made its largest cocaine seizure, and in April, 12 suspects were sentenced in connection with the case. But Braima Seidi Bá, a politically connected businessman also accused in this case, was tried in absentia because of the COVID-19 lockdown and did not report to prison after his 16-year sentence was handed down. There have also been concerns that drug cartels may be poised to exploit the current political instability and increase their activities. Since early March, there have been reports of arrivals of suspected drug traffickers in the country. The new government has replaced key law enforcement officials responsible for fighting drug trafficking during the recent period when several major drug seizures occurred.
The 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee expects to meet in August to discuss the Secretary-General’s sixth report on “The progress made regarding the stabilization of Guinea-Bissau and the restoration of constitutional order”, which will provide recommendations on the Guinea-Bissau sanctions regime. Resolution 2512, in which the Council requested the report, said that the recommendations should address—though not be limited to—issues such as continuation, adjustment or suspension of the sanctions and prospective delistings.
Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC)
The PBC’s country configuration held a VTC meeting on 23 June, with its chair Ambassador Ronaldo Costa Filho (Brazil) providing an update. Sori-Coulibaly briefed the configuration’s members on developments and concerns related to UNIOGBIS’ expected termination at the end of the year in the context of political developments in the country and the COVID-19 pandemic. Ambassador Abdou Abarry (Niger) spoke on behalf of ECOWAS, which Niger is chairing in 2020.
Key Issues and Options
Assessing whether conditions on the ground and transition planning for a follow-on UN presence are suited to closing the mission by the end of 2020 is the key issue. When the Council adopted resolution 2512 deciding to close UNIOGBIS on 31 December, the situation in the country was in flux. Since transition planning requires close consultation with national authorities and both the post-electoral crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic significantly delayed the start of the new government’s functioning, some consideration may be given to a possible extension of the transitional period. An option for the Council could be to request the Secretary-General to provide an update later this year on progress in handing over UNIOGBIS’ tasks to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, the UN country team, and other entities. The update could also identify capacity or financial gaps that may exist following UNIOGBIS’ closure.
Transnational criminal activities, particularly drug trafficking, remain a key issue, and there are concerns that terrorist groups in the region could also potentially exploit Guinea-Bissau’s political instability. An option for the Council is to request information on how the role of UNODC in Guinea-Bissau could be enhanced in light of UNIOGBIS’ upcoming closure.
When the Council imposed sanctions on Guinea–Bissau in the wake of the 2012 coup, a key demand was for the military to take “immediate steps to restore and respect constitutional order, including a democratic electoral process, by ensuring that all soldiers return to the barracks”. Until earlier this year, the military had stayed out of political life since the 2012 coup. In light of the late February/early March military intervention and seizure of state institutions, including the SCJ, an option for the Council is to reconsider its earlier plans related to the sanctions regime.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The Council has tended to follow ECOWAS’ lead on Guinea-Bissau, seeking to support its decisions, often prompted by the West African Council member. This pattern has largely held in 2020, with the additional factor of having Niger both as the Security Council penholder on Guinea–Bissau and its president, Mahamadou Issoufou, serving as ECOWAS chairman this year.
Members appear to agree on the goal of ending UNIOGBIS, though some have raised serious concerns about increased political instability and cases of violence and intimidation against those actors perceived to be a threat to the current authorities. During the last mandate negotiations, some members stressed the importance of assessing the situation on the ground before UNIOGBIS exits.
Some current and incoming Council members—including Germany, Ireland, Kenya, Niger (on behalf of ECOWAS) and the UK—spoke during the June meeting of the PBC’s Guinea-Bissau configuration. While acknowledging certain positive developments, some raised serious concerns about the renewed involvement of the military in the country’s political life, with interference by the defence and security forces in political processes and intimidation of the opposition, judges and journalists. Some were also concerned about the reports of increased activity on the drug scene.
Niger is the penholder on Guinea-Bissau. Ambassador Kais Kabtani (Tunisia) is the chair of the 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee.
UN DOCUMENTS ON GUINEA-BISSAU
|Security Council Resolutions|
|28 February 2020S/RES/2512||This extended the mandate of UNIOGBIS until 31 December 2020.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|11 February 2020S/PRST/2020/2||This presidential statement on West Africa and the Sahel, included emphasising the need for free
and fair, credible, timely and peaceful elections during 2020 in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Mali and Togo.
|4 November 2019S/PRST/2019/13||This presidential statement expressed full support to the communiques of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the AU issued following the dismissal of the government of Prime Minister Aristides Gomes on 28 October.|
|29 July 2020S/2020/755||This was the Secretary-General’s sixth report on “The progress made regarding the stabilization of Guinea-Bissau and the restoration of constitutional order”, which also provided recommendations on the Guinea-Bissau sanctions regime.|
|Security Council Letters|
|24 February 2020S/2020/144||This was a letter from the Chair of the PBC Guinea-Bissau configuration, drawing attention to a number of peacebuilding priorities in Guinea-Bissau ahead of the mandate renewal of UNIOGBIS and the mission’s ongoing transition.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|1 July 2020SC/14240||This press statement expressed concern, among other things, at recent incidents, calling on Guinea-Bissau’s defence and security forces not to interfere in the political process in Guinea-Bissau.|
|5 March 2020SC/14138||Council members issued a press statement calling on the parties “to respect the legal and constitutional frameworks and the democratic process to resolve the post-electoral crisis”. They also “called on ECOWAS to urgently send a high-level political mission to Guinea-Bissau” to help resolve the crisis.|
|16 October 2019SC/13989||This press statement reiterated the imperative need for the presidential election to be held on 24 November 2019.|
Useful Additional Resource
Mark Shaw and A. Gomes, Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Cocaine politics in Guinea-Bissau, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Geneva, May 2020.