UN Supports Guinea-Bissau as it Takes Aim at Elections
The 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.
SECURITY REFORM A KEY TO PEACE
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.”