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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > West Africa > Guinea-Bissau > Guinea-Bissau: Building a Real Stability Pact

Guinea-Bissau: Building a Real Stability Pact

Africa Briefing N°57 29 Jan 2009


The November 2008 legislative elections were an important test for Guinea-Bissau, whose transition to democratic rule badly needed impetus. It was uncertain whether they would take place until the last minute, but they were praised by both citizens and international observers. Still, that is not enough to guarantee either stability or movement on badly needed institutional reform. The collapse of the political parties’ stability pact before the elections and allegations of coup and assassination attempts afterwards illustrate the dangers. If he can be assured of continued donor support, the new prime minister has an opportunity to carry out the administrative and political measures needed to strengthen the state, stabilise the economy and fight drug trafficking. But he will need to ground his government’s work on political dialogue with President Vieira, the army and rivals within his own party to achieve a genuine stability pact.

The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde, PAIGC) and its leader, Carlos Gomes Junior (the new prime minister), won a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, but there are serious fissures within the party, and President Nino Vieira – though the big loser in the vote – remains influential. The permanent threat of military intervention in politics adds to the risks of government paralysis. The collapse of the stability pact and the government of Martinho Ndafa Cabi in March 2008 was the result of a one-off alliance between Vieira and Gomes Junior, but they are bitter foes, and shifts in alliances within PAIGC could all too easily bring down the prime minister before the presidential elections anticipated in 2010.

The precise circumstances surrounding the attempted coup d’etat instigated, according to the authorities, by the head of the navy in July 2008 and the attempted assassination of Vieira one week after the elections are still unknown. At the least, the two events illustrate the country’s fragility and how politicians use factions within the military to settle scores.

Ordinary citizens are paying a high price for the economic and institutional stagnation that is paralysing the country while the political and military classes engage in their endless rows. They voted in large numbers and calmly, and the overwhelming support they gave Gomes Junior showed a desire to break with the malpractices that have characterised political life since independence. His profile contrasts markedly with those of the political heavyweights who traditionally have dominated affairs, and his effectiveness in an earlier stint as prime minister (2004-2005) is widely acknowledged.

As much as the country needs a competent prime minister to pursue the institutional reforms tentatively begun by the previous government, however, it also needs genuine consensus among political actors on objectives and priorities. Since 2007, it has benefited from heightened interest among donors, who had largely abandoned it after the disastrous mismanagement of the Kumba Yala presidency (1999-2003). But this interest will be short-lived if political instability continues to delay the implementation of the reform program drawn up with international partners.

Guinea-Bissau will be unstable and unable to cope with rampant corruption or change its status as a key drugs transiting country as long as its institutions remain structurally feeble. Firm commitment is needed from all political and military actors to engage in a dialogue directed at supporting reforms and to seize, while it is still there, the outstretched hand of donors. The following steps are required:

  • The prime minister should initiate talks with the president and the various factions of the ruling party on his government’s priorities, with a view to producing a program to which all stakeholders commit. A similar dialogue needs to be opened with the military leadership on speeding up security sector reform. Priorities should include a revised electoral law, public administration reform, anti-corruption measures, macroeconomic stabilisation and consultation with civil society about national reconciliation.
  • Regional partners and donor countries should press all political actors to take part in the above dialogues and support their conclusions. Donors should release money promised for security sector reform as soon as possible and set up an effective mechanism to coordinate their efforts in that area.
  • The UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) should help keep promised donor aid (both financial and technical) flowing, in particular for security sector and administrative reforms and the fight against drug trafficking. It should also actively support efforts for dialogue between the prime minister and the various factions of the ruling party and the military.

Dakar/Brussels, 29 January 2009

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