Local MP Ian Paisley travelled to the Republic of Guinea-Bissau last week
as part of his new role to mediate their Peace and Reconciliation effort. Mr Paisley was appointed by the international community to bring his expertise and experience from the Northern Ireland Peace Process to the troubled West African nation.
The appointment was ratified last week by the President of Guinea-Bissau and a committee of international ambassadors resident in Bissau, and has been welcomed by the UK Foreign Office. Guinea-Bissau is a small West African country with a history of instability since independence in 1974. The country is a known transit route for international drug trafficking, of which much supply ends up in the UK and continental Europe. The UN and EU-backed National Reconciliation Conference, scheduled to begin on 14 January, follows a 26 December 2011 coup attempt by members of the armed forces - one of many such military mutinies and coups to have taken place since independence.
The appointment, which is unpaid, will also see Mr. Paisley address a special session of the Guinean parliament - the first British politician ever to do so - and host meetings with the country’s political and religious leaders, as well representatives of the police and security forces. Mr. Paisley intends to draw on his experience of the Northern Ireland peace process and his former membership of the Northern Ireland Policing Board to assist in the development of a reconciliation strategy and a blueprint for development.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has shown increased interest in and concern for Guinea-Bissau in the past year, and has welcomed the creation of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Guinea-Bissau, of which Mr. Paisley is Vice-Chair. Support for civil society, governmental reform and economic diversification away from the predominately rural economy are being encouraged as ways to develop stability, quell ethnic and religious rivalries and lessen the growth of the drugs trade. Representatives of Guinea-Bissau made their first official visit to the UK in November 2011.
Commenting on his appointment, Mr. Paisley said:
“I am honoured to be able to offer some of the experiences and solutions of the peace process in Northern Ireland to another country that is of increasing concern to the international community and the UK.
I would also like to highlight that many of the drugs on the streets of Britain have been arrived on our shores through Guinea-Bissau. Even with the great work that inter-governmental agencies including the UN and Interpol are doing to break the trade, the root cause of Guinea-Bissau’s involvement is poverty exacerbated by a lack of dialogue and understanding between the country’s religious and ethnic groups. Creating economic alternatives to drugs and reforming the security services is vital; but without stability, there can be no dialogue and therefore no alternative.
In Northern Ireland, we achieved what many thought was not possible; a negotiated settlement that put aside deep and long-held differences to allow us to focus on the development of the economy and civil society for the benefit of all our citizens. I intend to apply the Northern Ireland experience to Guinea-Bissau, in the interests of the Guinean people and of the United Kingdom.”