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Nobel Peacemaker Ramos Horta's Mission to Guinea Bissau

Categories: East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Timor-Leste, Citizen Media, Humanitarian Response, International Relations, Politics

The political chaos in which Guinea Bissau finds itself embroiled – still more so since the April 2012 coup d'etat [1] – may be a little closer to finding a resolution with the recent appointment of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, to lead the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office (UNIOGBIS [2]) in the country from February.

Political and military instability has been a constant feature of life in Guinea Bissau, a country which, since its independence [3] from colonial Portugal in 1974, has never seen an elected president reach the end of their mandate. In April 2012, a few days after the second round of the presidential elections, the country was plunged into a new crisis with a military coup d'etat which placed the current “transition government” in power.

Ramos Horta has now been appointed to “consolidate peace”, succeeding the Rwandan Joseph Mutaboba, whose mandate ended at the end of January. His appointment has been praised by international diplomats [4] [pt] and Guinean civil society organisations alike. An article [5] [pt] published in Deutsche Welle (DW) explains why:

Ramos Horta on a state visit to the Maldives, as President of East Timor. Photo by Mauroof Khaleel on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) [6]

Ramos Horta on a state visit to the Maldives, as President of East Timor. Photo by Mauroof Khaleel on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Presidente de Timor-Leste entre 2007 e 2012 e anteriormente ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros, Ramos-Horta dispõe de experiência diplomática e de influência internacional, algo que poderá ser relevante para voltar a colocar a Guiné-Bissau na agenda política mundial. Foi condenado ao exílio forçado nos Estados Unidos na sequência da invasão indonésia do seu país e durante 24 anos defendeu a causa timorense na Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) e nas capitais mundiais. Em 1996, o seu esforço valeu-lhe o Prémio Nobel da Paz, que partilhou com o bispo de Díli D. Ximenes Belo.

President of East Timor between 2007 and 2012 and former minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramos-Horta has both diplomatic experience and international influence, something which will be important in order to put Guinea Bissau back on the global political agenda. He was condemned to forced exile in the United States following the Indonesian invasion of his country, and for 24 years he defended the Timorese cause at the United Nations (UN) and in the global capitals. In 1996, his efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with the bishop of Dili, Ximenes Belo.

While many people consider the appointment of Ramos Horta to be a “good omen”, Nádia Issufo, a Mozambican journalist, suggests that it could represent a “poisoned gift” for the transition government. On her personal blog, Acalmar as Almas [7] [Calming Souls], she points to various organisations representing the international community which have tried to intervene in the current political situation in Guinea Bissau, of which she highlights the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), which does not recognise the current transition government, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which does recognise it:

Está assumido pelo governo de transição guineense que a CPLP não é exatamente bem vinda na negociação da sua crise. A CEDEAO é o parceiro confiado de Bissau. Por exemplo, recentemente o governo de Serifo Nhamadjo disse estar satisfeito com a presença das forças desta organização no país, apesar da Liga dos Direitos Humanos Guineense afirmar que a tal força assiste impávida as violações dos direitos humanos no país.


A nomeação de um representante da ONU proveniente de um país membro da CPLP, pode parecer inocente, mas em termo práticos isola e sufoca a CEDEAO e obviamente a Guiné-Bissau. Quer queira quer não, de alguma maneira o governo de transição é obrigado a engolir a CPLP, se não desliza com mel, então…

Enquanto a guerra entre a CEDEAO e a CPLP não terminar as chances para uma saída pacífica são mínimas. Sabemos que no fundo a disputa é dominada por Angola, que se quer impor no continente africano ao nível diplomático, e a Nigéria que quer também o posto. Portanto, está um país a afundar-se também em nome de ambições alheias.

It is assumed by the Guinean transition government that the CPLP is not exactly welcome in the negotiation of its crisis. ECOWAS is Bissau's trusted partner. For example, Serifo Nhamadjo's government recently said that it was satisfied with the presence of ECOWAS forces in the country, in spite of claims by the Guinean Human Rights League that these forces were passively observing human rights violations in the country.


