Visiting Mission to Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau
Security Council members leave this evening (13 February) for Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau. Equatorial Guinea, this month’s Council president, and Côte d’Ivoire are co-leading the mission, planned for 14 to 16 February. The highlight of the Ivorian leg will be a roundtable discussion on transitions from mandated UN missions to non-mission settings, with representatives of the UN country teams from Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia. The Guinea-Bissau leg comes ahead of legislative elections scheduled for 10 March, which were already delayed twice last year amidst a protracted political crisis.
The purpose of the visit to Côte d’Ivoire, according to the terms of reference for the visiting mission, is to take stock of the ongoing transition in the country, as well as in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and support the work of UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and the respective country teams in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. UN peace operations have concluded in the three countries in recent years: Sierra Leone in March 2014, Côte d’Ivoire in June 2017 and Liberia in March 2018. Council members will also hold meetings with the Vice-President and Foreign Minister of Côte d’Ivoire.
Members are expected to review the overall political and socio economic situations of the three countries, as well as the security situation in the Mano River Union sub-region. The roundtable meeting with representatives of the UN’s Ivorian and Liberian country teams (the Sierra Leone country team is unable to participate) will consider experiences and best practices on transitions. Among other objectives, the discussion will seek to identify persistent structural vulnerabilities, which could be factors in the resurgence of instability and conflict; evaluate national and UN country team capacity to develop and coordinate long-term financing strategies, taking into account the role of international financial institutions and the private sector; identify lessons from the PBC’s role in supporting longer-term peacebuilding efforts, and recommendations for the role the PBC can play in transitions more broadly; and encourage cross-border cooperation to combat organised crime and community violence. The roundtable may provide members an opportunity to learn more about the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen the ability of resident coordinators and country teams to identify and address conflict drivers.
Best practices often flagged from these transitions are the peacebuilding plan developed for Liberia, and a capacity mapping exercise to identify financing and expertise gaps after the withdrawal of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The Secretary-General’s 29 October 2018 special report on the role of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) in settling the situation noted the “positive precedent” of re-hatting the Deputy Special Representative as the Resident Coordinator that provided continuity of senior leadership. Members are expected to reaffirm the Security Council’s continued support to the subregion, through the UN country teams and through UNOWAS, which the Council requested make available its good offices, as necessary, to the three governments and UN resident coordinators (S/RES/2097; S/RES/2284; S/PRST/2018/8).
Regarding Côte d’Ivoire, members recognise that progress has been achieved, supported by a strong economic recovery, ever since the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis during which some 3,000 people were killed. Members are also cognizant of continuing fragilities, especially political tensions between major parties and players that have raised concerns for the 2020 presidential election. In recent months, this has included the break-up of the ruling coalition, and violence tied to the October regional and municipal elections that resulted in seven deaths. Potentially further complicating the situation, in January the ICC acquitted former President Laurent Gbagbo and co-defendant Charles Blé Goudé, a former Minister for Youth, of responsibility for crimes committed during the post-electoral crisis. Last week, Gbagbo was granted conditional release to Belgium, pending an appeal by ICC prosecutors.
During meetings with Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan and Foreign Minister Marcel Amon-Tanoh, members may emphasise the importance to the subregion of Côte d’Ivoire, including that it should remain a model of stability and development, and reiterate UN support to its peacebuilding policy. They may further encourage the government to continue to improve inclusive political and democratic governance and to promote human rights. On 21 January, the government began a dialogue process with the opposition on the composition of the independent electoral commission, which the African Court of Human and People’s Rights determined in 2016 lacks the necessary independence and impartiality. Some Council members may welcome this initiative.
The Guinea-Bissau part of the visiting mission is meant as a conflict prevention initiative. The continued delay in the legislative elections has undermined constitutional provisions and risks causing further political instability. There remains concern that the government, and in particular President José Mário Vaz, would prefer to combine these elections with the presidential election foreseen later this year. In December, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened sanctions against those obstructing the electoral process. The 3.5-year long political crisis has also shown increasing signs of contributing to socio-economic unrest. A teachers’ strike over salary arrears has kept schools closed since October. Last week students protesting the continued school closures blocked roads, burned tires, and reportedly attacked an office of the Party for Social Renewal (PRS). The PRS has frequently aligned itself with Vaz, who has faced off against his own African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) during the political crisis.
Members have a full schedule. The mission is expected to meet with President Vaz and Prime Minister Aristides Gomes. Meetings are planned with the president of the parliament and parliament bureau executives, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, the president of the National Elections Commission (CNE), and heads of political parties, both in parliament and not represented in parliament. A meeting with religious leaders and civil society organisations, including women and youth groups, is scheduled. The Council delegation will also meet with the leadership of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), the UN country team and members of the Group of Five in Bissau (the AU, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, ECOWAS [which maintains the 600-person military contingent known as ECOMIB] and the EU).
Council members are likely to reiterate the need for dialogue to implement the Conakry Agreement, brokered by ECOWAS in 2016 to resolve the political crisis and advance reforms to reduce future instability. They are expected to advocate strongly for conducting free and fair legislative elections as scheduled, and thereafter the presidential election. Preparations for legislative elections are much further along than two months ago, while different laws make it unclear when the presidential election will be held. Vaz’s five-year mandate ends on 23 June; he was elected in May 2014 to restore constitutional order after the country’s April 2012 coup d’état. However, there is an electoral law that stipulates the presidential election should be held between 28 October and 28 November. An immediate issue that Bissau-Guinean voices have flagged is the continued absence of an appointed interior minister, causing concerns about the security of the legislative elections. In a positive development, the 21 political parties participating in the legislative elections signed a code of conduct on 11 February, days before campaigning officially begins on 16 February. A signing ceremony for a stability pact that would commit stakeholders to a number of reforms as called for in the Conakry Agreement, scheduled for 11 February, was postponed.
Members are expected to advocate for completing the envisioned constitutional reform. This is a process that should be done ahead of the presidential election to clarify the powers of the president and prime minister, disputes over which are one of the causes of the current political crisis.
The visiting mission may contribute to Council members’ consideration of the mandate renewal of UNIOGBIS, scheduled for the end of this month. In a 6 December special report, the Secretary-General proposed reconfiguring UNIOGBIS, starting in June, into a streamlined good offices mission, and – following the implementation of a transition plan to be developed – having UNIOGBIS withdraw no later than 31 December 2020. The Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau of 6 February asks the Council to endorse the recommendations of this special report, while renewing the mission’s mandate for one year. Likewise, the mission may contribute to members’ considerations regarding the future of the 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee, established following the April 2012 coup.
Among other issues, members are looking to evaluate progress made in reform processes of the security and justice sectors, and efforts to combat drug trafficking and money laundering. Members maintain concerns over transnational criminal organisations and drug traffickers, as well as of terrorist groups in the region, exploiting Guinea-Bissau’s political instability. Despite the military’s having refrained from interfering in the political crisis, members remain attentive to this risk, given Guinea-Bissau’s history.
Last week, the 2048 Sanctions Committee, which is chaired by Equatorial Guinea, held a meeting on drug trafficking and transnational organized crime in Guinea-Bissau and the region. The following day, the Peacebuilding Commission received an update on Guinea-Bissau’s electoral preparations, socio-economic needs, and efforts to combat drug trafficking.