Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?
Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Beyond Turf Wars: Managing the Post-Coup Transition in Guinea-Bissau
Beyond Turf Wars: Managing the Post-Coup Transition in Guinea-Bissau
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Briefing 98 / Africa

Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?

Guinea-Bissau’s elections are an important first step, but to address its economic and political fragility, the country needs strong international help, as well as political and military will for reform.

I. Overview

Two years and one day after the coup that prevented the victory of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) in the March-April 2012 presidential polls, and after a series of postponements and crises, Guinea-Bissau will finally hold elections on 13 April 2014. These legislative and presidential elections will take place not because of a strong national consensus but because the country is on the verge of bankruptcy and the international community, less divided than it was at the time of the coup, has applied strong pressure. The vote is only the first stage in the transition and the basic problems that undermine progress in this small West African country remain. The elections will no doubt pose a threat to vested interests and stability. The new government will have to promote consensus and political pluralism, while the international community must carefully monitor developments in this crucial coming period.

International pressure was a decisive factor in ensuring the vote goes ahead as currently planned. Political and military leaders had no choice but to hold elections to avoid bankruptcy and escape from continuing international isolation. However, the elections will resolve nothing if international partners do not work closely with Guinea-Bissau in the crucial period after the inauguration of the new president. They must work towards a greater degree of coordination in the few days before, but above all during and after the elections.

Partly improved relations between international partners have strongly contributed to making the elections possible. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had supported the transitional authorities from the start, has showed them its impatience. For their part, the African Union (AU) and the new special representative of the UN Secretary-General, José Ramos-Horta, have succeeded in bringing together the different tendencies in the international community to urge the small local political-military elite to get on with the electoral process.

By taking such a resolute position on the elections, the international community has given the coup organisers and supporters a difficult choice. Senior officers in the defence and security forces, many of whom are suspected of involvement in cocaine trafficking and political violence, will have to accept the return of a civilian government. The latter will have to call into question the privileges enjoyed by those officers and resume the security sector reforms that contributed to prompting the army to stage the coup. This time round, the government should proceed with caution and seek compromise to avoid a violent reaction from the army.

The frontrunner in the elections, the PAIGC, must resist the temptation to adopt a “winner-takes-all” attitude. It should seek ways to leave space for those political actors that came out in support of the coup and whose electoral prospects are grim given the currently prevailing disastrous socioeconomic situation. In a country where the economy is in shambles and participation in government has been a way to acquire personal wealth, the pro-coup actors risk being completely excluded from the formal and informal benefits associated with power. This could lead them to associate with disgruntled segments of the army and promote more violence.

The current level of international pressure means the elections will most likely be held on schedule and in a relatively satisfactory manner, at least for the first round. But that will not be enough. The new government’s stability and performance will be decisive. Aware of this, diplomats in Bissau are trying to arrange a support program that will help the new government carry out the necessary reforms while maintaining the country’s complex political-military balance of forces. The highest authorities of partner countries and international organisations must heed their diplomats’ advice, though little attention is paid to Guinea-Bissau, a small country with a population of one and a half million, without any strategic resources or massive violence to put it in the international spotlight.

Guinea-Bissau’s partners, notably ECOWAS, the African Union, the UN, the European Union and friendly countries should consider the following measures:

  • Depending on how the elections unfold and on the behaviour of the security forces during and after the vote, the international community should consider gradually lifting individual sanctions against low-ranking officers. Lifting sanctions against higher-ranking officers should be conditioned on significant progress in modernising the army.
  • Donors should be ready, in the short term, to help the new government pay public sector wages and, in the long term, to fund the Governance Efficacy Amelioration Program (GEAP) and associated development programs.
  • If the departure of the special representative of the Secretary-General, José Ramos-Horta, is confirmed, a new representative capable of mobilising and coordinating international action should replace him as soon as possible.

The newly elected authorities should consider the following measures:

  • The new assembly should move quickly to pass the amnesty law agreed during the transition, which should apply exclusively to the April 2012 coup.
  • The new government should promote ethnic and political pluralism.

Dakar/Brussels, 8 April 2014

Report 190 / Africa

Beyond Turf Wars: Managing the Post-Coup Transition in Guinea-Bissau

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.

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Executive Summary

Guinea-Bissau took another dangerous turn on 12 April 2012, when the army arrested Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior, who was about to be elected president. A military junta accused him of conspiring with Angola to curtail the military’s power and quickly installed transitional authorities, before officially stepping aside on 22 May. International condemnation was swift, but differences developed between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP). The former, pushed by Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, supports a year’s transition, the latter, especially Portugal and Angola, immediate resumption of the presidential vote. Coup and transition may have opened a way for vital reforms, which must go beyond changes in the army and combating the drugs trade. But for that to happen, ECOWAS and CPLP must reach a consensus on working with international partners to mobilise resources for security, judicial and electoral reforms and refusing to validate Gomes Júnior’s illegal exclusion from political life.

Crisis Group warned three months before the coup that two related factors posed significant risks for stability: the likely victory of the prime minister in the presidential election and the military presence in the country of his ally, Angola, including its part in security sector reform (SSR). Both caused the military (Forças Armadas da Guiné-Bissau, FAGB) to fear what might be in store for it under a Gomes Júnior presidency.

The coup that suspended the constitutional order and broke off the second round of the presidential election (scheduled for 29 April) was not a mere reflex of an isolated minority of narco-military against a reformist civilian government. Rather, it demonstrated that the tense relations between civilian and military elites that have marred progress since independence in 1974 remain unresolved and that these in turn feed into broader grievances around issues of citizenship, entitlements, the rural/urban divide, regional inequalities and the mounting sense of historical marginalisation felt by the Balanta ethnic group that depends on its majority in the army to champion its cause.

Controversy rages over the role opposition leaders may have played. Both Serifo Nhamadjo, a rival within Gomes Júnior’s Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) and political heir to the deceased president, Malam Bacai Sanhá, and Kumba Yalá, a former president whose Partido para a Renovação Social (PRS) is rooted in the Balanta community, have influence in the military. But the coup was also stimulated by the inability of the electoral process to deliver uncontroversial results. Nhamadjo and Yalá, as well as Henrique Rosa, a former transition president, rejected the March first round results, claiming registration flaws and voting fraud.

The coup also confirmed that Gomes Júnior’s divisive style made him many enemies among politicians as well as soldiers. The legitimacy he gained by improving the lives of ordinary citizens was weakened by opposition accusations of nepotism and that he was implicated in not yet credibly investigated political killings in 2009. While he denied the accusations, many citizens put their lives on the line in his defence during the April 2010 military turmoil but failed to do so two years later.

The events likewise raise questions about why international efforts to help the tiny, poor, aid-dependent country have so persistently failed to bring real change. After the European Union (EU) pulled out as a result of the April 2010 troubles, and in the absence of other major international patrons, Angola did much to produce stability, but it has not been able to stimulate transformation or build and maintain consensus at the national and international level on shaping the future. It allowed itself to become an object of suspicion in the country and locked in jurisdictional fights with some key ECOWAS member states, which weakened its credibility, acceptability and efficiency.

Guinea-Bissau is unlikely to receive substantially more attention in the near future for several reasons: the international community’s preoccupation with other, much bloodier situations; the capacity of the transitional authorities to maintain domestic order so far and play the dialogue game; and the willingness of ECOWAS to engage with them. The CPLP’s tough stance – seeking a stabilisation force and completion of the presidential election – has encouraged Gomes Júnior and the PAIGC to refuse all compromise and made ECOWAS the military’s favourite with which to broker a deal.

The regional organisation has obtained two significant concessions: preservation of the parliament and release from detention of Gomes Júnior, who left the country two weeks after the coup. The price has been ECOWAS support for a one-year transition, to end with new elections. Nhamadjo took over as transitional president, and Rui Duarte Barros, a PRS associate, became prime minister, formed a cabinet and presented his transition program on 21 July. ECOWAS deployed a 629-man strong police and army contingent (ECOWAS mission in Bissau, ECOMIB) to help with security sector reform, support the transition and facilitate the departure of the Angolan military mission, which was completed peacefully on 9 June.

Transitional structures are now in place, and new elections have been set for April 2013. But the transition remains unsteady. The new authorities are a mix of technocrats and opposition politicians of varied stripes, and a new sharing of spoils is under way the impact of which on state capacity is yet unclear. THE PAIGC remains in control of the parliament and hostile to the transition authorities, while politicians backing the transition are trying to keep Gomes Júnior at bay through their accusations. The military has formally retreated from public life with the dissolution of the junta in May but remains influential. Factionalism persists within it, and rumours of a new coup circulate endlessly. The withdrawal of much international assistance and disruption of the cashew nut export sector herald rough times for the transition authorities.

But though there are limits to the transition as engineered by ECOWAS, it is the only game in town at this point. The more radical demands Gomes Júnior and the PAIGC are making with encouragement from Angola and Portugal could make the transition a riskier exercise. Tempting as it may be for some to hold back in the not unrealistic hope it will collapse, it is more prudent to work through ECOWAS and in the present framework.

In their quest for a negotiated settlement, ECOWAS and its key member states have allowed themselves to be perceived internationally as letting the junta get away with too much and doing away with elective democracy, all in order to neutralise Angolan influence. The bulk of the international community has nevertheless been pragmatic in accepting the regional organisation’s leadership – it is the player with the ear of the military and the transitional government – but uneasiness persists in diplomatic circles over its handling of the situation. This makes it difficult for the transitional government to gain international recognition and recover suspended aid, without which it will be hard to mobilise resources for a successful transition and necessary reforms.

ECOWAS and several of its member countries have legitimate interests in Guinea-Bissau, as well as leverage over the new authorities. That leverage can and should be used to work out a peaceful solution. However, ECOWAS, which has put a good deal of its prestige on the line, should learn from Angola’s experience: it must not act in isolation from the rest of the international community and become party to the complex conflicts that have divided Guinea-Bissau. It should instead help the transitional government realise and then do what is needed to rebuild international good-will: demonstrate its sincerity about reform. There would be a much better chance for this to happen if especially ECOWAS and CPLP would put aside their turf wars and develop a common strategy. The CPLP and its member countries should show greater flexibility, and the African Union (AU) should help facilitate discussions between the two organisations.

Dakar/Brussels, 17 August 2012

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