On 16 May a transition pact brokered by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and signed by all parties except the majority PAIGC [African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde] – officially nominated Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo as Interim President of Guinea-Bissau for one year. The decision was made after weeks of political wrangling following a military coup on 12 April that interrupted presidential elections, in which ex- Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior from the PAIGC party was the clear front-runner. While many fear the decision to install Nhamadjo will lead to yet more division in the politically polarized nation, others just want the country to get back on track economically, since markets and basic services have more or less been at a standstill since the latest coup.
Nhamadjo, who ranked third in the first round of the presidential elections became head of the National Assembly when Interim President Raimundo Pereira – who was put in place after the death of President Malam Bacai Sanha – was deposed by military junta leaders.
Nhamadjo nominated ex-economist Rui Duarte Barros as Prime Minister after talks with all political parties except the PAIGC – the party of ex-Prime Minister Carlos Junior – which is boycotting the talks as they believe the decision to install Nhamadjo is unconstitutional.
Carlos Junior has said he will not recognize the ECOWAS decision, and calls for a return to constitutional order, saying on 16 May from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, “I am the legitimately elected Prime Minister.” Junior and ex-Interim President Raimundo Pereira are currently being received by the Portuguese Prime Minister and President in Lisbon. Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal in 1973.
When the military junta initially decided on 21 April to appoint failed presidential candidate Nhamadjo as president of a proposed two-year transitional government, having deposed Pereira and Gomes Junior, ECOWAS deemed the move “illegal”. The UN Security Council, the African Union (AU) and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) also condemned it.
The ECOWAS-supported decision to appoint Nhamadjo as interim leader has angered supporters of Gomes Junior, who see him as the candidate of the military junta. ECOWAS “did not consider national interest and principles of the rule of law” in its decision, declared a statement on 14 May by the Civil Society Movement for Peace and Democracy.
PAIGC, which led the country to independence from Portugal, controls 67 of the 100 seats in the National Assembly and “has the legitimacy of a popular mandate”, said Vincent Foucher, a Guinea-Bissau analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict resolution think-tank. According to official results from the first round of the presidential election, when interrupted by the coup, Gomes Junior held 49 percent of the votes, while Nhamadjo came third with 16 percent.
PAIGC is split into factions and some observers surmise that some groups may rally behind Nhamadjo (who also belongs to the party) in order to buoy their role in the transitional government, but Gomes Junior retains majority support in the PAIGC.
While some Bissau-Guineans, particularly the educated middle classes, favour a return to the electoral process, others will go with any solution that brings the country back to a semblance of normality, said a Western academic after recently visiting the capital, Bissau.
Younoussa Seydi, 30, a mechanic living in the capital, told IRIN: “Guineans [Bissau-Guineans] have to prioritize dialogue to find a solution… If Carlos Gomes Junior comes back, there will be a war, so it is better he stays away for a long time. PAIGC has to demonstrate flexibility and accept dialogue.”
The first 70 of the intended 650 ECOWAS troops to be deployed to Guinea-Bissau arrived on 18 May. The mission has a 12-month mandate to support security sector reforms, secure the withdrawal of the Angolan Technical Assistance Group (a bilateral military mission put in place to aid security sector reform), and to ensure security during the transition period.
While some analysts say ECOWAS is taking a pragmatic approach, there are concerns that several countries in the ECOWAS bloc may be using the current situation as an opportunity to diminish Angola’s presence in Guinea-Bissau. Angola has stepped up aid and technical and military assistance to the country in recent years.
One theory is that ECOWAS used the threat of military intervention by the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), which is led by Angola and Portugal, to push in its own troops instead.
Following the coup, the CPLP called for “the immediate restoration of the constitutional order, the reinstatement of the legitimate government of Guinea-Bissau, and the conclusion of the electoral process,” a position reiterated by the Angolan ambassador in a statement to the UN Security Council on 7 May.
