ISS TODAY On the 1st of August, Guinea Bissau’s President Malam Bacai Sanha called for the international community to send a stabilisation force to his country. The stabilisation force is to be provided by the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP). This came after what could be termed a politico-military incident exposed once again the fragility of the country and principally the weakness of the President who promised to rid Guinea Bissau of its chronic instability caused mainly by the army. Some see in the President’s call an expression of his powerlessness and the inability of the political and the military elite to restore peace and stability in Guinea Bissau. Others believe it is about time the AU and ECOWAS reconsider their approach and take more concrete and robust responsibility in dealing with the crisis in the country. The form and the content of this intervention depend largely on the appreciation of the current national situation and the risk of insecurity posed by an abandoned and neglected Guinea Bissau for the citizens and the region.
The incident that sparked outrage and caused disappointment among donors and partners started with the arrest of General Zamora Induta, the Army Chief of Staff and the Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior. Both were detained and the Deputy Army Chief of Staff General Antonio Injai proclaimed himself the new leader of the army. The abduction of the Prime Minister and the former Army chief of staff on the 1st of April could have easily passed for an April’s fool joke. But this event could not be taken lightly as it occurred in Guinea Bissau. At first sight, General Injai’s “mini-coup” was meant to disapprove of the ongoing reformist stance and the sidelining by the government of the former navy chief Bubo Na Tchuto. The latter was accused of plotting a coup in 2008, but had since returned to Guinea Bissau only to be subsequently cleared by a military tribunal. Seriously considered, it is the manifestation of the perennial unbalanced and difficult relations that exist between the army, the president and the Prime Minister – relations in which the army remains the potential source of power, resources and political violence.
General Indjai released Gomes Junior but Induta is still kept in custody without any clear possibility of fair trial. While pressure is mounting from regional leaders and the international community for the release of the former army chief of staff, recent developments took everyone by surprise. President Sanha appointed Antonio Indjai, the “army coup plotter” as the new chief of staff. President Sanha’s decision might well be in conformity with article 59 of the country’s constitution but raises a number of questions about the credibility of the President, the newly appointed army chief of staff, and the future of Guinea Bissau’s army and the post-conflict reconstruction process. The apparent indifference or weakness of the president to address vigorously the problems affecting the national army and this specific incident has led the international community to take action, and understandably so.
The US halted its military cooperation with Guinea Bissau shortly after the appointment of Indjai as new Army Chief of Staff. For the US authorities, the fact that the civilian authorities in Guinea‐Bissau have promoted Gen. Antonio Indjai to lead the country`s armed forces weakens the principle of civilian control over armed forces, the rule of law and democracy. The US therefore threatened to withdraw from the post‐conflict reconstruction process. On the other hand, the EU expressed its intentions of cancelling its €102,8 million development aid allocated to the government of Guinea Bissau. Humanitarian aid however and funds intended for populations will remain available. The EU’s decision to reconsider the development funding is based on the same rationale as that of the US. This fund forms part of the 10th European Development Fund estimated at a total € 22,7 billion, to be disbursed by the EU to its partners from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific region. The timeline covered by this project is from 2008 to 2013, and the initiative falls under the Cotonou Agreement. The EU has even gone further by announcing that EU support for the security sector reform (SSR) will not be renewed when the current mandate expires in September 2010. Meanwhile ECOWAS threatened Guinea Bissau’s authorities with targeted sanctions.
It is a well-known historical fact that the army remains the most important factor of instability in Guinea Bissau, using violence with ease to effect control over other branches of the state for its own sake. It is the same old guerrilla force that fought the Portuguese colonial power since the 1950s under the leadership of Amical Cabral that constitutes the bulk of the armed forces, ill-disciplined and without any socio-economic survival alternative. While a number of reforms have been initiated, none has so far produced the expected outcomes. Bearing this in mind, one could argue that although the president of Guinea Bissau had strategic considerations in nominating the new chief of the army, that is to gain control of the army in order to reinforce his authority, his appreciation of the situation failed to anticipate the reaction of the international community. In fact, it clearly appears that the president does not have the necessary leverage to impose his authority on the army and the country. For, if he was not able to allow Indjai to take over from Zamora forcefully as the new army chief of staff, it is highly likely that Indjai’s next move could be to depose him if not to physically eliminate him.
This background is necessary in understanding the context in which President Sanha calls for help. President Malam Bacai Sanha found himself locked in a power game, which keeps the country and the reform process hostage. His call for the stabilization force acknowledges that the balance of power is not in his favour and this could be an impediment to the successful post-conflict reconstruction in spite of all his good political will. Perhaps, rather than pointing at the failure of the political and the military elite, or his inability to rule the country, this call should be taken seriously, its contours clearly defined, the mandate specifically crafted and the timeframe strategically assigned. The army has agreed to welcome that force provided that it is approved by parliament and that sufficient details are given to the military hierarchy on its structure and mandate. However, this stabilisation force will be useless if it is not incorporated in a revised and adapted post-conflict reconstruction programme that creates the framework for the development of an effective state administrative capacity, a coherent socio-economic plan and an incentive for security sector reform. One of the contentious issues with regard to the latter is the absence of a plan to resolve the perennial problem of war veterans. The authorities in Guinea Bissau have identified nearly 6,000 military veterans, according to a recent census as part of a push for security reforms aimed at ending a cycle of coups by an overly-powerful army. According to the Defense Minister, Aristides Ocante Da Silva, the census will allow the country to have a reliable database to better manage the conditions of war veterans. Better conditions, it is hoped, will encourage veterans and older servicemen to leave the army, which many are reluctant to do, and help the country to meet its demobilisation targets. The goal is to reduce the size of armed forces from almost 4500 to 3440 men to be in conformity with the number set by donors in the context of reforms of the armed forces.
It is clear that if donors withdraw and the President’s call is not heeded, tensions are likely to be heightened within the army as government’s financial capacity will be reduced and salaries of army officers unpaid. And in this case, the possibility of having more military officers involved in drug trafficking just to make up the shortage in their salary, will be higher. This is an aspect that the EU and other partners should look at, before taking a final decision. The AU and ECOWAS will also need to come up with a plan that will not have adverse effects on the security of the country and the region. The success of reforming the security sector and the post‐conflict reconstruction, are long term processes, which can contribute in building long-lasting peace in Guinea Bissau. However, Guinea Bissau cannot do it alone, regardless of the negative reactions from some elements within the army.
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