The alliance that supports Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who was declared the winner of the second-round presidential election in Guinea-Bissau in December despite the main opposition contesting the legitimacy of his election victory, has achieved a crucial parliamentary majority.
During a congressional session boycotted by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which held an absolute majority of 54 seats out of 102 after legislative elections held in March 2019, Embaló was able to formalize a new alliance and implement Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam’s governance program.
In April, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) formally recognized Embaló as the duly elected leader of Guinea-Bissau in an effort to help the country resolve the post-election crisis. At the same time, ECOWAS stressed the need to immediately start the reform process for a new constitution, to be put to a referendum within six months.
The new president’s victory in parliament comes just two days after he fired five cabinet ministers without any explanation. According to Reuters, they were all members of Embaló’s Madem G15 party or parties loyal to him.
Guinea-Bissau has often been called a narco state
PAIGC leader Domingos Simões Pereira, a former prime minister and presidential candidate in the last election, has pledged that his PAIGC party will continue to resist Embaló’s rule while also pursuing a pathway to stabilize Guinea-Bissau. The country has often been called a narco state due to the high volume of illegal drugs that pass through it, stemming from prolonged political and security instability.
In a communiqué released on Thursday, April 23, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) congratulated Umaro Sissoco Embaló on his election as president of Guinea-Bissau and wished him success, the first time the regional bloc has recognized him as the duly elected president since the disputed elections in December. The communiqué followed an extraordinary session held with a view to coordinating the fight against COVID-19 in West Africa.
ECOWAS’s recognition of Embaló was noted without elaborating why the political body has chosen to do so now. It is hoped, however, that it will defuse the tense political standoff between Embaló and Domingos Simões Pereira, the opposition candidate who disputed the election results, citing fraud and other irregularities.
The chief judge fled the country for Portugal over concerns for his own safety.
Pereira’s challenge of the election results has still not been heard by Guinea-Bissau’s Supreme Court, which cannot proceed since the chief judge fled the country for Portugal over concerns for his own safety.
Threat of a Coup d’État
The small coastal country has witnessed multiple military coups or attempted coups in its recent political history, a historical context that has sparked concern among Guinea-Bissau’s neighbors that another coup could be imminent if no resolution to the presidential dispute were found.
The Illegal Drug Trade
Guinea-Bissau also has the ignominious distinction of being called a narco-state, due to government officials being bribed to look the other way as South American drug cartels move their product through the country. Political instability has made it that much more difficult for the Bissau-Guinean government to get a handle on the illegal drug trade, a fact acknowledged by Pereira, the ruling party, and international observers.
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
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 the 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.
“We, politicians, are supposed to run for offices, not to adjust the offices to our ambitions and preferences.”
Teresa Nogueira Pinto: Let’s begin by looking back. Since 2015, there has been an institutional and political crisis in Guinea-Bissau, despite some stabilization on the security front. As prime minister between 2014 and 2015, you were at the epicenter of that crisis when President José Mário Vaz dismissed the government. Against this background, to what extent can a national dialogue work to help stabilize the current situation?
Domingos Simões Pereira: There is a general feeling among international observers that democracy—a democratic culture—has not been consolidated in Guinea-Bissau, so the rule of law is systematically replaced by the primacy of force. And that it is, therefore, not possible to determine who is politically responsible for the absence of real democracy. But this is a pretext for avoiding the obvious, because the main problem in Guinea-Bissau are the political actors themselves. And so, political dialogue must not be oriented against the country’s legal and constitutional framework, but rather to generate a broad consensus regarding the application of the law. Right now, much like in 2012 and 2015, what we are witnessing is that some political actors, hungry for power, do not want to follow democratic and constitutional processes. And that is at the root of deep ruptures. In 2015, what caused instability was the fact that President José Mário Vaz found out that the laws did not assign him the powers he wished to have. The purpose of the constitution, however, is not to grant unlimited power, but rather to regulate and limit power. We, politicians, are supposed to run for offices, not to adjust the offices to our ambitions and preferences.
TNP: In your view, can we describe the actions recently taken by Sissoko Embaló and the military as a coup d’état?
DSP: I believe that there was a coup, which is being consolidated. The candidate claims to be supported (and, apparently, he is) by the leaders of the security forces—support that he exhibits to the country’s institutions, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN). There is a risk that the international community, faced with this fait accompli, and considering the costs of altering the current situation, may favor a dialogue with those who effectively—even if not legitimately—hold power.
TNP: Let us focus on the political actors in Guinea-Bissau. In the first round of the presidential elections, you were the candidate who received the most votes. However, all the defeated candidates—including those once connected to the PAIGC—decided to endorse your rival Sissoko Embaló in the second round. How do you explain that?
