Time to Implement Security Sector Reform in Guinea-Bissau
By Amb. Shola Jonathan Omoregie
Guinea-Bissau’s successful presidential elections on 18 March 2012 marked that country’s second such elections in three years after the first, which followed the assassination of President Bernardo ‘Nino’ Vieira in the early hours of 2 March 2009. The March 2012 elections came in the wake of the killing of President Malan Bacai Sanha on 9 January and will be followed by legislative elections in November. Since independence in 1974, the country has witnessed intermittent political-military upheavals, rapid changes of governments, coups and attempted coups by the military. With these recurrent cycles of political-military instability, no government or president has been able to complete a full mandate since 1994.
Not surprisingly, the need to bring about stability has been identified as the most pressing task in Guinea-Bissau. National stakeholders and international partners have agreed that implementation of a security sector reform (SSR) is critical to long term stability in the country. In recognition of that imperative, National Assembly on 23 January, 2008 launched an SSR programme in Guinea-Bissau, with General Tagme Na Waie, theChief of General Staff giving it the the military’s endorsement.
Recent developments in the country call attention to the urgent need for the implementation of that programme. Guinea-Bissau remains unstable and ungovernable, and many observers believe that until SSR is fully implemented, rule of law will continue to be a charade and impunity will continue to be the order of the day. The unresolved double assassinations of President Vieira and General Tagme in March 2009 and the recent attempted coups and coup d’etat constitute a wakeup call for the international community to work to fully back the SSR Programme to help train the defense and the security forces as well as professionalize the Armed Forces as was done in Liberia.
Unfortunately, the international community has yet to fulfil its promises of substantial financial and technical support to the SSR programme even though there had been clear signals of commitment made by the national authorities. At a meeting held in January on margins of the AU Summit in Addis Abba to mobilize support for SSR, in Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea pledged to contribute to SSR programme through the AU Commission. Angola had earlier pledged US$2 million. In fact, the two countries have emerged as strong supporters of SSR implementation in Guinea-Bissau, both bilaterally and within the partnership of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), these countries have emerged as strong supporters of SSR implementation in Guinea-Bissau. To build on this momentum, observers see the need for the African Union to immediately establish an appropriate mechanism to pool the contributions.
A criticall factor behind the reticence security and defense personnel to fully embrace SSR in Guinea-Bissa is the question of pensions and how the personnel would sustain themselves outside the military. Although progress has been made in operationalizing a Special Pension Fund (SPF) for five years, not enough funds have been set aside to sustain it for the period. The Government of contributed US$200,000.00 on 2 September 2011 but its promise to transfer an additional US$3000, 000.00 remains unfulfilled. The Government is also yet to launch the first phase of the fund, even though the Prime Minister had promised a 23 January 2012 launch. It says, instead, that the launch will now depend on availability of financial resources.
On 28 December 2011, the Council of Ministers approved the Defense Legislative Package. It has also approved the National Defense Strategic Concept while amending the Decree Law 9/2010. Although Parliament is yet to approve this legislative package, it is necessary that the international community fulfil its promises so as to enable the SPF succeed.
Past reforms failed largely because reinsertion into society was a weak or non-existent component. As long as the civilian authorities do not institutionalize the reform and ensure that demobilized security personnel remain out of services, the sustainability of any SSR will continue to be in doubt. This is why the State and its international partners need to consider the question of sustainable pension and job-creation schemes for the personnel. This means that the government needs to be encouraged to continue its fiscal and economic reforms so as to deliver what the late General Tagme called “SSR with dignity”.
A restructuring of the Defense and Security Forces, considered vital not only for political stabilization but also for overall peace and security in Guinea-Bissau remains the critical challenge facing the implementation of SSR. The political history of the country has been dominated by the military apparatus, with coups d’état, military mutiny, multiple factional insurrections and similar upheavals. The military has never been effectively subordinate to the political class, the majority of whom, in any event, originated from or has direct connections with the military hierarchy. To compound the problem, the Armed Forces lack a balanced ethnic representation, with one ethnic group, the Balanta, constituting about eighty per cent of the Armed Forces.
A sustainable process of SSR in Guinea-Bissau will depend on the political will and commitment from national political stakeholders to carry out reforms. A great challenge for the international partners is the need to engage national political stakeholders to acknowledge that the construction of enduring institutions of security, defense and justice in order to have sustainable peace and economic development will not be possible unless they showed and maintained commitment to SSR.
With the threats posed by international organized crime, it is important to retain a holistic focus and in particular not neglect the judiciary, law enforcement and oversight mechanisms. For many years, international donors were reluctant to commit any substantial support for SSR, but the emergence of Guinea-Bissau as a major transit for drug trafficking appears to have turned the tide of indifference.
Security Sector Reform in Guinea-Bissau could meet with resistance and fail if it is perceived to be an operation imposed on the national political stakeholders. Sovereignty remains a valued concept in international relations and nation states want to be seen to be masters of their own destiny. However, it is difficult for national actors to assume national ownership in a context of extreme dependence on external assistance, particularly with regard to funding for the process. International partners who will provide financial assistance have to continue to work hard to find a balance between letting national stakeholders take major decisions on SSR issues and impose conditionalities of transparency in disbursements or placements of technical advisors within Guinea-Bissau’s security and defense apparatus for better coordination.
In the context of addressing the above-described challenges, designing an integrated West African sub-regional perspective for SSR should be regarded as a welcome challenge to international partners. SSR in Guinea-Bissau needs to be implemented within a framework of sub-regional cooperation, within ECOWAS. In West Africa, the absence of an integrated SSR will not only increase human insecurity but also facilitate cross-border crime, including drug trafficking, illegal trafficking in small arms and light weapons, illegal trafficking in humans, illegal immigration and insurgency activity which could also involve the recruitment of the region’s numerous unemployed and frustrated youth populations.
Creating an all-round African perspective for SSR also demands a regional approach, within the framework of the African Union. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the emerging architecture of the African Union has clearly indicated that peace and security is a pre-requisite for development and prosperity generation in Africa. Among the priorities in the African Peace and Security Agenda are those associated with achieving security sector transformation and those of strengthening governance. Great progress has been achieved in Africa on issues and policies of the African Peace and Security Agenda including the African Common Defense and Security Policy, the Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development Policy and the Common African Approach to Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).
In Guinea-Bissau, there is extreme sensitivity within the Security and Defense sectors to reform of any kind that would imply a loss of historical hegemony and power. Because SSR touches the key governing functions of the State closely linked to sovereignty and involves the cession of power by individuals whose status and security have been attached to their uniform and to their weapons, it must offer them real alternatives, such as a pension scheme. Presently, political power equated with military power and, in Guinea-Bissau, the two notions are inseparable.
Along with SSR, the international community need to provide concrete support for the combat against drug trafficking and the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in order to ensure that the ECOWAS Road Map does not turn into a map to nowhere. In this regard, there is the need to reach agreement on the Tripartite Government of Guinea-Bissau/ECOWAS/CPLP Memorandum of Understanding on SSR in order to operationalize the Joint ECOWAS/CPLP Road Map for SSR within a regional context.
Shola Jonathan Omoregie is the former Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Guinea-Bissau and Head of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS).