Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guinea-Bissau: Security sector reform still lagging

In Guinea-Bissau security sector reform remains stalled but donors say the necessary laws are being written and it is now up to the government to get them through parliament.

International donors have been pushing the government and security forces to reform in order to boost stability in Guinea-Bissau, a country prone to coups and attractive to drug-traffickers.

Since beginning its work on security sector reform (SSR) in 2006 the European Union delegation – which is leading the process – has worked with three governments and Prime Ministers, as well as three Presidents, while witnessing two elections and two political assassinations.

The EU has drafted laws to restructure the army, navy, air force and nine police divisions, as well as drawn up codes of conduct, good practices and discipline in the security forces, EU spokesperson in Guinea-Bissau Miguel Sousa told IRIN.

But while the National Assembly has approved four reform laws, it has yet to pass 10 others, according to EU documents.

“We can’t do anything without the basis of the law,” Sousa told IRIN. “People think: Brilliant – send us people, send us money, give us new barracks. But we need to follow a legal process…We [EU] can draft laws but we cannot approve them.”

High expectations

Expectations for the reforms are high, said Vincent Foucher, a Bissau-based researcher with the Centre d’Étude d’Afrique noire in Bordeaux. “When the EU announced its security sector reform programme, people expected big things….The army asked, where is the cash? The police wanted to see changes,” he said.

“We’ve seen money come in to pay for some salaries and to improve some barracks,” Foucher said. “But the money to retire soldiers is still not there, so people can’t see the immediate change they want.”

Restructuring the army includes retiring some 1,500 members, but just a handful have been retired thus far as no donor funding has come through, and the government has not yet decided how much each retiree should receive as a pension.

But Sousa said progress has been made. “I have a list of laws, along with codes and guidelines, we have produced; a team from the defence forces, police and prosecution services meets every day to coordinate the changes; and trust [among ministries] has been built – this is progress.”

Army spokesperson Maj. Mama Jaquite told IRIN while the military is committed to reform, it is time to see some concrete results such as the much-talked-about improvements to military barracks – a first step in the reform process. He is preparing documents for a 2010 donor roundtable where SSR funds will be discussed.

Justice Minister Mamadou Saliu Djalo Pires meanwhile has been advocating the reform in his ministry and is working closely with Portuguese and Brazilian donors to train judiciary police. And President Malam Bacai Sanha – sworn into office in September – recently called on his advisers to get him up to speed on the SSR process.

But many in the lower ranks of the security forces are still unaware of what reform entails, observers said. And while government and security spokespersons are saying the right things, this is not translating into action, according to Foucher.

Another hitch is that the government has expressed concerns about handing over too much say to international actors. “The government can stall the process under the guise of its sovereignty being stifled,” he said.

There have been questions, for example, over whether international donors or a government-donor committee would manage SSR funds.

Next steps

For now there are no funds to wrangle over. Donors are expected to meet in early 2010 to commit funds to the reform process.

The EU looks likely to be the principal financial contributor and to continue taking a lead role in the process, working closely with the government, the Economic Community of West African States and the UN, according to Sousa.

However the EU mission is still awaiting approval from its member states to extend its presence until May 2010.

The UN is scheduled in 2010 to set up an integrated mission in Guinea-Bissau, one of the priorities of which will be to help the country build the foundations for long-term peace and stability.

Source: IRIN (27/10/2009)

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