There are concerns that the current deadlock could reverse important moves towards political stability.
On September 20th, at the Extraordinary Meeting of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government during the 71st United Nations (UN) General Assembly, ECOWAS agreed a plan to bring about an end to the ongoing political crisis in Guinea Bissau and the gradual withdrawal of the ECOWAS Military Intervention Force in Guinea Bissau (ECOMIB).
The meeting was led by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and was also attended by President of Guinea, Alpha Conde, and the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma.
The ECOWAS plan focuses on six areas to bring stakeholders into roundtable discussions, including dissident parliament members, political parties, civil society and religious and other traditional leaders. The aim is to look towards elections in 2018, undertaking reforms to strengthen the judicial system for greater credibility and legitimacy.
According to the Liberia News Agency in the 43 years since independence, no elected head of state had been able to complete a full term in office, and likewise no government had been able to implement its mandate and programme within its term.
The political crisis has been ongoing – on July 14th this year the Supreme Court ruled that the appointment of Baciro Dja as Prime Minister, by current President Jose Mario Vaz, was lawful, an appointment that at the time was regarded as a presidential coup and part of a plan to quash reformist factions of the Partido Africano da Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), led by ex-Prime Minister Carlos Correria.
Dja and Vaz are members of PAIGC but have been involved in clashes with the majority of parliamentarians as Vaz seeks to install a new government, and is seen to be hindering efforts to move the country away from a reversion to a ‘narco state’, according to Africa Confidential.
In 2008 the UN had called Guinea Bissau the first ‘narco state’, part of a regional centre for the flow of cocaine into Europe from South America. At the time the value of the drugs trade in the country was said to be more than national income, reported UK-based the Guardian.
Guinea Bissau has had a tumultuous history; after 13 years of guerilla conflict it won independence from the Portuguese regime in 1974. Following this were periods of Marxist-Leninist dictatorship, a number of wars and economic crises which brought President Joao Bernardo Vieira – who had previously been deposed – back into power in 2005, which led to a purge of the military.
The armed forces were also claimed to be involved in the drugs trade – there have been cases of military vehicles being stopped while carrying large quantities of cocaine. While in recent years there have been moves away from the ‘narco state’, there is concern that the current political deadlock will sacrifice important gains.
Recently there have been rumours that people allied to Vaz have spent large sums on bribes in the legal sector and parliament. Similarly Vaz’s grip on public and private media has tightened, leaving little space for critical opposition voices, reported Africa Confidential.
The conflict has dampened the optimism created by the election of the Domingos Simões Pereira government in July 2014, which lasted until August 2015, and the retreat of the previous drugs-financed military regime. Political instability is taking its toll as many investors have been put off.
The UN Security Council at the beginning of September had said that there is an urgent need to ensure a functioning government and for dialogue among key national stakeholders, including between factions of the PAIGC and the Party for Social Renewal (PRS), reported the UN News Service.
Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:
GUINEA BISSAU: New PM Named
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 6, Pp. 21028B–21029A
GUINEA BISSAU: Government Dismissed
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue. 5, Pp. 20993A–20993C