The international power play has allowed the military in Guinea-Bissau to obtain ECOWAS support for their nominee, Nhamadjo, said ICG’s Foucher.
“It is important that the broader international community gets on board and pushes ECOWAS to obtain significant concessions from the Guinean military, to make sure the transition leads to an effective and credible return to democracy,” he noted.
Economy “from bad to worse”
Democracy looks a long way off to many Bissau-Guineans, but many are currently more concerned with economic over political order. The human rights situation has been more or less stable since the coup, said Amnesty International’s Guinea-Bissau expert, Marise Castro, though some officials close to Pereira and Gomes Junior have been receiving threats and are still in hiding.
Demonstrations have been forbidden and the local press is under heavy scrutiny. “There is no real government. Nobody is taking decisions, and everything is paralyzed… but the general population has largely been left untouched, and soldiers are careful not to interfere with the people,” Castro said.
The priority is to get the economy working again. “The economy is going from bad to worse. Civil servants have not been paid since 12 April, the price of food has increased considerably and families have barely enough to eat,” Almamy Sanha, 40, a Bissau-based schoolteacher, told IRIN.
Markets are scarcely functioning. “People have no money, so they do not buy anything” said Vladimir Monteiro, spokesperson at the UN Peace-building mission in Guinea-Bissau, UNIOGBIS.
A rapid assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) on 2 May reported “a gradual deterioration of citizens’ food security due to their low purchasing power and shortages of basic consumer goods in the markets” by the end of April.
Civil servant Luis Mança, 55, told IRIN that since he had received no salary, “I only spend 1,000FCFA (US$2) a day instead of 2,000 and there is no breakfast or dinner for my children.”
In the countryside “the situation is worrying”, said a report from a food security meeting on 23 April. People have been consuming local products but they lack grain because of a poor harvest in 2010, and rural households have been swollen by the 12,000 people who fled the capital during the coup.
The demand for cashew nuts – the country’s principal export and farmers’ main source of cash – has plummeted said Barbara Weber, the World Bank Senior Operations Officer in charge of Guinea-Bissau. “Traders’ demand for raw cashews fell significantly and prices are 70 percent lower than this time last year.” This could have an “enormous effect on poverty reduction”.
With civil servants unpaid and on strike, all public services are closed. “The paralysis of state schools, but more generally of educational institutions, has worsened as a result of the coup. It seriously calls into question the completion of the current school year and may lead to its cancellation,” warned a manifesto published on 9 May by a group of Guinea-Bissau NGOs.
Just 23 percent of children in Guinea-Bissau attend secondary school, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Access to healthcare services – already low in Guinea-Bissau- has also worsened. “Hospitals, which at first shut down, are now still disrupted. In the countryside, medicines are paid for by NGOs, but not staff salaries,” said Tomas Serna, who heads the Bissau office of SNV, a Dutch development organization. “Staff lack motivation, and when they work they face threats from the unions, which have called for a strike.”
The epidemic diseases warning system – critical to spotting and preventing the cholera outbreaks that regularly hit Guinea-Bissau – has stopped working, which is worrying, said Serna. The European Union is helping to run the generators that can provide water to Bissau residents for a two-week period, but he also worries because no one has any answers for the longer-term.
The non-payment of salaries could also affect the armed forces, which are a chronic source of instability in Guinea-Bissau. There are rumours of discontent among the rank-and-file
An NGO worker, who declined to be named, said the military hierarchy dispatched emissaries to the barracks to explain the coup and call soldiers to loyalty. In the long run, disagreements within the army could be dangerous, warned the ICG’s Foucher: “So far, the military have managed internal tensions well, despite the ethnic and factional cleavages, but it is hard to know how long this will last.”
In an attempt to finance themselves and ease tensions in the armed forces, diplomatic sources say military junta officials allegedly arranged new landings of cocaine for Latin America.
Guinea-Bissau has long been a transit country for large volumes of drugs on the way to Europe. Foucher noted that “According to various security and diplomatic sources, drug shipments are back.”