Recent events in Guinea-Bissau have spotlighted the fragility of the efforts to consolidate stability, but the West African nation’s challenges, though significant, can be overcome if they are addressed immediately, a senior United Nations official said today.
On 1 April, troops under the command of the then-Deputy Chief of General Staff, Major General António N´djai, took control of the armed forces’ headquarters, detaining the Chief of General Staff, Vice Admiral José Zamora Induta, and briefly holding Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior.
Also on that day, armed military elements forced their way into UN premises in the capital, Bissau, demanding the immediate release of Rear Admiral Bubo Na Tchto, who left the premises after signing a statement that he was leaving voluntarily and peacefully.
In his latest report on Guinea-Bissau, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the violation of the UN site “unacceptable and condemnable,” urging the national authorities to comply with their obligation to protect the world body’s installations, personnel and assets.
Presenting the report to the Council, Mr. Ban’s Special Representative Joseph Mutaboba said the events of 1 April, “which constituted a serious breach of constitutional order, as well as defiance toward the international community, with the violation of the United Nations premises in Bissau, have underlined the extreme fragility of the peacebuilding process and its vulnerability to reversals.”
He listed weak State institutions, development gaps, illicit drug trafficking and organized crime as among the obstacles to stability in Guinea-Bissau.
Vice Admiral Induta remains in custody and has been dismissed by presidential decree, with Maj.-Gen. N´djai being appointed as the new Chief of General Staff of the armed forces and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.
The President has underlined that the decision to appoint Mr. N’djai was a sovereign decision that was not taken under coercion.
“These recent developments are an indication that civilian authorities in Guinea-Bissau are yet to exercise full control over the armed forces,” Mr. Mutaboba said.
He added that Mr. N’djai’s appointment has been criticized by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the United States and other partners.
“The challenges in Guinea-Bissau are significant, but not insurmountable if addressed without delay,” the envoy said. “The status quo would certainly allow the challenges to become bigger, not to mention the spill-over effect on the entire subregion.”
Although the country’s authorities bear the responsibility to urgently address the obstacles, Mr. Mutaboba pointed out that the international community can take a firm stance to ensure that critical steps are taken to help stabilize the country.
At this stage, he said, what is needed is the national authorities’ genuine commitment to continue reforming the security sector and other areas, respecting constitutional order and rule of law. Also required is a practical and time-bound roadmap to implement such strategies.
In addition, greater international efforts to address drug trafficking and organized crime are essential. “Such actions should be combined with a firm posture vis-à-vis national authorities, especially the leadership of the armed forces, for them to understand the need to stay the course of the reform process within internationally acceptable standards,” Mr. Mutaboba said.
Guinea-Bissau is one of four countries currently on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission – along with Burundi, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic (CAR) – which was established in 2005 to help countries emerging from conflict make an irreversible transition from war to sustainable peace.
The events of 1 April “sadly reflected a pattern of addressing political disputes by force and therefore should be strongly condemned,” said Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, who chairs the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission.
“Events such as these send a wrong message of disrespect to the rule of law,” discouraging partners from engaging with the country, she added in her address to the Council today.
Resolving the case of Mr. Induta would provide a boost to the country’s peacebuilding process, Ms. Viotti stressed.
One positive development that emerged from the events of 1 April was the large-scale support by the country’s people for democratic institutions. It was “a clear indication,” she said, that the people of Guinea-Bissau “are a peaceful people that cherish the value of democracy and are eager to reap the long-awaited dividends of peace.”
Ms. Viotti underlined that helping Guinea-Bissau strengthen its institutions is an avenue to addressing the root causes of instability.
Instead of relying solely on security issues, it is vital that international cooperation help to lay solid foundations for social and economic development, she noted.
“At the end of the day, it is the revitalization of the economy and the creation of job opportunities that will generate the resources that will allow the provision of basic services to the population and allow the State to function in a sustainable manner,” she emphasized.