Update Report

Posted 4 May 2012
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Update Report on Guinea-Bissau

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Expected Council Action
On 7 May, the Council will hold consultations on the Secretary-General’s report on Guinea-Bissau of 30 April (S/2012/280), submitted in line with a presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/15) adopted on 21 April. The Council will likely be briefed by Joseph Mutaboba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Guinea-Bissau and head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS); a representative of Guinea-Bissau’s ousted government; and representatives of the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP).

The Secretary-General’s report sets out four options that the Council could consider in addressing the Guinea-Bissau situation: mediation in support of that already initiated by ECOWAS; the imposition of targeted sanctions on the military leaders who spearheaded the 12 April coup; the possible deployment of “training and protection units”; and the deployment of a peacekeeping or stabilisation force.

At press time, it appeared that some members were discussing a draft resolution prepared by Portugal—probably to be co-sponsored by South Africa and Togo and to be circulated after the 7 May consultations—imposing targeted sanctions on the coup leaders and holding out the possibility of further action should those sanctions fail to force the military junta to relinquish power and re-establish constitutional order.

Guinea-Bissau has hosted UNIOGBIS since 2009 and its predecessor UNOGBIS since April 1999. Its mandate expires on 28 February 2013. Guinea-Bissau has also been on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) since 19 December 2007, with Brazil currently chairing the country-specific configuration.

Key Recent Developments
On 12 April, the armed forces seized power and imprisoned interim President Raimundo Pereira, former Prime Minister and presidential candidate Carlos Gomes Junior and several other senior officials, aborting preparations for run-off presidential elections slated for 22 April.

The following day, 13 April, Council members were briefed in consultations on the situation in the country by Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs. The Council later that day issued a press statement condemning the “forcible seizure of power from the legitimate Government of Guinea-Bissau by some elements of its armed forces”. The statement also denounced the military’s incursion into politics and called on those responsible to ensure the safety and security of the detained leaders and demanded their immediate release.

On 19 April, the Council discussed Guinea-Bissau (S/PV.6754) with three Foreign Ministers briefing: Mamadú Saliu Djalo Pires of Guinea-Bissau (who was out of the country when the military seized power on 12 April); Georges Chikoti of Angola (in his capacity as chair of the CPLP); and Paulo Portas of Portugal. The Permanent Representative of Côte d’Ivoire, which chairs ECOWAS, delivered a statement on behalf of the regional body, while Mutaboba briefed via video-conference from Bissau on the latest developments.

On 21 April, the Council issued a presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/15) strongly condemning the coup and calling for the “immediate restoration of the constitutional order as well as the reinstatement of the legitimate government”. The statement also demanded the “immediate and unconditional release” of the detained Guinea-Bissau leaders “in order to enable the completion of the presidential and legislative elections.” The statement welcomed the AU’s suspension of Guinea-Bissau. It took note of a decision by the AU to hold consultations with ECOWAS, CPLP and other partners for “possible additional means necessary for the stabilization of the country, in consultation with the legitimate government of Guinea-Bissau.” It also noted the underlying issues involved in Guinea Bissau’s instability as “the recurrence of illegal interference of the military in politics” and a “culture of impunity” that “hampers efforts towards consolidation of the rule of law, implementation of Security Sector Reform, promotion of development and entrenchment of a democratic culture.” The statement requested the Secretary General to submit a report by 30 April setting out options for dealing with the situation in the country.

Like most of the UN system, the Security Council appears to have been surprised by the coup in Guinea-Bissau. On 28 March, the Council was briefed by Mutaboba and Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti (Brazil), Chair of the Guinea-Bissau country-specific configuration of the PBC (S/PV.6743). Mutaboba mentioned the failed coup attempt of 26 December 2011 in passing, saying that it was “symptomatic of a military leadership divided and lacking a uniform commitment to republican values.” But he otherwise gave no hint of the simmering tensions that led to the 12 April coup. For her part, Viotti hailed the “important strides towards sustainable peace” made in Guinea-Bissau, noting that during the past months, the country had “been able to maintain political stability and sustain economic growth.”

Other observers of Guinea-Bissau were less sanguine. On 5 April, Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo, President of the ECOWAS Commission, wrote a letter (S/2012/254) to the UN Secretary-General drawing attention to “disturbing developments that could jeopardise the holding” of run-off presidential elections scheduled for 22 April. Ouedraogo had, on 31 March, led a joint high‐level ECOWAS‐AU‐UN fact‐finding mission to Guinea-Bissau. (This was as a result of serious controversies arising from presidential elections held on 18 March. Gomes Júnior, who contested the polls as head of the ruling Partido Africano para a Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), failed to win outright victory with 49 percent of the votes, and a run-off was scheduled for 22 April. However, the opposition candidate, Kumba Yalá Embaló, who came in second with 23 percent, announced that he would boycott the run-off polls, claiming the ruling party had rigged the elections. The March polls were accompanied by the assassination of the former head of military intelligence, Col. Samba Djalo. On 2 April, ECOWAS appointed President Alpha Condé of Guinea to mediate the electoral dispute in Guinea-Bissau.)

