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View on Africa: Avoiding another deadly crisis in Guinea-Bissau
Date: 9 September 2015
Time: 11h00 - 12h00
Venue: ISS Pretoria situation room (map) or, online: VoiceBoxer

Pour la version française, cliquez ici

Click here to watch the briefing video

The issue

On the 13 August 2015, President José Màrio Vaz dismissed his prime minister and shut down the government, plunging Guinea-Bissau into yet another political crisis.

Beyond what appears as a misunderstanding between leaders, structural and speculative factors continue to undermine peace and stability in the country.

This week’s View on Africa was presented by David Zounmenou, a senior research fellow based in Pretoria. He explored some of the current contentious issues, the structural impediments to political stability and shed some light on possible future scenarios for Guinea-Bissau.

Key points

  • The elections of Jose Mario Vaz as president and the appointment of Domingos Simões Pereira (DSP) as a prime minister (both from the PAIGC) was seen as a positive development in the political and peacebuilding process in Guinea Bissau. But the current crisis highlights that fundamental institutional transformation is still needed.
  • To justify the dismissal of the government, Jomav accused his prime minister and some members of the government of corruption.
  • Allegations of illegal exploitation of the country’s timber appear as potential elements. According to UK advocacy group Global Timber, Timber exports to China from Guinea-Bissau jumped from 80 cubic meters in 2008 to more than 15,000 cubic meters in 2013. The country has also seen an increase in licenses delivered from 15 in 2012 to 61 in 2014. This took place during the transition but was also attributed to the fact efforts against drug trafficking are bearing fruits forcing actors involved to seek new ventures with other natural resources.
  • This has forced the president to impose a five-year ban on unprocessed timber export.
  • Some observers attribute the current crisis to the early achievements of the Prime Minister Domingos Simões Pereira's government. He is also credited with efforts aiming at restoring good governance, improving the country’s revenues, the rule of law and preventing a backlash from the former military rulers linked to drug smuggling. Under his leadership, most aid has resumed. Yet, he is seen as consolidating his own power and purging politicians and officials connected to the old regime.
  • Guinea Bissau emerged in 2014 from a difficult electoral process that put the country back to political normalcy. If that electoral process has restored the democratisation process and revive the hopes for reforms, old deep-seated antagonisms remain between reformist and defenders of the status quo.
  • Within the PAIGC, DSP as the party’s chairman and prime minister enjoy both the overwhelming support of the party and the National Assembly.
  • Many believe that the president reaction came as a deterrent to threat posed by DSP as a potential rival in years to come.
  • The institutional arrangements in Guinea Bissau remain one of the key factors of instability. Since the return of the PAIGC to power in 2004, relations between the presidents, the prime ministers and the army have been extremely complex resulting in cyclical crises in which the army remains the main game changer.
  • In 2009, this has resulted in the double assassination of President Viera and his chief of staff Tagme Na Wai. The same in 2011 when a coup against the army chief of staff resulted into another crisis and in 2012, as the country geared up for a run-off, a coup was staged against the prime minister Gomes Junior.
  • Since 1974, no president has successfully served a full five-year term.

What to watch

  • A key concern here is that the president of Guinea Bissau gave little attention to various calls from international partners.
  • He maintained the controversial appointment of Baciro Dja as PM, approved a new government presented with the support of the PRS (opposition party initially against his decisions).
  • The president currently seems to find a solution but this is not sustainable, as the PAIGC still remain a powerful entity in the National Assembly.
  • What will be the reaction of the president as the decision of the Supreme Court declared his actions unconstitutional? Will he heed the calls and seek political compromise?
  • Will there be a military intervention: this might sound unlikely given the international pressure on the army and the presence of the ECOWAS stabilisation force – ECOMIB but not to be excluded.
  • Will the president be recalled? Though envisaged, the constitution is unclear and the Parliament does not the power to do so.
  • What about the call for new legislative elections? Probable, but given the challenges of the previous elections, it seems unlikely
  • The way out: respect of the court decision and dialogue for political solution in the short term. In the long run, necessity for the reinforcement of the institutional capacity of the state organs to resolve crises without resorting to violence.

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