Guinea-Bissau calls for more involvement from Brazil

In the first election since the coup, the African country fears violence and says its Portuguese-speaking partner should extend a hand In the first election since the coup, the African country fears violence and says its Portuguese-speaking partner should extend a hand

Guinea-Bissau embarked this Saturday, March 22, on its first election campaign since the coup d’état of April 2012, when the military attacked with mortars and grenades the offices of the African Party For the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), arresting the interim president, Raimundo Pereira, and the prime minister, Carlos Gomes Júnior.

With the election scheduled for April 12, the appeals from Guinea-Bissau for assistance from Brazil – a Portuguese speaking country whose influence could help “return constitutional order and the subsequent strengthening of the rule of law to Guinea-Bissau”.

This, at least, is the opinion of the lawyer and human rights defender Bubacar Ture, of the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League, a partner organization of Conectas. See below the main excerpts of his interview with Arlette Afagbegee, an Africa researcher for Conectas, conducted by email earlier this month.

What role can Brazil play in the crisis currently playing out in Guinea-Bissau?

These days, Brazil is an emerging power in all respects – including economically and even diplomatically. Indeed, the geostrategic dimension of Brazil in south-south and south-north relations cannot be ignored, particularly by Portuguese-speaking African countries. I think that Brazil is in a position – whether at the level of the United Nations where it chairs the UN Peacebuilding Commission, or at the level of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – to propose and influence initiatives to help return constitutional order and the subsequent strengthening of the rule of law to Guinea-Bissau. As you know, since the military and political conflict of 1998, the public institutions and the foundations on which the Guinean State stands were severely affected and all but dismantled.

As a result, poverty, human rights violations, alterations to the constitutional order, organized crime and drug trafficking have increased exponentially. The State has been unable to supply the population with basic services such as health care, education, water, basic sanitation and electrical energy. All these problems grew significantly worse after the coup d’état of April 12, 2012.

We believe, among other things, that Brazil can help Guinea-Bissau reform its defense and security sector, which has been largely responsible for the current situation of chaos in the country. Brazil’s experience in this area, particularly since it has lived through events similar to ours, in which the military took over a prominent role in the running of the country, can be of assistance to Guinea-Bissau.

Meanwhile, within ECOWAS, the regional organization that has taken a front seat in the resolution of the current crisis in Guinea-Bissau, Brazil could take advantage of its excellent relations with key countries in this block, such as Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast, and promote closer ties with the CPLP to pursue lasting solutions for our crisis. This is very important, since one of the challenges for the definitive stabilization of Guinea-Bissau lies in balancing the different geostrategic interests, for example those of Angola, Nigeria, Senegal and the other countries of ECOWAS, in Guinea-Bissau. These disputes, somewhat alien to the interests of the Guinean people, have been a serious obstacle to the resolution of our problems.

Guinean NGOs met in January, in Bissau, with the Brazilian diplomat Antônio Patriota, the current president of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission. What was the result of this meeting?

The meeting of Ambassador António Patriota with civil society organizations, including the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League, was an excellent opportunity to hear from these social actors on the current situation in the country and their proposals for a solution to the crisis. It is still early to talk about results, but it is very encouraging that a senior representative from the commission met with civil society organizations and took note of their concerns and their proposed solution to the crisis. We believe that future projects developed within the framework of the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) will draw on these ideas of Guinean civil society. However, the main result to highlight from this meeting was the recognition of the unmistakable role of NGOs in the democratization and peacebuilding process in Guinea-Bissau. For this reason, we are immensely grateful to Conectas for having organized the initiative that led to this meeting.

What are the chances of the presidential and parliamentary elections taking place on the scheduled date?

The presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 13, 2014, although there have been repeated delays. Right now, voter registration has been completed across the country and in the diaspora, and the candidates have been validated by the Supreme Court in its capacity as a Constitutional Court. The provisional list of candidates has been published by the Supreme Court, subject to complaints. According to the list, we have 13 candidates in the presidential elections and 15 parties for the parliamentary elections. However, the election campaign will kick off on March 22, symbolizing the irreversibility of the election process.

Will the election be enough to put a stop to the climate of tension in the country following the assassination of a president and an attack on a Minister of State? What are the prospects for the future of the country after the elections?

Guinea-Bissau is a positive reference in Africa in terms of credible, free, fair and transparent elections. That is, we have held countless elections that have complied with international standards. I say this to demonstrate that our problem has never been about holding elections, but instead the democratic culture of accepting the results of the ballot and allowing the power granted by the people to be exercised to serve their interests.

These have always been and are still our real problems, together with a culture of impunity and dysfunctional judicial institutions.

Throughout the past decade or so of successive crises, dozens of citizens have been assassinated, violently beaten and arbitrarily arrested, including high dignitaries. The people responsible for these criminal acts have never been brought to justice. For this reason, we believe that to reduce the tension in the country and the sense of hatred resulting from the cycle of impunity, it is urgent and necessary for the next political leaders who emerge from the elections to restore the authority of the State and reform the justice system, allowing it to establish balance and drive a genuine reconciliation capable of pacifying spirits and restoring the self-esteem of Guineans.

Similarly, the resumption of cooperation with the main development partners, namely the European Union, IMF and World Bank, is also of great important.

All this will depend on how political power will be divided and managed after the April 13 elections, but also on how an understanding will be reached between the different regional and international blocks and organizations on ways to help Guinea-Bissau once again find peace and pursue sustainable development.

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