The delay of polls in Guinea-Bissau signals the likely extension of a transition period currently scheduled to wind down on 31 December. The transition follows an April 2012 coup that has weakened the economy, caused dire food insecurity and repelled major donors.
International pressure has resulted in the formation of an inclusive government, an electoral commission, and a planning and coordination panel tasked with overseeing the remainder of the transition and initiation of a new government.
But the transition is unlikely to end on the 31 December target date. Elections initially set for 24 November will likely be held in early 2014 due to financial and planning difficulties, and plans to use biometric voting have been scrapped for a manual roster over cost and time constrains. A new election date has not been announced.
Costs of the coup
The political crisis has weakened the economy, with current account deficit reaching 6.5 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s US$897 million GDP in 2012, from 1.2 percent the previous year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Teachers have repeatedly gone on strike over salary delays, undermining already low education standards. Health workers also went on a seven-day strike in June.
A sharp fall in the price of cashews, the country’s main export, this year has left almost half of the population struggling to find food. In August, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund gave some US$3 million to help alleviate the food crisis.
“The situation remains gloomy. There are mounting problems with regard to salaries, state schools are barely functioning and the economy is not well,” said Vincent Foucher of the International Crisis Group (ICG). “There is a brutal rush on natural resources, timber and fish. All this has to do with the reduced involvement of donors, but also with serious economic governance problems.”
Insecurity also remains a worry. The Party of Social Renewal (PRS), one of the main parties in the transitional government, has threatened to pull out after PRS member and Transport Minister Orlando Mendes Veigas was this week attacked and badly beaten. In October, three Nigerians accused of kidnapping a child were lynched. Soldiers and other security forces have also been condemned for acts of violence against civilians.
Internationally backed SSR aimed to modernize and restructure the army, gradually reducing the 4,500-strong force to 3,500. But the European Union, the country’s main donor, suspended budgetary aid in 2010 after yet another political crisis, stalling its SSR project.
SSR was effectively scuppered by the 2012 coup. Just days before the 29 April 2012 presidential run-off, the army arrested and detained Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who was the front-runner in the polls, and the interim president. Coup leaders accused Gomes of undermining the military, but Gomes’ camp blamed opposition politicians, in particular Kumba Yala, of being the real forces behind the coup, according to the ICG.
“A return to normalcy is impossible without serious efforts regarding the security sector reform and the fight against drug trafficking,” said Paulo Gorjão, director of the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS).
“None of this is possible without a strong and lasting commitment from the international community. Bissau-Guineans are unable to do so by themselves. Political stability and economic prosperity will be impossible without successful efforts at both levels - SSR and drug trafficking. Otherwise Guinea-Bissau is doomed to be a failed state,” he told IRIN.
Both the political elite and the military chiefs have been blamed for the recurrent coups and crises. Drug trafficking has only intensified the power struggle between the military and politicians, increasing corruption and undermining governance. The impoverished West African country is one of main transshipment points in the region for Europe-bound cocaine from South America.
José Ramos-Horta, the UN special representative in Guinea-Bissau said in a recent interview that the country was dangerously close to becoming a failed state, but he still voiced hope that a stable Guinea-Bissau was possible.
ICG’s Foucher observed that many in the current inclusive government - which comprises members of the Gomes’ African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, Yala’s PRS and other, smaller parties - were not keen on winding up the post-coup transition.
“Everybody is looking out for opportunities for self-gratification. Once they are satisfied, there’s nothing much left to actually deliver services. Many in the transition are not too keen on the elections, after which they stand to lose their current status. But some feel the transition must end, and hope that they might survive the elections,” Foucher told IRIN.
There are suggestions by members of the international community that a unity government could be created after the polls to end the transition, “which might make elections more acceptable for the reluctant ones, but it will pose a problem of efficiency,” argued Foucher.
“As for the post-election stability, it won't be easy. Finding the right balance between the necessary reforms, especially in economic governance, and the need to keep the military and political class on board will be difficult.”