José Ramos-Horta has been appointed the new United Nations envoy to Guinea-Bissau. The former Timorese president and Nobel Peace Prize winner is replacing Joseph Mutaboba, a diplomat from Rwanda, as the special representative and chief of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau. Mutaboba, 63, finishes his assignment, which lasted nearly four years, at the end of January.
Ramos-Horta, 63, arrives with more than three decades’ experience in diplomacy and politics in Timor-Leste and elsewhere. Working closely with the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, he helped to manage the elections of the country’s parliament and the presidency in 2001 and 2002, respectively, after its civil war.
As the president of Timor-Leste from 2007 to 2012, Ramos-Horta contributed to “heal the wounds and stabilize the situation in the country following the crisis in 2006,” Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said in a statement announcing the news. Ramos-Horta also served as his country’s foreign minister and as prime minister.
The UN peace-building mission was started in Guinea-Bissau to promote stability in the West African nation, which has been riddled with coups and serious political upsets since its independence from Portugal in 1974. In the last few years, it has become an integral transit hub for a growing drug trafficking route from South America to Europe.
Its most recently attempted coup occurred in October, when a military base in the capital, Bissau, was attacked and six people were killed. That followed a military takeover in April 2012 – just before a presidential run-off vote – forcing the leading candidate to flee abroad. Since then, a transitional military government has dominated the country, while the UN continues to prod those in charge to return the country to civilian rule and restore constitutional order.
A fact-finding mission by representatives from the UN, the African Union, the European Union, Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (an intergovernmental group known as CPLP that includes Angola, Brazil and Portugal as members) was conducted in Guinea-Bissau in December. Ecowas dispatched a peacekeeping force to the country after the coup, but Ramos-Horta, who speaks Portuguese, is considered by some West African analysts to be more aligned with the CPLP than with Ecowas, which could lead to more tensions.
The Security Council has done little in the last few months to pressure the military leaders to move ahead with scheduling presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau and other democratic initiatives, since the council has been more distracted with Mali’s coup and terrorist problems there. The council did, however, issue a press statement in mid-December, expressing “serious concern” over the lack of progress in reinstating constitutional order in Guinea-Bissau.
A briefing by Said Djinnit, the chief of the UN Office for West Africa, is expected to take place at the Security Council in January.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.