Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?

Source: International Crisis Group © 2014

Guinea-Bissau’s elections are an important first step, but to address its economic and political fragility, the country needs strong international help, as well as political and military will for reform.

In its latest briefing, Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?, the International Crisis Group examines the bumpy road to the 13 April 2014 elections and the challenges a new government will face. Redistributing power and resources in a country where participation in government has been the main method for acquiring wealth will threaten a fragile balance of forces.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • International pressure and a crippled economy have finally forced the military and its political allies – two years after the April 2012 military coup – to hold legislative and presidential elections. But much like in 2012, they are concerned with a potential hegemony of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). They could be tempted to resort to violence again, should their access to the formal and informal benefits associated with power be removed.
  • Peaceful elections and, more broadly, the fate of the ongoing transition, will depend largely on the leverage of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has supported the transition authorities from the start but is tired of paying the bills for a regime that is close to bankruptcy.
  • The elections are only the first stage of a long-term effort to solve problems that have undermined progress for years. Given the country’s fragility, the political stakes in play, a suspicious military and a weak economy, real transformation will only be possible with strong international involvement, political and financial.
  • The international community should closely monitor the crucial post-elections period. It should use the lifting of individual sanctions on coup makers as an incentive to cooperate. Donors should be ready to help the government pay immediate expenses, including public sector wages, provide long-term funding for development programs and push for improved economic governance.
  • The new authorities will need to promote consensus as well as ethnic and political pluralism. This includes passing the proposed amnesty law for the coup makers agreed during the transition.
“The new government will have to call into question the privileges enjoyed by senior military officers and carefully resume the security sector reforms that prompted the army to stage the coup” says Vincent Foucher, West Africa Senior Analyst. “This time round, the government should proceed with caution and seek compromise to avoid a violent reaction from the army”.

“The election winners will face numerous challenges”, says Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director. “Nonetheless, this is an opportunity for a new generation of politicians, who are more willing to compromise internally and internationally and are able to manage the country well enough to allow the re-legitimisation of the state and convince the military to consent to the modernisation needed”.