What's In Blue

Posted Thu 13 Aug 2015

Council to Discuss Guinea-Bissau Political Crisis

Tomorrow (14 August), Council members will receive a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun in consultations; on the political crisis in Guinea-Bissau. The briefing follows the decision by Guinea-Bissau President José Mário Vaz on Wednesday night (12 August) to dismiss the government of Prime-Minister Domingos Simões Pereira.

Just four days ago, on 10 August, Zerihoun briefed Council members at Angola’s request during “any other business” on the increasingly tense relationship between the two leaders. He described diplomatic engagement to avert a crisis, but noted that Vaz appeared adamant about dismissing the government.

Following Monday’s briefing, Council members started working on a press statement which was issued on Wednesday just before Vaz’s announcement. The press statement welcomed ongoing efforts of regional and international actors to encourage dialogue, in particular the efforts of Senegal President and current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Macky Sall, Guinea-Conakry President Alpha Condé and Special Representative of the Secretary-General Miguel Trovoada. Efforts last week by the Secretary-General, Sall and Conde, to get Vaz to back down from his plan to dissolve the government were unsuccessful.

Council members have been aware for some time of the tensions between the two leaders. In February when it renewed the mandate of UNIOGBIS (S/RES/2203), the Council endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendation to strengthen the ‘good offices’ role of Special Representative Trovoada, due to concerns over these tensions.

The problem between the two leaders apparently stems in part from differences in interpretation of the constitution, and the president’s role in government decision-making. The constitution outlines a largely ceremonial role for the president but over the years, as Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by military coups and political instability it seems the practice has been for the president to have greater influence. Since being appointed prime minister by Vaz and the formation of a government in July 2014 (which marked the restoration of constitutional order following the 12 April 2012 coup), Simões Pereira has sought to abide more strictly by the constitutional definition of the responsibilities of the government. Disagreements have revolved, for example, around the use of aid money. Vaz and Simões Pereira’s party, the PAIGC, convened a meeting on 7 and 8 August over the crisis. According to press reports at the end of the meeting, a resolution was adopted that condemned Vaz’s actions and and called on him to resume dialogue with other state figures, in particular Simões Pereira.

At tomorrow’s briefing Council members will be looking for more details about what sparked the final decision to dismiss the government. Members are likely to be concerned about the impact of this action on Guinea-Bissau’s stability. Uppermost in many members’ minds, given Guinea-Bissau’s history, will be the possibility of the military intervening if the political crisis cannot be resolved. (Since 1980, Guinea-Bissau has experienced several coups and no elected government has completed a full democratic cycle.) The 2012 coup led to a period of instability and exacerbated many of Guinea-Bissau’s economic problems.

Some Council members may wish to discuss how the Council can ensure that the gains made in Guinea-Bissau since the restoration of constitutional order in 2014 are not lost.

There has been optimism about the progress made so far and the commitment of the new government to reforms, and in March a donors’ conference raised $1.5 billion. The Council currently has two members – Angola and Nigeria – who have a keen interest in developments in Guinea-Bissau. Nigeria, the lead in the Council on Guinea-Bissau, is a member of ECOWAS and the main contributor of the ECOWAS Security Mission in Guinea-Bissau. Angola is a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries which following the April 2012 coup in Guinea-Bissau was also among the multilateral actors that were actively involved in addressing the situation. While the Council has generally been content to follow the lead of key regional actors, recent developments might spur some members to consider a more active role for the Council.

These developments are also likely to have an impact on the expected Council review of the 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee. Earlier this week the Committee was given a preview of the of the Secretariat’s assessment. It seems that the prevailing view is that it would be premature to get rid of the Sanctions Committee given Guinea-Bissau’s history of coups leading to a cycle of instability. Some Council members have been inclined to end the sanctions given that their main purpose – to pressure the April 2012 coup leaders and bring about restoration of constitutional order – was achieved more than a year ago. Those who have supported the continuation of the sanctions and have voiced concern over Guinea-Bissau’s fragility may now find greater support for their perspective.