Friday, 16 May 2014

GUINEA-BISSAU: Election-The Last Hope for Stability

A vicious cycle of instability and military coups, fuelled by ethnic rivalries and private quarrels, has ensured that no elected president has reached the end of his mandate during 40 years of independence in Guinea-Bissau. A military coup in 2012 ousted Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, the front-runner in the presidential race after a period of political stability and economic improvements.

That coup interrupted the presidential election process which was delayed for a year. The country has been under a transitional government since then in a compromise set up by the military, which led the coup, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The economic situation deteriorated quickly with empty state coffers and wages unpaid. This had a major impact in a country of 1.7 million people and development was also compromised by political instability and a lack of accountability.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest in Africa and ranked 176th out of the 185 countries surveyed in the 2013 Human Development Index. Guinea-Bissau is home to 1.6 million people and covers about 10,800 square miles with weak state institution, dozens of remote islands and a jagged coastline of mangrove creeks have made it a paradise for smugglers.

About 80 percent of the population depends on cashew farming, but post-election stability could help attract investors to untapped mineral resources including bauxite, phosphate and offshore oil. Some 110 million euros in European Union aid, frozen after 2011 military uprising, could be unblocked too.

The landslide victory of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), in the April 13, 2014, presidential and parliamentary elections, is a clear sign that voters in Guinea-Bissau are craving political change, and no longer recognise the army’s legitimacy - or ability - to rule the country. Voter turnout was above 80 per cent, the highest in the country`s history, and both national and international observers describe the electoral process as having been free and fair.

The historical PAIGC won the legislative elections with an absolute majority, while its nominee Jose Mario Vaz leads the presidential race in the next round on May 18 when the presidential run-off election takes place.

Vaz's candidacy is also tainted by accusations from Bissau's attorney general of involvement in the embezzlement of a $ 12.5 million grant from Angola, something Vaz denies. He faces Nuno Gomes Nabiam, an independent candidate, after no one secured a majority in the first round. However, stability in Guinea-Bissau depends on more than electoral results.

The main challenge concerning Guinea-Bissau’s stability in the near future is the delayed reform of the security sector. The country needs smaller, professional security forces which are under effective civilian control. Its armed forces, totalling 4,500 men, are under the command of Antonio Indjai, the army`s chief of staff.

Most of these former combatants have benefited from instability and organised crime. Military intervention in Mali has reduced drugs and arms trafficking in the region and Guinea-Bissau’s general elections have left the military with few political allies.

There is also pressure for reform in the security sector from regional and international players like the Economic Community of West African States (CEDAO), the United Nations, Nigeria and Portugal.
PAIGC leader Domingos Simoes Pereira, former Secretary General of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) and Guinea Bissau’s next Prime Minister, is open to the creation of an inclusive government, including a sort of power-sharing agreement with the Party for Social Renewal, which is seen as close to the military elite.

He is also willing to nominate a Balanta to the post of army chief to replace Antonio Indjai. The UN Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peace-building Office in Guinea-Bissau, Jose Ramos Horta, is also committed to finding a solution which would not be opposed by the military.

An outstanding international arrest warrant against Antonio Indjai, over claims of direct involvement in drug trafficking and illicit timber exploitation, remains a further challenge. The warrant leaves Antonio Indjai in a tough position as removal from his role as army chief would see him lose his position and material benefits, but could also cost him his freedom.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist/Author
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Reuters-photo: Presidential candidate Jose Mario Vaz attends a campaign rally in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, April 11, 2014. Guinea-Bissau is holding a presidential election on Sunday.