Prof. Elvis Ngolle, Political Scientist.
Guinea Bissau President José Mário Vaz on April 17, 2018 appointed Aristides Gomez as consensus Prime Minister after three years of stalemate. What explains this situation?
Guinea Bissau’s history since independence from Portugal in 1973/1974 has been that of conflict, tragedy, military coups, assassinations, etc. This is unfortunate for a country that went through an 11-year bloody liberation struggle. Yet, independence or sovereignty is not just a wish because it entails responsibilities, duties and freedoms. The duty of post-independence leadership was to improve the people’s living conditions. With less than 2 million people, Guinea Bissau, having achieved independence much later than most of Africa, ought to have used it to her advantage by emulating regional nations like Ghana, Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea Conakry, etc.
The absence of two indispensable factors in the management of sovereignty explains this state of affairs. There is need for functional institutions that improve the welfare of the people. When institutions are weak, disregarded or managed by unqualified people, their very existence ceases to have any meaning. The other factor is the construction of a political culture appropriate to the people’s conditions.
Guinea Bissau people and leaders must ask themselves where they went wrong. The answer is the absence of the right political culture and weak institutions. It is never too late to make amends. Political Science teaches us that a society is nothing if it does not put in place structures that perform certain functions to enable people benefit from them. Societies without good structures tend to mark time or regress.
What has been the impact of the recurrent crises on Guinea Bissau?
Institutions in countries in crisis cannot function efficiently. The benefits accruing from their work are lost, therefore causing the country to stagnate or go backwards. When society is in perpetual crisis, there is loss of mutual confidence. Yet, mutuality of confidence is needed for any society to move forward. Guinea Bissau has been weak in international relations and diplomacy, with people tending to consider it only in pejorative terms.
Foreign investments have been lost and tourists scared away – thereby hampering development. Periods of crises and international sanctions placed the leadership, institutions and the rest of the nation under stress. The result was despair and hopelessness as the people fled abroad in huge numbers. Yet, the first investors in a country are its citizens. Guinea Bissau has also become a transit point for drug trafficking from South America to Europe. Though so endowed, the recurrent conflicts explain why Guinea Bissau is today one of the world’s poorest nations.
What then can be done to ensure lasting stability?
There is need for agents of acculturation and socialisation to seriously consider the building of a political culture. These agents are families, ethnic groups, professional associations, the media, government institutions, churches and other religious bodies. The people must understand that sovereignty has no meaning if not backed by responsibilities. Post-independence institutions did not seem to have functioned well. Something has to be done to build institutions – societal and governmental alike. Parliament did not meet for two years while the recent crisis lasted. It is anyone’s guess how much the country was affected during this time.
The people of Guinea Bissau must decide the system of government and governance best suited to their needs. They must realise that post-independence conflicts have chased away foreign investors and tourists. Yet, the country needs to be stable to draw investments. Guinea Bissau leaders must also engage in building the image of their country in order to attract tourists and investors.
Moreover, security must be assured to ensure stability. The 55 nations on the continent make up a potential market of more than 1.2 billion people. To benefit from this and the African Union’s free trade zone, the country must be stable and attractive. Guinea Bissau must not fail in a region with so many thriving democracies.