GUINEA-BISSAU: Focus on continuing instability
Abidjan, 16 November 2001 (IRIN) - Almost one year has passed since Guinea-Bissau emerged from the biggest threat to its stability after a 1998-1999 civil war. However, the conflict that ended in the death of ex-Military Junta leader Ansumane Mane in November 2000 has been followed by an unending string of crises.
The latest crisis surrounds the detention of two judges whom President Kumba Yala dismissed from the Supreme Court in September. Emiliano Nosolini dos Reis, who was president of the Supreme Court, and his former deputy, Venancio Martins, were arrested this week on the order of Attorney General Caetano Intchama.
The detentions are apparently related to an investigation ordered by the Supreme Court’s new president into the alleged misappropriation of 75 million CFA francs (just over US $100,000) by members of the court, Diario de Noticias, a Portuguese daily, reported on Thursday. Both judges have denied any wrongdoing.
The Attorney-General also ordered the detention of the director of the Diario de Bissau, Joao de Barros. His periodical and another newspaper, Gazeta de Noticias, have been closed since 26 October by the Attorney-General, who accused them of undermining national security. De Barros had first been arrested in July when his paper denounced the alleged theft of US $15 million from the state’s coffers.
A diplomatic source in Bissau told IRIN that tension was high in political circles in the Guinea-Bissau capital. The tension has been heightened by efforts by the Attorney-General’s Office to force parliament to lift the immunity of two of its members, Fernando Vaz of the Resistencia da Guine/Movimento Bafata (RGB/MB) and Acciao Democratica (AD)leader Vitor Mandinga. They have been singled out, an opposition member claimed, because they have been highly critical of the government.
Opposition parties met this week to discuss the situation and decided to organise a demonstration on 21 November to protest against the situation. They also agreed to contact diplomatic and other international representatives to alert them to what they see as dangers to the democracy and stability of the country.
“The situation is worrying. We do not know how it will end,” RGB/MB parliamentarian Vinha Vaz told IRIN. “We want democracy to work.”
Opposition members, civil society groups and other bodies had already demonstrated on 8 November against the dismissal of the two Supreme Court judges and two of their colleagues, which Amnesty International called a serious attack on the independence of the judiciary. The dismissals had prompted a month-long strike by judges, and a 10-day one by prosecutors. Parliament, in which the opposition is in the majority, passed a motion calling it unconstitutional.
Addressing the opening of a new parliamentary session on 5 November, Yala defended his action, repeating an earlier charge that judges were corrupt, and claiming that they had embezzled 75 million CFA. He also told legislators that to avoid a dissolution of parliament and early elections, they should create a "healthy fellowship between state bodies and institutions", according to media reports.
Yala’s moves and statements have drawn heavy criticism from politicians, who have accused him of trying to turn the country into a dictatorship and of flouting the constitution, under which the president does not have the right to dismiss Supreme Court judges.
The constitution itself has been a bone of contention between the executive and the legislature. Parliament passed a new draft constitution earlier this year, but Yala declined to promulgate it. He did not veto it either, but simply sent it back to the legislators with annotations advocating a stronger role for the president, humanitarian sources said. Parliament has urged him to promulgate the draft.
Sources said talks which civil society, including top church officials, has had with the president have so far borne little fruit.
Yala’s inauguration as president in February 2000 had ended a nine-month interregnum during which Guinea-Bissau had been co-ruled by civilians and a self-styled Military Junta that ousted elected president Nino Vieira after a civil war from June 1998 to May 1999.
However, there was constant tension between Yala’s government and the Military Junta, and things came to a head in November 2000 when Mane rejected military promotions made by the president - the titular head of the military - and tried to take over the armed forces. Fighting between loyalist troops and Mane’s supporters ended on 30 November 2000 with the death of the former military strongman.
However, other crises were to follow. In February 2001, a conflict between Yala’s Partido de Renovacao Social (PRS) and its junior coalition partner, RGB/MB, came to a head with the withdrawal of the latter from the government.
In March, a row broke out between Yala and leading members of his party after the president resisted calls from PRS leaders as well as the opposition for Intchama to be dismissed as prime minister. Yala eventually replaced him.
In August, Yala fell out with a section of the Muslim community when he expelled leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim group, prompting the resignation of his adviser on social and religious affairs, Ibrahima Djalo, who said he had not been consulted. A Bissau court ruled that the expulsions were unconstitutional.
In early September, Yala sacked Attorney-General Rui Sanha and replaced him with Intchama. Just days later, the new Attorney-General went to a private radio station and threatened to arrest its workers unless they handed over the tapes of a discussion programme during which journalists had questioned the motives for his appointment.
And in early October, rumours that a section of the armed forces was preparing to overthrow the government led the military authorities to issue a strong denial.
In a letter dated 12 October to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the overall situation in Guinea-Bissau as "dangerously unstable". Judging from developments since then, the country may still have some distance to cover before it can attain stability.