“Kumsa di nôbu!”* – A new beginning for Guinea-Bissau

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By Yannis Arvanitis

On January 28, the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Board of Directors approved the 2015-2019 Country Strategy Paper (CSP) for Guinea-Bissau. This approval marks a strong step towards the redeployment of international assistance in the country and is a prelude to the country’s planned donor roundtable expected to be held at the end of March.

The CSP starts by highlighting some of the challenges faced by the country. Stylised facts suggest that both the economic and social situation are difficult. On the economic front, the country’s underlying fragility and the ensuing context of political instability have resulted in a significant decline in economic activity in recent years, with a sharp drop in GDP growth from 5.3% in 2011 to -1.5% in 2012. While slightly positive in 2013, the 0.3% growth rate conceals deep structural problems. For 2014, projected GDP growth is 2.8% due to an expected upturn in economic activity following the elections. On the social/human development front, the quality of life of the most vulnerable segments of the population, especially women and young people, has also steadily deteriorated since the coup d’état. The poor cashew nut harvest in 2012/2013 and low producer prices have had a negative impact on rural poverty and female poverty, plunging a third of the population into a state of under-nutrition. Regarding health, services do not meet demand considering a generalised lack of available resources, and also because of persisting infrastructure bottlenecks affecting the provision of healthcare such as the geographical inaccessibility of health centres. These features suggest that challenges are great. Some more specific ones have been outlined in previous blog posts, related to transport infrastructure or natural resources.

Concurrently, however, the present situation offers many opportunities. First, the return to constitutional order has opened a favourable political and cyclical window of opportunity. Boosted by post-election momentum and the return of development partners, the government has set in motion a series of reforms. In little time, the government had the parliament approve both the 2014 and 2015 budgets. It took measures to rationalise spending by putting in place treasury committees for cash management, cleared salary arrears in the health and education sectors, and began consulting partners on how to go about building institutional resilience in the medium term. Along the same vein, the return to constitutional order has also provided an opportunity to revitalise regional partnerships that the country can rely on to safeguard the transition initially and, subsequently, build institutional resilience. In this regard, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) or Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have been called upon to accompany the country just as the AfDB has set to do as per the CSP just approved.

To do so, the government is planning to organise a donor/partner roundtable at the end of March 2015. At first sight, this event may appear to be yet another pledging conference. Yet all parties are aware that to move forward it is not only money that is needed, but also a tight coordination amongst partners and the government, as well as the insurance that planned projects and programmes are coherent and complementary. As put forth in the AfDB’s CSP, coordination of partners’ interventions is paramount in order to create a critical mass of transformational operations. The preparation of the roundtable is thus a golden opportunity to firm up partnerships and engage in effective planning. It is no secret that donors are overstretched amongst competing needs (e.g. fight against Ebola) and their own austerity measures. In this context and given the needs of Guinea-Bissau, partnerships and efficiency are the name of the game for a new beginning in Guinea-Bissau.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------[*] “A new beginning” in the Portugese Creole spoken in Guinea-Bissau


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