Political / Military / Economic Situation
"It is my hope that the results of the legislative elections signal the emergence of an era of pluralistic democracy", the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote on the developments in Guinea-Bissau. In his report to the Security Council [S/1999/1276], the Secretary-General noted that the holding of the legislative and presidential elections on 28 November 1999 in an open, fair and transparent manner was an important step forward in the transition to democracy and restoration of peace and normalcy in Guinea-Bissau.
The UN Security Council agreed to the extension of the mandate of the UN Peace-Building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS) until 31 March 2000.
On 22 December, the National Electoral Commission (CNE) awarded one more seat in the legislature to RGB (Resistência da Guiné-Bissau) party following a recount of votes due to alleged tabulation errors in the district of Pirada (Gabú region). Final results in the legislature give the PRS (Partido da Renovação Social) a majority of 38 seats, with RGB holding 29 and PAIGC with 24 seats.
The new Parliament was to take office on 4 January, according to an announcement by the CNE, however, the investiture was postponed until 28 January. The official results of the presidential run-off are expected to be made public by this date.
Following the military protest of 8 December, in which soldiers demanded payment, civil society groups began striking as well. EAGB, the national electrical company, threatened to strike on 23 December. Electricity cuts on 28 and 29 December ended in a last-minute settlement, averting a New Years Eve blackout.
On 3 January, teachers demanding salary arrears protested lack of payment, closing public schools in the new year. The union of nurses, technicians and laboratory workers called a 72-hour strike from 10 January to demand payment of subsidies and better working conditions. Minimal health services were to be assured; however local newspapers and radio reported on allegations of deaths due to lack of treatment at the Simão Mendes hospital in Bissau. The clinical director of the hospital denied the allegations.
While the health strike ended on 12 January, demands have not been met and the union threatened to stage another strike. The Ministry of Health recognizes the union's right to strike, but disagrees with the exclusion of services such as blood transfusions from the definition of minimum services. The surgery unit was not functioning as a result. (Diário de Bissau, 14/1/00) Patients were forced to seek care from private clinics.
In his end of the year address to the country, President Sanhá appealed to all Guineans and resident foreigners to respect the law, in the spirit of reconciliation and civic responsibility for the second round of elections.
New Year's festivities were held without major incident. Despite a ban on firing shots to celebrate the new year, announced by the commander of the armed forces, shots could be heard in many neighborhoods. Preparations by the national Y2K commission (Commissão Nacional de Preparação para o Ano 2000) appear to have succeeded, as no major disruptions in telecommunications or other services were reported in Bissau
The IMF announced an additional US $2 million in emergency post-conflict assistance for Guinea-Bissau on 7 January. The IMF noted "the need to accelerate the process of demobilization and to reduce military spending" and the need for "good governance and a strong financial system" to create a favorable environment for private sector activity, in order to foster sustained growth.
More than fifty prisoners were released during the last week of December and early January. (AFP 7/1/00). The process continues as conditional releases are being accorded. Following the ouster of Vieira's forces last May, 378 prisoners of war were handed over to civilian authorities in July. Judicial authorities had been criticized for the slow processing of their cases and for prison conditions. An estimated 100 to 150 persons remain in detention following the latest releases.
At a press conference held on 14 January, the UN, National Elections Commission, and European Union dispelled rumors that the 16 January presidential run-off would be jeopardized by a last-minute boycott of poll workers who were demanding back pay.
The European Union, the Netherlands, Japan, and Italy provided funds for the second round of elections, with Sweden and Portugal providing in-kind assistance. Germany provided 100,000 DM for the coordination of international election observers.
Under the coordination of UNOGBIS, over 60 international election observers have arrived to monitor the electoral preparations, casting of ballots, and the post-electoral period, in particular the vote count. Observers have been sent by: Portugal, Sweden, la Francophonie, Comunidade de Paises de Lingua Portuguesa, Organization of African Unity, the Netherlands, USA, Ivory Coast, the Gambia, and the League International des Droits de l'Homme. Members of the international community in Guinea-Bissau volunteered to participate as observers to allow for greater geographic coverage.
Following the first round of elections on 28 November, PAIGC party leader and current Minister of Defense, Francisco Benante, filed a complaint with Junta leader Ansumane Mane. Benante claimed military officers participated in a campaign event for Kumba Yala, violating principles of neutrality. (AFP 21/12/99) Electoral law prohibits the participation of military and security forces in political activity. The officers replied by filing a complaint with the public prosecutor. During the second round, measures were taken to ensure that the military could vote at specified polling stations.
