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Tensions in Bissau as Leaders Meet to Resolve Political Crisis


FILE - The Presidential Palace, the residence of the President of Guinea-Bissau, is pictured on May 9, 2017, in Bissau.

As Guinea Bissau’s political elite gather in Nigeria Friday and Saturday in hopes of resolving a two-year-long crisis, residents and activists in the capital are demanding a solution to the political impasse.

Taxi driver Eduardo washes his bright blue car just a few blocks from the Presidential Palace of Guinea Bissau’s leader, Jose Mario Vaz.

FILE - Guinea-Bissau President Jose Mario Vaz arrives to speak with journalists after a meeting with Portuguese officials at the presidential palace in Lisbon, June 19, 2014.
FILE - Guinea-Bissau President Jose Mario Vaz arrives to speak with journalists after a meeting with Portuguese officials at the presidential palace in Lisbon, June 19, 2014.

He says the political stalemate going on just down the road — the country’s parliament has not met in over two years — has lead to a decrease in his income.

“In my opinion, the situation of the country is getting worse, nothing is getting better," he said. "The price of petrol is cheaper now, but food is more expensive. It’s harder now to find customers. You just drive and drive and you have no customers. The roads are empty and everything has stopped.”

The 21-year-old used to bring in only about 3,000 CFA, or $5.50, profit. But now he earns almost nothing after paying gas and the owner of the car for its use.

Parliament standstill

Eduardo is just one voice of many in this West African capital bemoaning the government’s lack of action. Since August 2015, the parliament has not met in session, due to a disagreement between the president and the ruling party, known as the PAIGC, about who should be the prime minister.

FILE - The National Assembly of Guinea-Bissau, is pictured on May 9, 2017, in Bissau.
FILE - The National Assembly of Guinea-Bissau, is pictured on May 9, 2017, in Bissau.

The PAIGC won a majority of parliament seats in the last elections. So they say, according to the constitution, they have the right to approve the best candidate for prime minister, but Vaz will not appoint their nominee. He dismissed their original choice, Domingos Simoes Pereria, in August of 2015.

The Conakry Agreements, reached in October 2016, were meant to solve the crisis. At the agreements, Vaz presented three names to PAIGC leaders to choose from for prime minister. PAIGC chose Augusto Olivais to rule the government, but Vaz named General Umaro Sissoco Embalo as prime minister.

The differing factions are meeting in Abuja Friday and Saturday to try and come to an agreement on who should lead the government, but a member of parliament for the PAIGC, Suzy Barbosa, says she has doubts the long-standing issues will be resolved.

“I have hope, yes, but we have been having hope all these last years, all these times the president said he was going to make a change,” she said.

Suzy Carla Barbosa, parliament member and second vice president for the PAIGC part in Guinea Bissau, talks on the phone in her office, Dec. 14, 2017. (R. Shyrock)
Suzy Carla Barbosa, parliament member and second vice president for the PAIGC part in Guinea Bissau, talks on the phone in her office, Dec. 14, 2017. (R. Shyrock)

Barbosa says a change must happen before the next elections, which are scheduled for April 2018.

“What we don’t accept is to go to elections with this government, created by the president, where we don’t feel confidence in the people who are going to lead the process,” she said.

She adds that with the parliament standstill, there is no national budget, and the economic effects are staggering.

“It’s really bad, I think the country is not breathing. Our economy is completely suffocated," she said. "There will be a moment people won’t be able to go on like this because they will be suffocated, they won’t be able to live like this, because with such a tension, something really bad can happen at any moment.”

Popular discontent

Protests scheduled for this week were canceled. Carlos Da Silva had planned to march. Da Silva is a spokesman for the civil-society group known as the Movement of Conscious and Nonconformist Citizens. He says that many residents want to go even further than appointing a new prime minister.

“The president must overturn the assembly and call for elections, general elections. Both presidential elections and legislative elections. This is what we want, because they are fighting, they are disputing over the power. The power is given by the people,” he said.

The president’s supporters, such as parliament member Joaquim Batista Correia, from the PRS party, say it is PAIGC that is holding up action. Fifteen members of the PAIGC party have defected to the president’s side and support the current prime minister. Correia says they shot themselves in the foot [causing themselves difficulty] by not reaching an agreement within their own party.

“There are 15 deputies who are not with their party, so they don’t have a majority. We can have a consensus in democracy, and democracy is the majority,” said Correia.

Whether its the PAIGC or the president who is at fault, for residents like Eduardo, an agreement cannot come soon enough.

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