29 June 2017

Guinea Bissau: Fresh Talks to End 2-Year Deadlock

Photo: unmultimedia.org
President José Mário Vaz

Guinea-Bissau's President Jose Mario Vaz was scheduled to meet political parties on Thursday to try to put an end to the country's political crisis. He's been given three months by the West African Economic Community (Ecowas) to find a solution.

Jose Mario Vaz was to meet representatives of Guinea Bissau's main political parties: the historic independence movement the African Party for Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), the main opposition Party for Social Renovation (PSR) and the Union for Political Change (UPC).

For two years parliament and government have been locked in a bitter power struggle over who should run the state.

"The problem is basically a competition between factions," Vincent Foucher, a political analyst at the French National Center for Research (CNRS), told RFI.

For Foucher, rivalry within the ruling PAIGC is the root cause of the ongoing deadlock.

"We have a president who is from PAIGC, who has been fighting the president of the party, who was the prime minister between 2014 and 2016," he points out. "And so this fight within the PAIGC is basically the matter."

A year after his election in 2014 Mario Vaz sacked prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira after falling out with him.

Power shuffle

The president appointed a member of the PRS to head the government, sparking a row that has dragged on for two years.

The ensuing crisis led to a leadership shuffle with four changes of prime minister in little over a year.

"Pereira had managed to mobilise international donors, organising a successful donor conference in Brussels where a lot of money was pledged," explains Foucher.

"This is largely gone and the international community is tired of Guinea-Bissau."

Role of Ecowas

The political crisis was top of the agenda at the recent Ecowas summit in Liberia.

Mario Vaz was tasked by the regional body to come up with a government of consensus which would be accepted by the parliament's majority. But by the end of May he had missed the deadline.

No sanctions were made and Mario Vaz has now been given three months to meet a new deadline.

"Ecowas has been reluctant to push too far," explains Foucher. "The feeling is that we still have an elected president and he has a mandate to fill."

Guinea-Bissau's past history of military coups, which has seen no elected leader actually serve a full term, may be the reason for the regional body's reluctance to intervene.

Economy neglected

Yet the longer the paralysis continues the worse the situation becomes for ordinary citizens.

Once hailed as a potential model for African development, the country is now one of the poorest in the world.

"The president has always tried to find a solution to our crisis, but the opposition, the different opposition each time has slammed the door," Jorge Monteiro, the representative of PAIGC in Europe, told RFI.

"Do you find that normal in any country? Do you think it's normal that they shut down the parliament, that they close the doors of parliament? Parliament is the house of the people. It's not the house of political parties."

Since Domingos Simoes Pereira was sacked in August 2015, no legislative or budget proposals have been adopted.

Cashew nuts

For now all eyes are turned towards the health of the vital cashew nut crop market that provides a modest living for most of Guinea-Bissau's farmers.

Mario Vaz met exporters on Thursday, principally to discuss new government plans to restrict foreign workers in the commercialisation of the crop, a decision that has been strongly criticised, especially since Mauritanians and Indians control the bulk of the trade.

"The situation now is not so bad, because the last two cashew nut campaigns have been rather good," says Foucher.

But he doubts it will last.

"The problem is the state is in a very poor state in terms of providing basic social services such as health and education. The situation is really extremely bad."

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