Guinea-Bissau, the small West African country nestled between Senegal and Guinea, has been the arena of recurring political and sometimes violent crises since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974. In the aftermath of a civil war in 1998-1999, the UN deployed its first mission to the country, the UN Peacebuilding Support Office (UNOGBIS).
For 20 years, UN special political missions in Guinea-Bissau - UNOGBIS from mid-1999 to 2009 followed by the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) from mid-2009 to 2020 – contributed to national efforts for peace and democratic consolidation, effective rule of law, the promotion and protection of human rights and gender mainstreaming, as well as the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.
Now, that phase of UN support is in transition. In 2018, an independent strategic assessment was conducted that recommended the gradual drawdown and closure of UNIOGBIS and the continuation of the peacebuilding priorities and tasks by the UN Country Team (UNCT), the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and other regional and international partners. Therefore, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2512 (2020), the mandate of UNIOGBIS will end on 31 December this year (see the statement on the closure of UNIOGBIS).
UNIOGBIS held a ceremony in Bissau on 11 December 2020 to mark the closure of the mission. Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, attending the ceremony, conveyed the Secretary-General’s deep gratitude and appreciation to Special Representative of the Secretary-General Rosine Sori-Coulibaly and UNIOGBIS staff, past and present, for their tireless efforts and dedication. “Guinea-Bissau has made remarkable progress in reforming and strengthening its state institutions and maintaining relative stability,” she said. “The repositioning of a United Nations mission team to the country is proof of this progress.”
Sori-Coulibaly called for “concerted action by all national stakeholders, with the support of the international community, to stabilize the fragile governance system, ensure the proper functioning of state institutions and face other pressing political and socio-economic challenges.”
Both UN officials highlighted the absence of violence, free elections, the use of legal channels to resolve political disputes, greater participation of women and youth in political processes, the strengthening of the fight against drug trafficking and the remarkable progress made in national human rights monitoring as major achievements of the political mission in Guinea-Bissau.
In an interview earlier this year, Sori-Coulibaly stressed that although UNIOGBIS was closing, a strong UN presence would remain in the country. The UN Resident Coordinator (RC) in Guinea-Bissau, who will be the highest UN representative in the country after UNIOGBIS’ departure, has also served as the Deputy Special Representative of the Mission. The UN’s Good Offices will be carried out by the UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who will strengthen his activities in Guinea-Bissau come 2021. “We believe that together with the country’s development partners, and particularly at the political level with ECOWAS, we will be able to support the country to strengthen the achievements reached and to advance the economic and social development,” Sori-Coulibaly stressed.
Continued Strong UN Support
The role of the Resident Coordinator is to make sure that the UN system in Guinea-Bissau speaks with one voice on issues of common interest, Deputy Special Representative and Resident Coordinator Mamadou Diallo said.
“UNIOGBIS has identified a number of peacebuilding priorities which will be continued after the closure of the Mission,” he said. “For example, the RC will be called upon to support UNOWAS in its good offices role in encouraging inclusive political dialogue and reform of the political system and ensuring continuous strategic national dialogue on key reforms as those outlined in the Stability Pact and Conakry Agreement.”
Diallo said the UN in Guinea-Bissau will focus on supporting the country to reach its Sustainable Development Goal targets, by implementing a meaningful strategic vision and programs that will tackle the root causes of poverty, social injustice, gender inequality, child protection and climate change among other pressing issues in a coordinated, integrated and consented manner.
“The UN Country Team in Guinea-Bissau will perform tasks previously undertaken by UNIOGBIS and add other peacebuilding priorities to preserve the gains achieved, while allowing each UN Agency, Fund and Programme to execute their own mandates,” he concluded.
Title picture: Mural in the old town of Bafata, Guinea-Bissau. UN Photo/Eivind Oskarson