Ouedraogo’s letter noted the election boycott threat, as well as the “mounting suspicion and tension” between Guinea-Bissau’s military and the Angolan Technical Military Assistance Mission in Guinea-Bissau (MISSANG). It noted that General Antonio Indjai, the Army Chief of Staff, had ordered MISSANG out. The letter raised the possibility of ECOWAS deploying a “military contingent [in Guinea-Bissau] in the run-up to the [run-off] poll to protect candidates and institutions.” Not mentioned in the letter was that Angola agreed in principle to the suggestion that it withdraw MISSANG ahead of the run-off election.

On 9 April, Gomes Junior, allegedly acting in his capacity as Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau, also wrote a letter (S/2012/254) to the Secretary-General raising alarm that Guinea-Bissau “could come to face a new cycle of internal political instability, owing to the non-acceptance of the electoral results” by his rivals. The letter favourably characterised MISSANG as “a factor assisting with political and military stabilisation in the country.” But it called on the Security Council to consider the “dispatch of a peacekeeping force…to be charged with extensive powers aimed at the maintenance of political stability in the country and at defence of the democratic gains…obtained at great sacrifice.” (The Secretary-General apparently only transmitted these letters to the Council on 23 April.)

Following the 12 April coup, a number of regional and multilateral actors quickly addressed the situation in Guinea-Bissau. The Council of Ministers of the CPLP held an emergency session on 14 April in Lisbon and adopted a resolution which was transmitted to the Security Council on 16 April. Among the decisions adopted by the CPLP was to take the initiative in the framework of the UN, together with ECOWAS, the AU, the EU and taking into account the experience of MISSANG, to establish a UN-mandated force of interposition in Guinea-Bissau. The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), meeting on Guinea-Bissau on 17 April, decided to initiate consultations with ECOWAS, the CPLP, the UN and other partners on the possible deployment of an international stabilisation operation. It also suspended with immediate effect Guinea-Bissau as a member state of the AU until the effective restoration of constitutional order. On 24 April, the AU PSC issued a report on the situation in Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Sudan and South Sudan, noting that events in Guinea-Bissau constituted “a serious setback for the democratic process initiated since the 1990s, while also highlighting the need to further enhance the deterrence potential of the instruments adopted by the AU on unconstitutional changes of government.”

On 29 April, ECOWAS imposed diplomatic, economic and financial sanctions on Guinea-Bissau after talks it had initiated with the coup leaders in Banjul, The Gambia, failed on the crucial point of the return of deposed interim President Pereira to Bissau to take over the reins of the government from the junta. The sanctions regime targeted members of the junta and their associates.

On 3 May, the EU imposed sanctions on six of the coup leaders in Guinea-Bissau, banning them from entering the EU and freezing their assets. The EU said in a statement that the list of individuals subject to its sanctions would be published on 4 May.

Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal after a prolonged armed struggle in 1974. But the anti-colonial war was so destructive that the new state was bereft of functioning institutions and an economic base. Ever since, the country has been prone to serious political upheavals. Guinea-Bissau has experienced five military coups in the past ten years, and no elected President has served out a full term. This instability has in part been fuelled by massive illicit drug trafficking by the officers corps of the army and other officials, and in part by unresolved issues relating to the war for independence: so bitter was the liberation struggle that the newly independent government, controlled by a revolutionary council, executed many African soldiers who had fought for the colonial administration.

Barely six years after independence, in 1980, Prime Minister João Bernardo Vieira, one of the independence leaders, led a military coup that ousted President Luis de Almeida Cabral. Vieira governed the country for the next 19 years, winning the first free presidential election held in Guinea-Bissau in 1994. In 1999, a military coup led by General Ansumane Mané, whom Vieira had dismissed earlier, triggered a civil war and the installation of a transitional military junta. A presidential election was held in 2000 and was won by Yalá Embaló, who was in turn forced from office in 2003 in another coup led by General Veríssimo Correia Seabra. Soon after, military forces and political leaders signed a charter that installed an interim civilian government and called for new parliamentary and presidential elections. Parliamentary elections were held in March 2004, but violence flared up in October 2004, when a military mutiny resulted in the assassination of Correia Seabra. In July 2005, former President Vieira won the presidential elections, defeating former acting President Malam Bacai Sanhá in a runoff. In March 2009, Vieira was assassinated by the army, leading to new presidential elections in July 2009 won by Sanhá.

