UN renews efforts to stabilize Guinea-Bissau
Nearly a year after a coup that once again set back efforts to build peace and democracy in Guinea-Bissau, the Security Council in February renewed the mission of the UN peacebuilding office for another three months, during which time the world body will be looking afresh at its mandate in the country to best match the conditions on the ground.
Leading those efforts will be Nobel Peace Prize laureate José Ramos-Horta, who recently succeeded Joseph Mutaboba as Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office. The incoming UN envoy brings with him more than three decades of diplomatic and political experience in the service of peace and stability. As President of Timor-Leste, Mr. Ramos-Horta contributed to healing the wounds and stabilizing the country following a crisis in 2006, in addition to consolidating regional relationships.
Ramos-Horta’s arrival has been welcomed by Bissau -Guinean leaders and international partners alike, and has raised expectations about the UN’s contribution to peace and stability. Since taking up his assignment in January, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has met with a host of national actors and has engaged with regional and international partners.
Reversing instability in a country that has suffered “too much for too long”, in the words of Mr. Ramos-Horta, will be neither fast nor easy. Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by coups, misrule and political instability ever since it gained independence in 1974. The latest putsch was just last year, when the military seized power hours ahead of presidential run-off elections. These events are reminiscent of earlier blows such as the assassination of Interim President João Bernardo Vieira and the army’s chief of staff on a dark day in 2009, in a country where no elected leader has finished his term in nearly 40 years.
While some of the biggest difficulties fall within the political and security arena, they are by no means the only ones. An economic downturn following the coup last year paralyzed what was already one of the poorest nations, grave human rights violations and impunity hamper progress, and drug trafficking and organized crime undermine public health, national institutions and security. Combined, these problems breed a toxic mix which has been crippling the country.
The Department of Political Affairs has been supporting Guinea-Bissau since 1999, when it first established a Peacebuilding Support Office to help the country recover from a bloody two-year civil war. Its successor, the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office known as UNIOGBIS, established in 2010 and headed by Mutaboba until early 2013, is supporting political dialogue, national reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts. Helping to reform the security sector, promoting the rule of law and human rights, and fighting drugs and organized crime are further key pillars of the work of the office, which is collaborating closely with national actors and international partners.
To be successful in overcoming the many difficulties facing their country, Bissau-Guineans must seek compromise after decades of rivalries and take rapid action after years of stagnation. “If Guinea-Bissau is to break the vicious cycle of political and military instability, there must be fundamental changes in the way in which politics is conducted and in how reforms, especially in the defence, security and justice sectors, are implemented,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his latest report on the country. “To garner support both nationally and internationally, such reforms should be initiated and implemented by a constitutionally elected Government.”
A political route forward has now been charted in a roadmap proposed by a Parliamentary Commission, though not yet finalized by the National Assembly. This includes the holding of presidential and legislative elections, which were recently postponed.
And the international community must forge a unified response to overcoming the impasse. The United Nations along with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries recently carried out a joint assessment mission the country, heeding a call from the Security Council in resolution 2048 (2012) for a coordinated international approach to restoring Guinea Bissau’s democracy. In a similar vein, the UN also initiated an internal review to make sure its assistance makes the greatest possible contribution to peace.
The country faces many challenges as it aims to transition from post-coup fragility to constitutional order. But Mr. Ramos-Horta remains hopeful, saying that despite these difficulties, the situation in Guinea-Bissau, characterized mainly by political instability, is not as complex as in war-damaged Syria, Libya or Somalia. He has said he will work to build bridges and forge partnerships in Guinea-Bissau.
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