Guinea Bissau has suffered an apparently endless cycle of assassinations and coups. But the problems of the tiny West African country seemed attractively manageable – a small but vociferous military; a corrupt political class; a desperately poor population. The sights of the international community's (proxy) big guns focussed on Guinea Bissau. Here was a conflict prone state where the international community could breeze in, preach and practice its post-conflict sermons and be successful before moving on in short order to other – more important – conflict areas like DRC, Somalia and South Sudan.
The European Union fired up a large military mission to deal with soldiers. The United Nations established one of its Integrated Operations to deal with the politicians. And as for the poverty… Well, someone would get around to that when the security context was better. What could go wrong? With the world’s post-conflict architecture stepping in to deal with the situation, multilateralism looked to be in the ascendency. Hooray!
But the various interventions made little headway. Somehow, the EU’s efforts with the military never quite seemed to get off the ground. Somehow the UN’s efforts were laudable but somehow never quite as successful as planned. And somehow, it never quite seemed the time for the international community to sit and discuss with each other – and with the Government – exactly who would do what, how and when. Surely, with such large and capable organisations apparently unable to make headway, the problem must be intractable indeed?
One by one, the brand names of the new world order slunk back to their bunkers. For a while, it looked as though Guinea Bissau would continue to be a cancerous conflict in the region.
But then, Angola decided that enough was enough. With a bit of effort and – admittedly – quite a bit of money, Angola decided to sort the problem out. Pausing briefly to gather the odd Lusofone, Angola set about dealing with the military and the politicians. And now, some semblance of normality seems to have set in. Dispensing with the interminable hand wringing of the multilateral system, Angola just rolled up her sleeves and got on with the job in hand. Her agility and decisive approach leaves the multilateral institutions looking like the maiden aunts of the international community.
Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. And Angola’s commercial interests in Guinea Bissau provided plenty of incentive to get ahead. But how many Bissau-Guineans would swap their new found relative peace and stability, bought with the coinage of Angolan commercial interests, for the good old days of multilateralism?