Reform of Guinea Bissau’s armed forces—as part of a broader Security Sector Reform (SSR)—remains the most contentious issue in the country. In 2010, the EU withdrew its SSR advisers and suspended its non-allocated aid to the country amounting to 120 million euros. This was in protest against the appointment of Indjai, a perennial coup maker as well as a prime suspect in the international cocaine trafficking ring, as Army Chief of Staff, which the EU called “another setback to democratic consolidation”. The EU SSR mission had been in the country since June 2008, but it disagreed with the UN on the rollout of a retirement plan for army officers. The UN apparently favoured a gradual process with a large pension package for around 400 officers—the army is about 4,000 strong—while the EU wanted a faster revamp.1

On 21 March 2011, MISSANG took over from the EU, and it jointly announced with ECOWAS a pledge of $95 million towards Guinea Bissau’s army pension fund The relationship between MISSANG and the local army broke down after Angola foiled an attempted coup, organised by Indjai, on 26 December while Sanhá was convalescing in a hospital in Paris. MISSANG was accused of acting as the personal guard of Gomes Júnior and interim President Pereira, while Angola was targeted for allegedly agreeing to a secret pact with the government to take over the defence apparatuses of Guinea Bissau.

Sanhá died on 9 January 2012. On 10 April, Angola announced it was withdrawing MISSANG because “some people” in Guinea-Bissau “are not satisfied with the cooperation between Angola and Guinea-Bissau”. Two days later, and just ten days before the second round of the presidential elections, the military mounted a successful coup against interim President Pereira and the caretaker government.

Key Issues
The key issues for the Council are the restoration of the constitutional order and the completion of the electoral process begun in March. A related issue is to coordinate the efforts of the AU, ECOWAS and CPLP to make sure that maximum pressure, possibly including sanctions, can be brought to bear on the military junta to yield power without recourse to force.

A persistent underlying issue is the absence of a comprehensive SSR programme to trim the size of the Guinea-Bissau armed forces and make them more amenable to civilian democratic oversight. This would require the presence of a sizable external military force, possibly comprising of troops from ECOWAS and CPLP.

Another underlying issue is the stranglehold that drug trafficking and organised crime has over a number of key actors in Guinea-Bissau.

A broader issue is for the Council to improve its ability to read warning signs of possible crises and to be able to take preventive steps. In this regard, the UN system, and most particularly UNIOGBIS, the PBC Guinea-Bissau configuration, and the UN Office for West Africa, apparently failed to opportunely and correctly read developments on the ground.

Main options for the Council include:

  • adopting a resolution imposing targeted sanctions against the military junta and threatening more measures, including military intervention, should the sanctions fail to have their desired impact; or
  • issuing a presidential statement supporting ECOWAS’s sanctions regime, and calling for a coordinated approach to pressuring the junta to relinquish power.

Council Dynamics
A number of somewhat extraneous factors have come to bear on the dynamics respecting Guinea-Bissau. The first is the position of ECOWAS since President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire became its Chairman on 17 February. Largely because Angola supported former President Laurent Gbagbo during the Côte d’Ivoire crisis, ECOWAS has not been enthusiastic about Angola’s continuing role in Guinea-Bissau. The 19 April ECOWAS statement before the Council was critical of MISSANG and called for its replacement. Secondly, Portugal, the former colonial power in Guinea-Bissau, is currently a member of the Council and has been active on this issue. Guinea-Bissau, however, remains of interest to most Council members especially in light of the recent coup, which underlies key anxieties: the resurgence of coups in West Africa; international narcotics trafficking and organised crime; and issues relating to impunity and the rule of law. There is a broad consensus in the Council that the 12 April coup should be reversed, and that constitutional order should be re-established in short order.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/2030 (21 December 2011) renewed the mandate of UNIOGBIS until 28 February 2013.
  • S/RES/1949 (23 November 2010) renewed the mandate of UNIOGBIS until 31 December 2011.
  • S/RES/1876 (26 June 2009) extended the mandate of UNOGBIS until 31 December and requested the Secretary-General to establish UNIOGBIS to succeed UNOGBIS for an initial period of 12 months after that.

Presidential Statements

Secretary-General’s Reports

Press Statements

  • SC/10607 (13 April 2012) condemned the coup and called for immediate release of interim President Raimundo Pereira, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and all senior officials currently detained.
  • SC/10521 (13 January 2012) was issued after a briefing by Pascoe on 10 January.
  • SC/10301 (28 June 2011) was issued after a briefing by Mutaboba and Viotti.
  • SC/10184 (25 February 2011) was issued after a briefing by Mutaboba and Viotti.

Meeting Records


  • S/2012/254 (23 April 2012) transmitted two letters, one from former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior and one from Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo, President of ECOWAS Commission.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNIOGBIS

Joseph Mutaboba (Rwanda)


1 January 2010 to present; mandate expires 28 February 2013

Chair of the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the PBC


Useful Additional Source
AU, Report of the Chairperson of the Commission on the Situation in Guinea-Bissau, Mali and between the Sudan and South Sudan (24 April 2012)

1 See Ola Bello, The EU’s approach to fragility in Guinea-Bissau: Between Ambition and Coherence (FRIDE Policy Brief No.113, January 2012)


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