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Department of Political Affairs

UN Supports Guinea-Bissau as it Takes Aim at Elections


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with José Ramos- Horta, his Special Representative for Guinea-BissauThe United Nations is sup­porting Guinea-Bissau as it prepares for fresh polls after a 2012 coup that once again set back hopes in the embattled West African country.
Building a legitimate and effective government in lieu of a state that currently exists “in name only” will be neither quick nor easy, says José Ramos-Horta, the former Timor- Leste President and Nobel Peace Prize winner appointed recently to head the UN mission in the coun­try. But in light of recent progress, Bissau-Guineans now have the best chance since the coup to steer the country to peace and stability.
In June this year, Transitional President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo formed an inclusive transitional gov­ernment after a prolonged political deadlock over its composition. This was made possible thanks to a May agreement under which the country’s major political party agreed to a consensus government after its leaders had been pushed from power by the military in 2012.
Besides facilitating the agreement together with the African Union, the United Nations contrib­uted to meaningful dia­logue in the run-up to the deal. “We have been able to get political actors with strong, different opinions to work together,” Ramos-Horta said in a recent interview.
Such mediation efforts are one of the functions of the UN politi­cal mission in the country, along with assistance with national reconcili­ation, institutional reforms and crimi­nal justice.
The UN Integrated Peace- Building Office in Guinea-Bissau, UNIOGBIS, saw its mandate bolstered and extended for another year by the Security Council in May. UNIOGBIS, now working out of two additional regional offices, con­tinues to support the fight against drug trafficking and has been tasked to contribute to the mobilization, harmonization and coordination of international assistance, in addition to focusing on cross-cutting issues such as human rights and gender.
Ramos-Horta has brought to the job more than three decades of diplomatic and political experi­ence in the service of peace. Since taking up his assignment in February, his leader­ship and engagement with national, regional and international actors has raised expectations about the UN’s contri­bution to peace and stability.
In the months ahead, the UN envoy and his team will support Bissau-Guineans as they work towards creating the conditions for free, fair and transparent presidential and legislative elections scheduled to take place on 24 November 2013.
Destruction of light weapons during a ceremony in the town of Bigene A democratically elected govern­ment, coupled with stability after the polls, could initiate a compre­hensive security sector reform, which is “sine qua non” for peace and stability, says Ramos-Horta. Beyond stabilizing the vola­tile security situation, it is hoped that more professional and demo­cratic police and armed forces will stay out of politics after years of entanglement.
But political and security chal­lenges are by no means the only ones. Albeit not a “narco-state”, in Ramos-Horta’s view, Guinea- Bissau has been heavily affected by drug trafficking and organized crime that have been stoking insta­bility, distorting the economy and fuelling rivalries.
The UN envoy now sees a potential “turning point” in the fight against this longstanding problem following the arrest of a suspected drug king­pin and the indictment of another.
But the embattled country has still many obstacles to overcome. Human rights violations are com­mitted with impunity and a sharp economic downturn has hurt the government and driven already dire living conditions further downward.
And despite political advances, progress remains fragile. Last year’s coup, just hours ahead of the presi­dential run-off elections campaign, was a sad reminder of just how quickly hopes and democratic pros­pects can fade in a country where no elected leader has finished his term in nearly 40 years.
International organizations, players in the region and bilateral partners can make a real difference if they act in concert. The UN worked to unite the policy initiatives of the African Union, the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, the Economic Community of West African States and the European Union. “It will take time to transition from the deep hole where Guinea- Bissau has sunk to lasting peace and prosperity,” Ramos-Horta stresses.
“But my message is that there is hope.”