Guinea-Bissau: Rising Uncertainty Following the Return of Gomes Junior

Guinea-Bissau is expecting National Assembly elections later this year. With two years of political disruption, a newly appointed prime minister, and the return of the prime minister deposed in the 2012 coup, politics in Guinea-Bissau is entering yet another uncertain period. The return of former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior may add to the turmoil. He had resigned in the interest of stability, and a new prime minister was appointed against the wishes of the majority PAIGC. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has announced sanctions against the politicians “impeding political reconciliation,” albeit without naming anyone thus far. Security concerns have also been heightened by December reports of an attempt on the life of the current chief of defense staff, and of the police taking over the PAIGC headquarters (ostensibly to enforce a court order against the party’s congress).

The divisive outcome from the last election has not been resolved, and recent developments have not helped clear the stage prior to new polls just months away. The next few days will determine whether the PAIGC is able to enter the elections united, divided or ready to explode. The return of Gomes Junior will likely exacerbate divisions, in our view. The current president was with Gomes Junior in his last administration, as were many of the most recent ministers. However, Gomes Junior controlled his supporters through fear, violence and bribery. His resources have dwindled since he has been out of the government, though, and without the levers of power, the police no longer answer to him. While he has stated that he would participate, he has been vague about what his goals are.

This situation continues to evolve, and the immediate impact on investors has been modest so far. Current agreements should remain in force. For companies pursuing new engagements, it would be wise to hold off, probably until after the parliamentary elections.

There are two events worth monitoring in the coming weeks. The first is whether the political class accepts the return of Gomes Junior. His role in the PAIGC and government will define much of what to expect in the coming year. The second is how elections are prepared and carried out, probably in June. The most likely outcome for the June elections is a patched-up PAIGC taking advantage of its nationwide network of offices and supporters to mobilize enough turnout to maintain its parliamentary majority. It is too early to tell which PAIGC faction will prevail, the president’s cohort or the party’s old guard. If both groups are able to work out some of their differences, this election could also help to clarify the party’s electoral support and allow the National Assembly to return to work.