Guinea-Bissau is, again, experiencing political instability.
Observers hoping there would be a smooth leadership transition were disappointed as tensions between the National Electoral Commission and the Supreme Court of Justice increased after the presidential election run-off on December 29. Soon after, hostilities between political actors and the military also escalated. The situation has now reached a boiling point, and many are talking about a coup d’état. On behalf of the New Africa Daily, Teresa Pinto interviews Domingos Simões Pereira, the presidential candidate who lost to Umaro Sissoko Embaló, but has rejected the official results. Pereira, who heads the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), previously served as prime minister of Guinea-Bissau and chairman of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Despite self-proclaimed president Embaló claiming victory in the election, Pereira is likely to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the country.
This is the second instalment of a two-part interview with the PAIGC presidential candidate Domingos Simões Pereira, in which we discuss the regional dimensions of Guinea-Bissau’s political and security crisis.
Teresa Nogueira Pinto: There seems to be tension in several African countries between the ambitions of certain political actors and the limits imposed by the constitution. Also, ECOWAS has been playing an important role in the region through its “zero tolerance” policy vis-à-vis irregular power grabs. How do you think ECOWAS will address the situation in Guinea-Bissau?
Domingos Simões Pereira: First, it’s important to acknowledge that democracy is not an easy system; it demands the separation and limitation of powers, freedom of expression, freedom of political choice. These demands, in a context where most of the population is illiterate and where the state is often the recent product of violent conflicts, is tremendously challenging. And second, sensationalism is often more attractive than order and peace.
There are many positive stories and examples of leadership succession in Africa, such as Abdou Diouf in Senegal, Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria, John Dramani Mahama in Ghana, and Abdel Aziz in Mauritania. Recently, the announcements by Nigeran and Ivorian presidents Mahamadou Issoufou and Alassane Ouattara that they would not run for another term are also positive signs. However, the cases that draw more attention are those of disruption. But I am convinced that most Africans today believe in democracy as a system that limits power and promotes leadership turnover. And so those in Guinea-Bissau who favor imposed and armed solutions are making a mistake. Moreover, the size of Guinea-Bissau makes it an ideal case for an intervention, in order to prevent it from becoming a negative reference. An eventual failure by ECOWAS could be, to a certain extent, the end of the organization. Considering what we have been hearing, the difficulties revealed by the African Union, the firm positioning of the UN, any hesitation by ECOWAS could mean the end. I believe we will see a strong-arm contest between ECOWAS and other actors, but it is a matter of time until it becomes clear that any undemocratic solution is unsustainable.
"Sissoko Embaló not only was received as a chief of state in Dakar, but it was also from there that measures were taken to make sure that he was received by the presidents of Togo, Congo (ROC), and Turkey."
TNP: The ongoing political crisis has two important and interconnected dimensions: the internal and the regional. After the elections, and even before the results were announced, Sissoko Embaló embarked in a regional and international tour. If in Dakar he was received as a chief of state, other reactions were more cautious. How do you interpret these different responses?
DSP: Sissoko Embaló not only was received as a chief of state in Dakar, but it was also from there that measures were taken to make sure that he was received by the presidents of Togo, Congo (ROC), and Turkey. President Macky Sall openly declares his position regarding Guinea-Bissau’s situation. Not only has he made his opinion known on Twitter, but he has also directly intervened in the electoral campaign. This is no secret for Guinea-Bissau’s people: in the first round, they saw the cars used in the MADEM-G15 campaign where, behind the party banners, were images of President Macky Sall. Macky Sall has his own agenda regarding Guinea-Bissau, but in order to understand that, we must start by defining “international community” – how does this concert of nations work? Once there is a problem in Guinea-Bissau, the competent entity to act is, by definition, the Security Council of the UN. But, because there is a principle of subsidiarity, that responsibility is delegated to the African Union which, in turn, delegates it to ECOWAS. But ECOWAS is a group of fifteen countries that essentially represent francophone and, to a lesser extent, anglophone realities. Guinea-Bissau, in this context, is a sort of anomaly… We are very peripheric [within the region]. Consequently, the other countries do not always understand our realities. A country like Nigeria, for example, if asked to have a say in the case of Guinea-Bissau, will turn to Guinea Conakry, Côte d’Ivoire, and especially to Senegal. Because Senegal is the country that is more interested in Guinea-Bissau. But do you know where the contradiction is? Senegal is not only interested, but also has interests.
TNP: Strategic interests? Security? Resources?
DSP: Everything. A couple of days after the announcement of the electoral results, President Macky Sall received the international agencies represented in Dakar, and he was euphoric. When confronted about his excitement, he claimed that three problems could now be solved: first, start the exploration of resources in the joint exploitation area; second, control the rebellion in the Casamance region; and, third, achieve effective hegemony in the sub-region.
TNP: A recurrent topic about Guinea-Bissau is drug trafficking. Considering the current context of uncertainty and instability, will this become a bigger problem?
DSP: There have been signs of increasing activity of drug trafficking, and the state has been unable to address the activity connected to it.
"while it’s obvious that drug trafficking thrives in environment of state fragility, this is a regional phenomenon."
TNP: Institutional fragility or complicity?
DSP: They go hand in hand. But, while it’s obvious that drug trafficking thrives in environment of state fragility, this is a regional phenomenon. Guinea-Bissau doesn’t have an economic structure capable to feed the trafficking and, if the data that we have is real, the destination of this drug is Mali’s Tuareg regions and some areas in Niger. Those rebel groups are the ones sustaining the trafficking. If we look at a map, we see that before reaching those regions, drugs coming from Guinea-Bissau must transit through other countries. Of course, it’s highly convenient for everyone—organized crime actors, intermediate states—to blame Guinea-Bissau. Within Guinea-Bissau, the main responsibility for the trafficking rests with some politicians. I refuse to embark on those simplistic analysis that puts the sole responsibility on the military, by throwing a couple of names. As prime minister, I took measures to stop the trafficking, and it’s simple. The aircraft that bring in the drugs have a maximum autonomy flight time of around four hours. Once they land, there are only two options: either they refuel, or the merchandise must be transported further by road. All you have to do is cut both options. Those who have the power to do that but choose not to act, become part of the problem.
This was the second instalment of a two-part interview with Domingos Simões Pereira, in which the presidential candidate shared his views and concerns about Guinea-Bissau’s political and security crisis.
Teresa Nogueira Pinto is a PhD candidate in Global Studies and an African affairs analyst. Twitter: @Teresa_np