Guinea-Bissau’s Political Crisis

Guinea-Bissau’s most recent cabinet lasted less than 48 hours as a political crisis continues in the country. On 9th September 2015, the Prime Minister – Baciro Dja – resigned after only 20 days in the post following a Supreme Court ruling that his appointment was unconstitutional. On 10th September 2015, Dja’s cabinet was similarly dismissed.

The current political crisis stems from a power struggle between President José Mário Vaz and former Prime Minister Domingos Simões Pereira within the country’s semi-presidential system. On 12th August 2015, Vaz dismissed Pereira and his cabinet stating that there had been a “breach of trust”. Tensions between the two men, which have been present for a while, are said to have increased in the weeks leading up to Pereira’s dismissal. It has been reported that such tensions were predominantly caused by disagreements over the use of aid funds and the appointment of a new army chief of staff. This is of particular importance in Guinea-Bissau considering the role the armed forces have played in the country’s politics. Since 1980, there have been nine coups or attempted coups, with the most recent taking place in April 2012. As this coup was led by the former army chief of staff – Antonio Indjai – it is clear that the support of the holder of this position is extremely important to the president. Although the military have made a commitment to neutrality, Guinea-Bissau’s recent history will undoubtedly influence Vaz’s decision making. It appears that Vaz’s dismissal of Pereira was an attempt to not only exert his political authority but also secure his position in relation to the armed forces.

Nevertheless, Pereira’s dismissal was met with fierce opposition from his, and Vaz’s, political party – the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). On 15th August, PAIGC responded by re-nominating Pereira as the party’s candidate for prime minister. PAIGC’s vice-president – Adja Satu Camara – said that the party was nominating Pereira as he is the President of the PAIGC and added that if his nomination is rejected by Vaz, the party would pursue other available options. Moreover, thousands of PAIGC supporters took to the streets in protest against the decision. At one demonstration, Pereira addressed the crowds stating that “with such a huge mobilization…the institutions of the republic must respect the will of the people”.

However, it seems that Vaz ignored the “will of the people” and his own party and rejected Pereira’s re-nomination. Instead he announced on 20th August that Baciro Dja – a former minister and government spokesman – would be Guinea-Bissau’s new prime minister. The PAIGC responded by calling for further protests in the capital Bissau and put forward a proposal to the National Assembly for the removal of Dja. On 24th August, the National Assembly adopted a resolution to “attempt actions with a view to deposing the new prime minister”. This was supported by 75 of 79 members present from the 102-seat parliament.  Nonetheless, Vaz ignored the resolution and named a new cabinet on 8th September with support from Guinea-Bissau’s second largest political party – the Party for Social Renewal (PRS). Although Dja described this as “an alliance sanctioned by the formal recognition of the judicial authorities”, the next day the Supreme Court found his appointment unconstitutional, which undermined the legitimacy of the new cabinet. As a result, Vaz dismissed the cabinet the following day.

Thus, at the time of writing, Guinea-Bissau has neither a prime minister nor a cabinet. The United Nations (UN) has called on Vaz and Pereira to seek dialogue and consensus in order to resolve the crisis. Due to Guinea-Bissau’s tumultuous past, it has only recently been reaccepted by the international community. It was only in March 2015 that the European Union (EU) restored ties with the country. Due to this restoration of ties, Guinea-Bissau was able to secure €1 billion in financing. However, Portugal – Guinea-Bissau’s former colonial ruler – has warned that the recent political instability could endanger such assistance. The Portuguese foreign ministry stated that “it would be extremely difficult for the international community to keep providing the co-operation and support that Guinea-Bissau needs”.

Additionally, there are fears that if the political crisis continues, the country’s armed forces may attempt to provide a solution. International organisations such as the UN, EU and ECOWAS have all warned the army to stay out of the political crisis and, at the time of writing, it appears to have respected those wishes. A UN envoy – Miguel Trovoada – told the UN Security Council that “the military has stressed that they are determined to stay totally out of politics”. This was supported by Guinea-Bissau’s ambassador to the UN – Joan Soares Da Gama – who said that “they [the military] will maintain this attitude of non-interference”. Nevertheless, the longer this crisis continues the more likely it is that the military will intervene. Although this will undoubtedly cost the country, both diplomatically and financially, if the political crisis leads to social unrest there is a possibility that the military will no longer remain neutral.

Thus, it seems that Vaz and Pereira are under significant pressure to resolve this crisis as quickly as possible. Although the re-appointment of Pereira will be a political blow to Vaz, it’s highly unlikely that he will be able to find a palatable alternative for the PAIGC and the National Assembly. Furthermore, by allowing the crisis to continue, Vaz could weaken the position he was originally attempting to strengthen concerning his relationship with the military. Vaz’s actions over the coming days and weeks will not only affect his political future but also Guinea-Bissau’s.                

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