DSP: Those candidates are not anonymous actors within Guinea-Bissau’s political framework. They have a specific identity and are connected to specific political contexts, and I believe that voters in the first round were aware of that. And so Guinea-Bissau’s voters know that the support by those candidates for Sissoko Embaló is not based on ideological or programmatic alignments. The only thing they have in common is the fact that they consider the PAIGC—and me as the party’s candidate—as their enemy. And, more importantly, this coalition was formed outside the country, mediated by President Macky Sall [of Senegal], and includes specific compensations. But let me say this: Sissoko Embaló received 27 percent of the vote in the first round. This is a questionable figure, since José Mário Vaz initially declared that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) knew that he should be the one to compete with me in the second round, and today we have reason to believe that his silence afterwards was bought. That is something that history may one day confirm. More than that, the second-round results—which should arithmetically reproduce the votes of other candidates in the first round, do not, and thus, seem highly unlikely. I am not saying that it is impossible, but it’s highly unlikely. And now we have evidence that the president of the NEC was under came under pressure before announcing the results.
TNP: Could you tell us on what basis you contest the results announced by the NEC?
DSP: The big problem, which the president of the NEC himself acknowledges, though minimizes, is the fact that that there are no official minutes with the compilation of national results. And these minutes are a necessary condition for the validity and legitimacy of the results. Since our law demands the counting process to be continuous, in a scenario where there are no minutes, you must restart the process from the beginning (ab initio), in other words, by recounting the votes. Faced with this evidence, the NEC declared that under no circumstance would it accept a vote recount. For me it becomes clear that the NEC president and the other candidates know that the results announced do not correspond to the ballot papers.
TNP: So what you’re asking for is not a repetition of the electoral process, but rather a recount of the votes?
DSP: Yes. And there is an important detail in this process that must be clarified, and it has to do with the reason the Supreme Court of Justice (STJ) does not expressly order this recount. We do not have a Constitutional Court in Guinea-Bissau. It is the STJ that must, if necessary, act as electoral and constitutional court. And our constitution determines that the STJ has no room for constitutional interpretation. The constitution effectively states that electoral results, when announced, must be based on official minutes with a compilation of the national results. And so we have three conditions for obtaining valid results: minutes that must be preceded by a process of vote tabulation that starts at each polling station. And so it’s obvious that the only way to guarantee these three concomitant demands is by recounting the votes. Now, considering this impasse, what would be the obvious political solution? There are about 500,000 voters in Guinea-Bissau, distributed across twenty-nine constituencies. We have been here for three months discussing something that could be resolved in two days. The election result are still buried in ballot boxes.
“My question is, who loses if we were to go back to the ballot boxes, reopen them, recount the votes, and declare a winner?”
TNP: Are the ballot boxes sealed?
DSP: Yes. And my question is, who loses if we were to go back to the ballot boxes, reopen them, recount the votes, and declare a winner? Well, if the ballot boxes were being kept by the STJ or by my candidacy, the NEC’s distrust and refusal would be totally understandable. But the NEC is the entity in charge of keeping the ballot boxes, not because they want to, but because the electoral law orders the ballot boxes to be preserved for at least one year after the elections.
TNP: Would you consider forming a transitional government with Sissoko Embaló and the MADEM-G15?
DSP: That would be a major setback. It would award the transgressors, which would compromise democratic consolidation. It would be unsustainable. And it would be unsustainable because those who want to grab power do it because of the advantages and privileges that come with power. But those advantages are not enough for all players. And after a coup, those that participated want to get their share of benefits. We had the opportunity to rule the country for thirteen months [July 2014–August 2015]. During that period, we produced a miracle: schools were functioning; health services were operational, and the spread of Ebola was contained; there was water and electricity; bolanhas [rice fields] were recovered; and people got their livelihoods back. But such miracles are not compatible with the need to satisfy the demands of those who hijack power. It is not possible, and it’s not sustainable—not for Guinea-Bissau, nor for ECOWAS, and not for the AU. And what is worse, it creates a dangerous precedent.
This is the first instalment of a two-part interview with the PAIGC presidential candidate Domingos Simões Pereira. The next part will focus on what could be the regional dimensions of the ongoing crisis. With these two parts, New Africa Daily is providing a glimpse into the internal and regional developments of a country that often escapes the international spotlight but deserves more attention. The second instalment will be released next week.
Teresa Nogueira Pinto is a PhD candidate in Global Studies and an African affairs analyst. Twitter: @Teresa_np
Since opposition parties in Guinea-Bissau have challenged the results of the presidential election in January, 2020, the West African country has remained without an internationally recognized head of state. Former general and ex-prime minister Umaro Sissoco Embaló declared himself president in a rushed ceremony last week while the Bissau-Guinean Supreme Court is still assessing the veracity of the election results. In response to Embaló’s move, the opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde installed a rival president and prime minister. That rival president, Cipriano Cassamá, resigned from office on Sunday, March 1, out of fear for the safety of his family and to avert a potential civil war, he told reporters.
Why It Matters
Guinea-Bissau has suffered through four separate military coup d’états since 1980, with the most recent one in 2012. Bissau-Guineans and the African Union hoped that this past election would offer a chance for the small West African nation to make progress toward becoming a functioning democracy. The runoff election in late 2019 was the second one Guinea-Bissau has held since the transition back to civilian rule in 2014.
Guinea-Bissau is sometimes referred to as Africa’s first narco-state, given that its geographic position makes it a convenient port of entry for drug traffickers moving product from South America via Africa and on to markets in Europe and the Middle East. Political instability makes it more difficult for national and international bodies like Interpol to monitor and shut down trafficking routes through the country.