When Guinea-Bissau’s President José Mário Vaz sacked Domingos Simões Pereira as prime minister in August 2015, the country hit a political stalemate.
In Guinea-Bissau, elections have often been presented as a solution to the country’s various crises. This was the case after the 1998/9 armed conflict, the second transition from 2004 to 2005, and more recently the one from 2012 to 2014.
For all these crises, the format adopted to break the deadlock was the installation of a national unity government whose main mission was to organise elections. Although they facilitated the return to constitutional order and the normal functioning of institutions, elections have never stabilised the country – or not for long.
What the country needs for long-term stability is the implementation of the reforms that have been talked about for years, and which are highlighted again in the Conakry Accord signed in October 2016 with the support of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
After its summit on 4 June this year, ECOWAS gave Vaz and the other political actors involved an additional three months to implement the agreement. It has also threatened targeted sanctions against all those who obstruct the accord’s implementation, and suspended the withdrawal – started in June 2016 – of the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau, or ECOMIB.
This mission has the mandate to protect the representatives of state institutions, such as the president of the republic, the prime minister and the president of the National Assembly. ECOWAS says both threats – the targeted sanctions and the withdrawal of ECOMIB – will be applied if the Conakry Accord is not implemented by the beginning of September.
The Conakry Accord provides for the appointment of a consensual prime minister who has the confidence of the president, and the formation of an inclusive and representative government. It also provides for the organisation of national roundtable talks to adopt a stability pact.
This process is intended, among other things, to generate a consensus on the reform of the constitution, electoral laws, the charter of political parties including their public funding, as well as the defence, security and justice sectors.
On 6 June, the president initiated consultations with other political actors to try to find solutions to the country’s political crisis. In addition to the external pressure of the sanctions and the withdrawal of ECOMIB, internal pressures are also pushing the process forward. Repeated public administration strikes, the organisation of protests and deteriorating living conditions for the country’s people have affected the president’s popularity, forcing him to be more open to the implementation of the accord.
Moreover, the president has been weakened by the envisaged return of part of the Group of 15 to the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). These members of Parliament who disobeyed the voting instructions of the PAIGC to support the president, and who had been excluded from the party, would have initiated a reintegration process within the PAIGC. Their return to the PAIGC would be a serious blow to the president, who already has limited support within the party.
The double pressure exerted on Vaz and the other political actors involved might pave the way for the effective implementation of Conakry. This would entail dismissing the current government headed by Umaro Sissoco Embaló, whose appointment in November 2016 as prime minister, as well as the government he formed, are considered both by political actors and ECOWAS as contrary to the spirit of Conakry. The establishment of a new government and prime minister could help organise the talks for the adoption of a stability pact.
If the ongoing consultations don’t yield any results, the president could decide to hold early parliamentary elections after dissolving the National People’s Assembly, as provided for in the constitution (article 69a). Some political actors who could benefit from an early election say this is a solution to the current stalemate, and are even calling for early general elections.
If this happened, the president and others would risk being hit by sanctions and losing the protection of ECOMIB. Elections in these circumstances would further complicate the situation.
Such threats might force political actors to put the interests of the people of Guinea-Bissau above their own personal interests.
Whatever emerges from the consultations, the objective must remain to create the political, economic and social conditions necessary for implementing the reforms. The long-term stability of Guinea-Bissau depends largely on this.
It is crucial for national and international actors to make these reforms a priority, including by possibly setting up a government that will ensure the reforms are implemented before elections are held.
The reforms, which must be agreed to both in content and in their sequence of implementation, can no longer be considered optional for the future of a stable Guinea-Bissau.
Written by Paulin Maurice Toupane, Researcher and Isis Semedo and Paulino Biaguê, Junior Research Fellows, ISS Dakar