I am cautiously optimistic that it is very possible to hold elections this year in Guinea-Bissau - Director, DPA Africa II Division
UNIOGBIS/PIU: A you mission ends, what is your general assessment of your stay in Bissau?
Abdel-Fatau Musah: Look, people are really worried about the situation in the country, about the impasse that is ongoing, the paralysis of institutions and uncertainty among the population because even though you don’t have any major upheavals in the country, the fact that the governance structures are paralyzed is very worrying. That is one. Two, the fact that I think the political stakeholders are gradually realizing that they have to change course and there is a possibility that probably they would come to some consensus on the way forward to unblock the impasse in the country and actually try to change the situation through the organization of credible elections before the year ends, this year. It is one of one of the options open to them and I think that it is becoming a possibility that elections might be held. So even though discouraging the situation, I don’t think it is hopeless.
UNIOGBIS/PIU: The new mandate given by the Security Council to UNIOGBIS establishes as a top priority to “Support the full implementation of the Conakry Agreement and the ECOWAS Roadmap, and facilitate an inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation process”. Is this mission impossible, considering that, despite international pressure, national actors still resist the implementation of the agreement?
AFM: No, it is not exactly what the international community decided at the last meeting of 28 February of the Security Council on the situation in Guinea-Bissau. Yes, it is written, the full implementation of the ECOWAS Roadmap and the Conakry Agreement. But if you want to interpret it, it is that, take immediate measures to break the political deadlock which means even though the ECOWAS Roadmap and the Conakry Agreement have got a lot of elements, they are not going to be performed simultaneously, you need to go incrementally. So, the priorities are as follows:
-Agree on a consensual Prime Minister
-Establish an inclusive government which will endorse the new Electoral Commission, go for legislative elections before the end of this year and then carry out some minimum reforms of the Guinea-Bissau Constitution in order to at least clarify the limits of the mandates of the power institutions are separated, you are talking about the executive branch, the president, the legislative and the judiciary to clarify the boundaries of their interventions. That is also very important and the other parallel process that is also a priority among the priorities given the very situation in the country is also to scale up the monitoring of drug trafficking, human trafficking in the country and then to report on them. These are I think achievable tasks if the political stakeholders in the country demonstrate enough good will. So, these are actually elements of the international community engagement with Guinea-Bissau because if you do not create the political space then it is going to be very difficult to carry out other essential elements of the stability pact in this country, including truth and reconciliation processes, the reform of Defense and Security sectors, the Justice sector, Rule of law. All these are feasible when you have a legitimate government accepted by the population then you have a legitimate interlocutor and you can ensure ownership of these processes. We cannot achieve these goals in a political vacuum when we don’t have a credible interlocutor.
UNIOGBIS/PIU: So now what is the real role of UNIOGBIS?
AFM: The role of UNIOGBIS is exactly to support ECOWAS and also the stakeholders in Guinea-Bissau to achieve the goals that I have just enumerated to break the political deadlock. These are the first steps you know, Guinea-Bissau has got a myriad of challenges but you cannot deal with them all at the go so it has to be incremental and the first step is to have the right political environment.
UNIOGBIS/PIU: Regarding national reconciliation, many Bissau-Guineans say that they cannot reconcile if this process does not include justice and truth seeking. Furthermore, they say they do not trust a process that is only led by nationals. Is the UN ready to lend technical support to this process, as it was done in other countries?
AFM: Yes, Guinea-Bissau has actually witnessed acts of impunity of the most despicable order: assassinations, military take overs, drug trafficking and all that in the past and nobody had been brought to the justice and this didn’t start yesterday. It is part and past of the liberation struggle all the way up to 1973 and it has continued up till now. So as some point there is the need to bring closure to the acts of impunity that are taking place in this country by actually going through the whole gamut of reconciliation process beginning with proper investigations to establish transitional justice in the country which will lead to national reconciliation. National reconciliation must be owned by the nationals. What I think it is a bit worrying is that the national reconciliation process as it is conceived today lacks the truth telling and the transitional justice elements, that is number one. Number two, it seems like it is being led by a parliamentary commission which is more or less an arm of the government. The body, the commission that is supposed to lead this process should be at least an autonomous body, an independent body made up of eminent personalities with the support of course of the international community, including the United Nations because the UN has supported a number of countries emerging from crises through their justice and reconciliation processes. But the actual process must be owned and led by nationals.
UNIOGBIS/PIU: You mentioned elections earlier. Following your contacts with national stakeholders and international partners do you really think that those elections are possible this year?
AFM: Yes, I am cautiously optimistic that it is very possible. We have actually had assurances from key stakeholders in the country that everybody is committed to conforming with the constitution which demands that legislative elections must be held this year. Well what I say is that developments in this country are not always predictable but at least at the moment I think all the stakeholders that we have interacted with since our arrival in the country have all demonstrated their commitment to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections before the end of 2018.
UNIOGBIS/PIU: Thank you
AFM: It is my pleasure