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Guinea-Bissau: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (14 February), the Security Council expects a briefing by the Special Representative and head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), Modibo Touré, via video-teleconference from Bissau. Ambassador Mauro Vieira (Brazil), chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), is also likely to brief. The session precedes negotiations to renew the mandate of UNIOGBIS, which expires on 28 February.

Since late January, a spate of significant developments has taken place in Guinea-Bissau’s two-and-a-half-year long political crisis. On 27 January, on the margins of the AU General Assembly in Addis Ababa, an extraordinary session of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Authority was held on Guinea-Bissau. In a final communiqué, ECOWAS gave President José Mário Vaz until 31 January to appoint a consensus prime minister in accordance with the October 2016 Conakry Agreement, and for signatories of the accord to form a new government. Failing this, ECOWAS would impose collective or individual sanctions.

On 30 January, Vaz nominated as prime minister Artur Da Silva. He was sworn in the next day—becoming the country’s sixth prime minister since August 2015. Vaz’s political party, with which he has been at odds in the crisis, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), rejected the appointment since Da Silva was not a consensus selection. An ECOWAS mission to Bissau, led by Togolese Foreign Minister Robert Dussey, announced on 1 February that the Conakry Agreement was not being respected, and that sanctions would be applied, effective immediately.

On 4 February, ECOWAS imposed targeted sanctions on 19 individuals associated with President Vaz, including some from the group of dissident PAIGC members of parliament, members of the main opposition party (the Party for Social Renewal), and the president’s son. The sanctions include a suspension from ECOWAS activities and a travel ban and asset freeze on the 19 individuals and their families. ECOWAS called on the AU, the EU, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) and the UN to support the implementation of the sanctions.

Amidst these developments, the public order police prevented PAIGC members from entering the party headquarters for its annual Congress. During his briefing, Touré may refer to his role as part of the “P5” in Guinea-Bissau—made up of the AU, CPLP, ECOWAS, EU and UN—which met authorities to defuse the situation before the PAIGC gained access to their headquarters and was able to resume its Party Congress on 1 February.

Touré is also expected to refer to legislative elections that are due to be held by June. However, serious concerns exist about their feasibility without first resolving the political impasse and reaching an agreement on a consensus prime minister. The National Electoral Commission (CNE) has proposed holding the elections on 20 May, while Vaz has yet to confirm a date. Vaz has suggested postponing the legislative elections to be held together with next year’s 2019 presidential race as part of a new roadmap he proposed this past December. Further challenges for elections in the coming months include the need to update the voter registration rolls and appointing new members to the CNE, including its president, who must be approved by the National Assembly that has not met since January 2016.

During their interventions, members are likely to reaffirm the Council’s previous calls for the contending actors to implement the Conakry Agreement and their support for the efforts of ECOWAS. A number of members may express support of the ECOWAS decision to apply sanctions. Members may further reiterate the importance of the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB) as a deterrent force, whose mandate ECOWAS last extended through March at its January session, and commend the military’s continued posture of non-interference, which has been a concern given Guinea-Bissau’s history of military coups.

The discussion will feed into Council members upcoming negotiations to renew the mandate of UNIOGBIS. The US seems poised to push for an extension of only six months, questioning the effectiveness of UNIOGBIS, which together with its predecessor mission has maintained a 19-year presence. Other members oppose this, noting that the legislative elections, which are to be organised in a tense environment, are unlikely to happen before the autumn, and are concerned about the signal that this would send to ECOWAS.

For the briefing, members are likely to be interested in Touré providing more detail on his good offices activities, including support for the ECOWAS mediation, as well as the mission’s role in coordinating the international response to the crisis. While recognizing that the ability of UNIOGBIS to carry forward fully its mandate is impeded by the political crisis, some members may seek more information on the mission’s impact, as the Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau (S/2018/110) outlines UNIOGBIS activities such as organising conferences but does not provide much assessment of the effect of such work. In his report, the Secretary-General has suggested renewing UNIOGBIS’ mandate for a further year, and has proposed that should the political impasse continue, an assessment of the mission would be conducted to provide the Security Council with options for the possible re-configuration of the UN’s presence.

As part of Vieira’s briefing, he may refer to yesterday’s (12 February) meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission. Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman briefed on recent developments, in which he flagged that the international community should signal its support for holding elections according to the constitutional timeframe. ECOWAS Permanent Observer Tanou Koné provided an overview of ECOWAS’ recent actions, while Equatorial Guinea, in its capacity as chair of the 2048 Guinea-Bissau sanctions committee, raised concerns over the use of sanctions to resolve the impasse. Vieira is likely to refer to recent Peacebuilding Fund-supported projects developed for Guinea-Bissau, and he may highlight his plans to soon travel to Washington D.C. to meet with World Bank officials, as well as to visit Guinea-Bissau in coming months.

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