Several weeks after the independent Guinea-Bissauan newspaper O Democrata broke the news of a secret oil and gas deal between Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, and his Guinea-Bissauan counterpart, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, a ministerial uprising supported by Civil rights and pro-democracy groups has ensued.
President Embalo had independently negotiated and signed an agreement with President Sall in October 2020 to unevenly share any future oil and gas revenues in the sea area between the two countries.
Neither Guinea-Bissau’s prime minister, Nuno Nabiam, nor his country’s parliament were informed about the deal. The government released details of the deal on December 14, weeks after the O Democrata report.
“The agreement provides for the division of future oil revenues between the two countries, albeit after a ratio that is very unfavorable to Guinea-Bissau,” said Armando Lona, editor-in-chief of O Democratahttps://www.odemocratagb.com/.
Lona explained that the agreement was signed illegally because the president bypassed the public in a matter of national importance.
“We don’t understand why Sissoco kept such a secret about our country’s resources. After all, raw materials belong all Guineans, and not just those who happen to be in power,” he said.
Senegal and Guinea-Bissau had since 1993 agreed to create a common economic zone off the coast of both countries. This temporarily resolved a decades-old territorial conflict. Senegal claimed 54% of the lands, and Guinea-Bissau 46%. The area is rich in fish stocks and oil and gas reserves.
In a previous agreement, Guinea-Bissau’s proportion of the prospective oil and gas area was far lower at merely 15%. The renegotiations began at the end of 2014.
Both Senegal and Guinea-Bissau had allocated the exploration, extraction and marketing of the resources in the common economic zone to the Agency for Cooperation between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal (AGC) based in the Senegalese capital Dakar.
Many observers and experts in Guinea-Bissau want the dissolution of the AGC and the end of the common zone.
President Sissoco expressed his concerns on the deal said:
“What I signed with Macky Sall is not an agreement on the distribution of oil revenues,” said President Sissoco as he was approached by journalists shortly before Christmas at the airport in the capital Bissau.
“It is an agreement that is supposed to regulate the cooperation between our two countries in the common economic zone. And I am authorized to do so as president, because the AGC is subordinate to the presidents.”
AGC executive secretary, Inussa Balde, also downplayed the scope of the agreement.
“No oil or gas is being produced in the common economic zone. And we do not yet know for sure whether the production of oil is far too expensive is,” explained Balde at a press conference.
Balde clarified that Presidents Sissoco and Sall had only signed “a general agreement” about the AGC. He denied there was any contract on the distribution of oil and gas.
Civil society groups say “lack of transparency with which the president decides on the country’s raw materials”. At a joint press conference on December 14, 27 non-governmental organizations demanded the “criminal prosecution of all those involved in the treaty.”
They called on the country’s public prosecutor to investigate everyone involved in what Bubacar Ture, vice president of the Guinean League for Human Rights (LGDH) referred to as “act of betrayal of our homeland.” s
Political analyst Rui Landim also spoke of high corruption and incompetence of those in power. He said it is now necessary “to denounce such immoralimmoral treaties so that other similar agreements in other regions of Africa can be prevented.”
On December 15, Guinea-Bissauan parliament declared the agreement null and void.
Of the 72 MPs present in the chamber, 70 rejected the agreement. Only one MP voted for the agreement while president of the National Assembly Cipriano Cassama abstained.
“We acted to protect the country’s best interests,” said Bamba Banjai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MADEM G15), a coalition partner of President Sissoco’s party.
Parliamentary President Cassama also announced that he would call on international bodies, such as the United Nations and the African Union, to mediate in the political standoff between parliament and the president.
Sissoco reacted to the vote in defiance: “With this vote, parliament has clearly exceeded its powers and has caused serious damage to our country’s international reputation.”
The former military general has threatened to dissolve parliament as soon as possible.