Beyond Turf Wars in Coup-Hit Guinea-Bissau
17 Aug 2012
International actors need to commit to a common strategy to help coup-plagued Guinea-Bissau implement the security, justice and electoral reforms it needs to escape its status as a link in drug trafficking to Europe.
Beyond Turf Wars: Managing the Post-Coup Transition in Guinea-Bissau, the latest International Crisis Group report, urges the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), notably Angola and Portugal who are driving its policy, to set aside differences and work with the transitional authorities to define a mandate for the ECOWAS mission in Bissau and then seek UN Security Council approval of it. ECOWAS, with support from international partners, must be allowed to take the lead in setting benchmarks for the interim government to follow and ensuring that donor aid is linked to achieving them.
“ECOWAS is the only game in town because it has the ear of the transitional authorities, but it must urgently start a dialogue with the CPLP and reach a consensus for how to restore constitutional order”, says Vincent Foucher, Crisis Group’s West Africa Senior Analyst. “They have to forget their turf fights and concentrate on taking advantage of opportunities to at last bring about highly needed reforms”.
After the 12 April coup deprived Carlos Gomes Júnior of an apparently certain election as president in a second round later that month, ECOWAS was pushed by Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso to forge a transitional agreement with the junta. That scuttled Angola’s influence in Guinea-Bissau, forcing it to withdraw its controversial military mission. ECOWAS has been more lenient toward the Guinean military, and its support for the transitional government and a year-long transition is at odds with the CPLP’s demand for prompt resumption of the aborted electoral process.
The divergence in approaches has hindered the transition process and is the last thing Guinea-Bissau needs. Despite drug money, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, with at least half its population below the poverty line. In recent years, it has endured civil war, political assassinations and several coups. No president has ever completed a full term (Malam Bacai Sanhá died in office of natural causes in January). The economy has been devastated – the cashew trade, its top income earner, is cut by half this year – and many citizens lack access to crucial services.
While the coup halted another attempt at establishing democracy, it also revealed many important factors that international policymakers should not ignore. It demonstrated that tense relations between civilian and military elites have never been resolved, which exacerbates broader grievances around issues of citizenship, human rights and regional inequalities. It likewise exposed frustrations in the political and military elites with Gomes Júnior’s divisive political style and the weakness of the electoral system.
“The standoff between ECOWAS and the CPLP results in loss of time, energy and opportunities”, Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director, warns. “If the situation is not dealt with adequately, including by providing credible assurances that Gomes Júnior can safely return to political life, rumours of a new coup may well not continue to be just rumours”.
See pictures of the Guinea-Bissau research trip. You can also listen to the podcast here.