It seems that it might be possible to have a deeper aproach to the ongoing institutional crisis in the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, which goes beyond simplistic analysis focused on personal rivalries between President José Mário Vaz (JOMAV) and former Prime-Minister and PAIGC leader, Domingos Simões Pereira (DSP), or on their psychological profiles.
To do that we need to go back in time and precise that current President JOMAV, during Carlos Gomes Jr’s Government, 2011, was its Finance Minister, and that since then he started conceiving a national development project based on agriculture, named “Mon na lama”, literally meaning “hand in the mud”, the same way in Portugal people say “mão na massa”, “hand on the pasta”, when a problem/situation is being solved.
The basis of this project is rice culture based on juvenile labour, a way to tackle high levels of unemployment across the country, mainly across the age group between 15 and 35 – estimates point to an unemployment rate of around 30%, even if lacking reliable numbers and statistics. In short, President JOMAV conceived a way to achieve food self-sufficiency for the country, as well as to stimulate employment for the country’s youth.
On the other hand, DSP has a more industrial and technological vision for the country and recently conceived the “Terra Ranka” Project, roughly meaning “Earth Pull Out”, based on the country’s industrialization and natural resources exploitation, like bauxite, heavy minerals, gas and oil.
At first those might look like completely opposite conceptions for the country’s development, but they are certainly complementary to each other, provided there is proper willingness on both sides.
Mon na lama’s fundamental problem is the pre-feudal agricultural structure in Guinea-Bissau, according to which those who work the bolanhas – the rice fields –, don’t have an ox, a cow or a donkey to pull the plow. In fact, it is all based on manual force, meaning that agricultural investment will surely produce slow and limited results. But that’s exactly where Terra Ranka can make a difference, provided it includes in its industrialization process upgrades and updates on the mechanization of local agriculture.
The Mon na lama project is already being implemented as an experience in the north of the country, more precisely in Calequice, where the Manjaco ethnicity, to which the President belongs, is the majority. Naturally, critics came out saying the experience should have started in Bafatá!
Perhaps, but one should take into consideration that JOMAV kick-started the program where it was easier for him, where he knew people better, where he is more respected and listened to, where he has more influence and knows better the local realities and where the abandoned rice fields are located.
For Terra Ranka to start, the country’s institutional stabilization if fundamental, in order for the European Union “Round Table” to finally channel to Bissau the large sums promised in 2015. In total, it will be 1.3 billion euros. This is another issue dividing President JOMAV and PAIGC leader DSP. The latter considers “The Round Table” as a panacea for his Terra Ranka Project, while the former – the President – regards the promised money as a way to mortgage the country with more debts and make it vulnerable to foreign interests.
In sum, and not intending to delve into the ego issue, it seems to me that both projects might and should be complementary to each other. DSP wants to industrialize the country by exploring natural resources. Well, why doesn’t he reflect on the possibility to start this process through agriculture, by “renovating” its inexistent machinery.
The bissau-guineans eat rice, not sand!
Raúl M. Braga Pires, CINAMIL (Portuguese Army Research Center) Researcher