The appointment of a UN representative originating from a member state of the CPLP may appear to be innocent, but in practical terms it isolates and suffocates ECOWAS and of course, Guinea Bissau. Like it or not, in some way the transition government is obliged to swallow the CPLP, if it doesn't slip down easily, then…

As long as the war between ECOWAS and the CPLP continues, the likelihood of a peaceful exit is minimal. We know deep down that the dispute is dominated by Angola, which wants to impose itself on the African continent on a diplomatic level, and Nigeria which also wants that position. Therefore, it is a country which is sinking also under the weight of foreign ambitions.

Guinea Wants Peace. Photo by Sofia da Palma Rodrigues on the blog Brancon'pelele (used with permission) [8]

“Guinea Wants Peace. Photo by Sofia da Palma Rodrigues on the blog Brancon'pelele

The “foreign ambitions” to which Nádia refers are also mentioned by Portuguese political marketing consultant José Paulo Fafe, who comments [9][pt] on his blog:

Recorde-se que, em 2004, Ramos Horta chefiou a missão da CPLP que “fiscalizou” (sem grande sucesso, diga-se de passagem…) as eleições naquele país, quando sob o olhar cúmplice da comunidade internacional e do governo então chefiado por Durão Barroso, se sucederam as fraudes e as “chapeladas” por todo o território. Esperemos agora que o antigo mandatário timorense “emende a mão” e, pelo menos, não seja à semelhança do chefe da diplomacia portuguesa [Paulo Portas], um porta-voz dos interesses angolanos naquele país. É que para mandarete, já basta o que temos…

It must be remembered that in 2004, Ramos Horta led the CPLP mission to “oversee” (without great success, by the way…) this country's elections, when under the complicit gaze of the international community and the government then led by Durão Barroso, fraud and “ballot-box stuffing” took place all over the country. Let us hope now that the former leader of East Timor “corrects his hand” and, at least, does not resemble the head of Portuguese diplomacy [Paulo Portas], a spokesman for Angolan interests in the country. We've got enough errand boys as it is…

Journalist Helena Ferro de Gouveia, on the blog Domadora de Camaleões [10] [Tamer of Chamaeleons], says that Ramos Horta, “the man who declared that ‘Timor ida deit'” (Timor is a single country), calling for the union of the Timorese people, could be “the right man to prevent the future from deserting Guinea and to help the country to find a way home”, but she points out some of the difficulties which he may encounter:

- A ossatura de um Estado faz-se de dois pilares: o da segurança e o da justiça; na Guiné-Bissau, o pilar da segurança ruiu há muito e o sistema de justiça é inexistente.

- O uso da força pelos militares [substituiu] as instituições do Estado. Sem ajuda externa para acabar com o envolvimento das Forças Armadas na política, é impossível acabar com a chantagem dos militares sobre os políticos, a sua manipulação do poder legislativo e do poder judicial e o deslizar  do país para o tráfico de drogas entre a América Latina e a Europa.

- The frame of a state comprises of two pillars: security and justice; in Guinea Bissau, the security pillar collapsed a long time ago and the justice system is inexistent.

- The use of force by soldiers [has replaced] state institutions. Without external help to put an end to the involvement of the Armed Forces in politics, it will be impossible to stop blackmail by soldiers over politicians, their manipulation of legislative and judicial power and the slide of the country into becoming a point on the drug-trafficking route between Latin America and Europe.

Remaining on the subject of drug trafficking, an editorial on the blog Página Global [11] [Global Page] [pt], dedicated to Lusophone countries, says that this is a “burden which weighs excessively on the Guinean people (…) who are struggling with a crisis caused by corrupt officials and coupists linked to drug cartels”:

A determinação de fazer da Guiné-Bissau um território sobre a posse do narcotráfico é por demais evidente e não será Ramos Horta que conseguirá mudar o curso desses objetivos se a comunidade internacional, a ONU, não der um “murro na mesa” e usar os argumentos e provas que possui para criminalizar em Tribunal Internacional os criminosos e cúmplices que detêm os poderes e a sistemática subjugação do país aos ditames do narcotráfico, dos golpismos e de prepotência. Basta de impunidades.

The determination to make Guinea Bissau into a territory in the possession of drug traffickers is quite evident and Ramos Horta will not manage to change the course of these objectives if the international community, the UN, doesn't put its foot down and use the arguments and evidence which it possesses to prosecute in an International Tribunal the criminals and their accomplices who are holding onto power and systematically subjecting the country to the dictates of the drug trafficking industry, of the coupists and of arrogance. Enough impunity.