Guinea-Bissau: Security Council Presidential Statement
Today (4 November), the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement supporting the response of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to the unfolding political developments in Guinea-Bissau. On 28 October, President José Mário Vaz dismissed the government of Prime Minister Aristides Gomes, just weeks before the already delayed presidential election scheduled for 24 November. Côte d’Ivoire circulated a first draft of the presidential statement on 30 October. A revised draft was circulated on Thursday (31 October)—the same day Council members discussed the developments in closed consultations—and placed under silence procedure until Friday morning (1 November). One delegation broke the silence, and agreement on the draft was finally reached Friday afternoon.
The draft presidential statement expresses “full support to the ECOWAS and African Union Communiques issued respectively on 29 and 30 October 2019”. It also calls on all actors in Guinea-Bissau to fully respect the ECOWAS heads of state decisions from their 29 June summit, and states that there is an “urgent need to hold the presidential elections on 24 November 2019 as agreed”.
In its 29 October communiqué, the ECOWAS ministerial committee called Vaz’s dismissal of the Gomes government “illegal”. Vaz’s official five-year term ended on 23 June. To resolve the controversy at the time over his status, the ECOWAS Authority at its 29 June summit decided that Vaz should remain president until the election, though government affairs should be fully handled by the new government of Gomes, who had just been appointed prime minister following legislative elections in March.
The ECOWAS statement last week recalled this decision and reiterated “full support for Prime Minister Aristides Gomes and his government”, which it urged to continue preparations for the presidential election on 24 November. ECOWAS stated that there was no justification for disrupting the electoral process, said that it could not accept any action compromising Guinea-Bissau’s peace and stability, and threatened sanctions against anyone who obstructs the upcoming election. Nonetheless, Vaz appointed a new prime minister, Faustino Fudut Imbali, on 29 October, and the rest of the government two days later. Gomes has refused to step down, however.
The 30 October communiqué by AU Commissioner Moussa Faki expressed full support for ECOWAS’ efforts, and for maintaining the government formed following the March legislative election. The UN Secretary-General, the Community for Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) and the EU, as well as individual governments, issued similar statements supporting ECOWAS and the Gomes-led government.
Negotiations on the draft Council statement were apparently difficult, despite the fairly swift agreement on the text. There was consensus among Council members over the need for the parties to show restraint and to proceed with holding the presidential election as scheduled. Most members also viewed Vaz’s actions as illegitimate, and appeared to support Côte d’Ivoire’s aim that the Council send a meaningful message backing ECOWAS and the electoral process. Russia, however, was against the statement appearing to take sides or pass judgment over who is to blame in the crisis. Its position would appear largely related to its general concerns about non-interference in countries’ internal affairs.
In response to Russia, it seems that Côte d’Ivoire maintained that Guinea-Bissau is a situation in which the Security Council and international community have invested considerable attention and resources and underscored that the upcoming presidential election represents the final hurdle towards potentially beginning a new era. There has indeed been long-standing international engagement. The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) and its predecessor mission have been present since 1999. Renewing the UNIOGBIS mandate last February, the Council endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendation for the mission’s prospective completion by the end of 2020. For its part, ECOWAS has deployed since 2012 a 500-person military force in Guinea-Bissau, known as ECOMIB, and has taken a leading mediating role over the past four years of political crisis.
During negotiations, language overtly supporting Gomes and describing specific ECOWAS positions was removed. As part of the compromise reached Friday, a paragraph was deleted that would have taken note with regret of Vaz’s decision to dismiss the government and appoint a parallel prime minister. It seems Côte d’Ivoire could accept such changes since the draft statement still maintained clear expressions of support for ECOWAS’ statements on the situation.
A further significant compromise was the inclusion of a sentence that calls on President Vaz and the government led by Prime Minister Gomes, in charge of conducting the electoral process, to resolve their differences in the spirit of respect and cooperation. Describing the Gomes-led government as “in charge of conducting the electoral process” provided legitimacy to the Gomes government that Côte d’Ivoire felt was important for the Council to convey.
Among other messages, the draft presidential statement recalls that the Council’s possible consideration of ending the existing sanctions regime will depend on the orderly conduct by defense and security forces, and political actors. It also recalls that the Council will consider taking appropriate measures against those who undermine stability in Guinea-Bissau in accordance with Security Council resolutions on Guinea-Bissau. It seems that EU Council members submitted a proposal to state more explicitly the Council’s intention to consider further measures against those that disrupt the electoral process, although the penholder apparently did not push this, recognising that it would be difficult for Russia to accept.
When Vaz dismissed the government, a delegation of the 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committee led by Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba (Equatorial Guinea) was in Bissau to encourage free and fair elections and to underscore that if the electoral process and post-electoral transition occur smoothly, the committee would examine the possibility of ending the sanctions regime established following the April 2012 coup d’état.
An ECOWAS mission led by Niger’s Foreign Minister Kalla Ankourao arrived in Guinea-Bissau on 1 November and has been there throughout the weekend. A communiqué issued yesterday (3 November) noted that it held meetings, inter alia, with head of state Vaz and Prime Minister Gomes, and reiterated ECOWAS’ positions from its 29 October communiqué, including the threat to sanction against those obstructing the upcoming elections. President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger is convening an ECOWAS extraordinary summit on the situation on 8 November in Niamey.