PRS Presidential Candidate Kumba Yala was hospitalized on 29 December in Bissau, he traveled to Portugal for medical treatment, missing the initial days of the electoral campaign. Yala returned to Bissau on 9 January to welcoming crowds. PRS party representatives had requested postponement of the elections by one week, to give time to resolve logistical delays, and not due to Yala's illness, according to the spokesperson. However, the original date for the elections was maintained. (Reuters, 6/1/00; Lusa 7/1/00)
An unprecedented event - the first nationally televised debate between presidential candidates - was broadcast on 14 January, the last day of election campaigning. The event was organized by UNOGBIS with financial support from the European Union. Spectators were generally disappointed with the candidates' evasive answers to questions about unpaid salaries and lack of infrastructure (AFP 15/1/00); and when the exchange degenerated into personal attacks. Yala accused the PAIGC of degenerating from a liberation party into a "party of oppression" and "mutual assassinations". (Lusa, 16/1/00) Yala was a member of PAIGC until 1990.
WFP reported a theft of 45 bags (each containing 50 kg) of rice from their warehouse in Bissau on 11 January. The warehouse is guarded by a private security company.
Shelling was reported near Ziguinchor, southern Senegal at end December. Peace talks between MFDC separatist rebels and the Senegalese government, mediated by the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau were held in Banjul at the end of the year. Talks are expected to continue in January.
Food Assistance and Production
- Food Assistance
WFP distributed an additional 63 metric tons of food to vulnerable groups country-wide in nutritional centers and hospitals. However, distribution was halted during strikes by health personnel in the first week of January. Planned food distribution to school canteens was also impeded by the national teacher strike.
- Agricultural Activities
Distribution of vegetable seeds (including tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, and beans) conducted from October 1999 was completed in January, reaching a total of 25,995 beneficiaries in 465 villages nationwide. Approximately 2,800 kg of seeds were distributed under three projects managed by FAO with the assistance of NGO partners.
During the same period, distribution of agricultural tools (machetes, hoes, buckets, etc.) and pesticides assisted 22,265 beneficiaries in 407 villages throughout the country. Detailed tables reflecting the distributions are available by e-mail from FAO (FAO-GNB@field.fao.org).
Health, Education and Community Services
Already dire conditions in the Health and Education sectors have further degraded due to the 11-month conflict which caused disruptions in development assistance. Several bi-lateral donors have suspended aid, causing delays in rehabilitation and reconstruction. The IMF stressed the need for timely donor assistance to support the reconstruction of health and educational facilities following a recent visit. The Swedish cooperation (ASDI) is providing US$ 783,400 support to the national public health laboratory and US$ 860,000 to Education sector projects.
The Coopération Française donated medicines worth 60 million CFA francs (approx. 92,000 USD) to the Ministry of Health on 29 December. The medicine is to be distributed to hospitals and health centers throughout the country (Diário de Bissau, 12/1/00)
The NGO Bandim Health Project is continuing its work following the resolution of a strike launched in November by local workers. The strike was resolved by a judicial action at end December.
Italian NGO GVC (Gruppo di Volontariato Civile) is working in Gabú, supporting nutritional and health centers. Another Italian NGO, Comunitá de Santo Egidio is set to begin rehabilitation of the tuberculosis hospital Raoul Follereau in Bissau. However, verification that the area is free of unexploded ordnances is sought before construction begins.
A ten-day mission of doctors offering free consultations at the Centro Cultural Arabe-Líbio ended on 27 December. The mission, sponsored by the Associação Mundial de Apelo Islâmico, also distributed medicines and basic goods. (Nô Pintcha, 30/12/99)
UNICEF has received emergency project funds to rehabilitate the water supply and sanitation systems of the Simão Mendes Hospital in Bissau.
The Ministry of Health organized a meeting with international NGOs working in the health sector on 23 December. Of primary concern is the lack of distribution of medicines to the interior of the country. According to the Director of Pharmacies, no distribution to the interior has been carried out since June 1999.
- Relief Activities and Rehabilitation
Human Rights, Protection, and the Promotion of Solutions
- Youth activities
Promoconsult organized a seminar to "reinforce organizational capacities of youth associations" for twenty youth leaders from 19 to 27 December.
Contact: Wendy Cue Information
Officer UNOCHA - Bissau
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- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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