What's In Blue

Posted Wed 10 May 2017

Briefing in Consultations on Guinea-Bissau

Tomorrow (11 May), Council members will receive a briefing in consultations from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on Guinea-Bissau. Senegal requested the session last week to keep members informed of developments in Guinea-Bissau’s ongoing political crisis and to signal that the Council continues to monitor the situation. At press time, Senegal was planning to circulate a draft press statement to members.

Members last received an update on Guinea-Bissau on 20 March in consultations under “Any Other Business” when Feltman briefed them about his week-long visit to West Africa from 24 February to 2 March, during which he travelled to Burkina Faso and The Gambia, as well as Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal—where meetings dealt with Guinea-Bissau’s political crisis. Implementation of the ECOWAS-brokered Conakry Agreement of 14 October 2016 for resolving the crisis remains frozen and there has been a visible rise in tensions. Protests that began in Bissau on 23 February calling for President José Mário Vaz to step down have continued to be organised, with reports of excessive use of force by security personnel against demonstrators, who are supporters of Domingos Simões Pereira, the head of Guinea-Bissau’s main political party, the PAIGC.

Feltman is expected to update members about the ECOWAS high-level ministerial mission that went to Bissau from 23 to 24 April, led by the Foreign Minister of Liberia and Chairperson of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers, Marjon V. Kamara. A communiqué issued by the mission “entreats the immediate implementation of all decisions in line with the letter and spirit of the Conakry Agreement endorsed by the AU and the UN” and strongly requests an immediate end to “bellicose and incendiary pronouncements, identity incitement and the clampdown on peaceful demonstrations”.

The high-level mission recommended “in the event of non-compliance or lack of concrete steps to implement these decisions within 30 days” that the ECOWAS Authority “approve the imposition of relevant sanctions by all Member States and the international community on individuals, groups of individuals and entities who obstruct the smooth implementation of the Conakry Accord and their collaborators with immediate effect”. As recalled in the communiqué, the ECOWAS Authority recently confirmed its decision to move forward with the full withdrawal by 30 June of the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB), the 500-strong -force that has been deployed to the country since the April 2012 coup.

Members will be interested in learning more from Feltman about the situation in the country and ECOWAS’ recent decisions. This includes gaining greater clarity over the regional block’s threat of sanctions, and discussing how the Council can support implementation of the Conakry Agreement within the thirty-day deadline recommended by the ECOWAS mission for making progress in carrying it out. The session could be an opportunity to discuss differences that exist among leaders in Guinea-Bissau (and apparently among ECOWAS states) on the details agreed to in the Conakry Agreement, while considering any recommendations that Feltman may present.

Some Council members may express concerns about the forthcoming departure of ECOMIB, which has been frequently credited with deterring interference by the military during the prolonged political crisis. In its 23 February resolution that extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (S/RES/2343), the Council had encouraged ECOWAS to consider renewing ECOMIB’s mandate and urged international partners to consider providing financial support to the mission. Over the past few years, ECOWAS has faced financial difficulties in maintaining the force, and EU funding in 2016 avoided ECOMIB’s withdrawal last year. It seems, though, that there is also a perception among ECOWAS members that ECOMIB’s presence has reduced the urgency for Bissau-Guinean leaders to resolve the political impasse, which has left the country without a stable and normally functioning government for 21 months. Some members may inquire about what progress, if any, has occurred in the formation of a Bissau-Guinean contingent to take over ECOMIB’s functions protecting state institutions and officials, which was envisioned in the 10 September 2016 Six-Point Roadmap agreed by political actors in the country outlining a solution to the crisis.

During the session, members could recall the importance of conducting, as part of the Conakry Agreement, the reform of the constitution, in particular so as to clarify the roles of the president and prime minister ahead of the 2018 general elections. A lack of clarity or differences in view over this division of power in Guinea-Bissau’s semi-presidential system has been considered one of the triggers of the crisis. However, the impasse between the sides over agreeing on a consensual prime minister has impeded the ability to move forward on the other elements of the agreement. Members may be interested in hearing how UNIOGBIS is supporting implementation of the Conakry Agreement, in particular since the Council approved the strengthening of the mission’s political and good office’s capacities in February’s mandate renewal by shifting resources from the mission’s programmatic activities, which have been largely inactive as a result of the political crisis.

This morning (10 May), the Peacebuilding Commission’s Guinea-Bissau country configuration was scheduled to meet on the situation, receiving a briefing via video-teleconference from Modibo Touré, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Guinea-Bissau. The session may feed into some of tomorrow’s Council discussion, especially among those Council members who are members of the PBC configuration.