In a public address, in the presence of his Guinean counterpart Victor Mandinga, Senegalese minister Amadou Hott listed a set of priority projects that must take shape in the context of increased cooperation between the two countries.
When mentioning the bilateral interest in strengthening existing cooperation programs in the area of fisheries, cross-border trade and specifically in the energy sector in oil exploration in the Joint Exploration Area (ZEC), Amadou Hott revealed that agreements were signed “about 10 days ”, that is around October 10,“ among the heads of state ”, Macky Sall and Umaro Sissoco Embaló, respectively.
Amadou Hott thus referred to agreements relating to oil prospecting in the Joint Exploration Zone (ZEC) signed by Senegalese President Macky Sall and his Guinean counterpart Sissoco Embaló, whose content the Government of Nuno Nabiam is unaware of and whose signature has not been discussed in the National Assembly Popular (ANP).
The nature of the agreements is unknown, but according to the short information released by Amadou Hott, it concerns the controversial agreement whose negotiation should have taken place in 2016, but which then president José Mário Vaz had blocked due to disagreements in the sharing of the key, which was based on a distribution of 85% in favor of Senegal and 15 in favor of Guinea-Bissau.
Due to this blockade and the former Guinean president argued that it was necessary to readjust the sharing described in the document, taking into account the expectations and new projections of potential oil reserves in the ZEC, the agreement remained at an impasse.
In order not to curb the prospects already underway, only the existing legal instruments were renewed every six months. As of 2019, the same renewal became annual, and in August 2020 a round of negotiations should have taken place, but everything was “under water”.
At the heart of the disagreement in Guinea-Bissau is the sharing of the 85/15 key. Some recognize that it should be negotiated, with the worst scenario being 80/20 and the preferential 50/50, despite the structural and logistical investment of ZEC’s management having always been guaranteed only by Senegal.
Another view argues that the ZEC agreement with Senegal is of no interest to Guinea-Bissau, and considers that the ZEC should be categorically suppressed. Each country would remain so with its maritime territorial parcels and management would consequently be guaranteed separately by each country. The defenders of this trend support their arguments on patriotism and national sovereignty, in addition to considering that it would be financially beneficial for Guinea-Bissau, given the promising expectations.
The debate on the “renegotiation” of the ZEC has become, in Guinea-Bissau, a state issue that involves all circles of power, from the President of the Republic to the Prime Minister, political parties, ANP, NGOs and, especially , the military class that has always seen Senegal as a potential threat to the country’s natural resources and, by extension, to national sovereignty.
It is precisely these circles that went into an uproar with Amadou Hott’s revelation, perhaps unwary. A revelation to which Victor Mandinga, present at the moment, did not react, probably due to the growing sharpness of his relations with the Guinean Head of State.
Nuno Nabiam caught by surprise
Nuno Nabiam, who had met with Amadou Hott, was taken by surprise. The prime minister was not aware of the ZEC agreements signed between Macky Sall and Sissoco Embaló. Nuno Nabiam interpreted as an additional offense the fact that he was excluded from the negotiation of an agreement of a vital nature for the country, and whose negotiation is part of his competences as prime minister.
According to those close to the Guinean President of the Republic, the signing of the agreement by Sissoco Embaló could be interpreted as another demonstration that the presidential regime in Guinea-Bissau is already imposed without it being enshrined in the current Constitution, and are attentive to the reaction of Nuno Nabiam and whether it will accept to be a “decorative object” in the structure and organization of political power, as critics characterize it.
Cipriano Cassamá, president of the ANP, currently in Portugal for health reasons, was also surprised by the announcement of the signing of an agreement regarding the ZEC, which in his opinion should have been previously discussed in the Assembly. Despite his fragile state of health, his return to Bissau and the start of the debate on this issue at the ANP is expected soon.
Within the Castro class, the information on the signing of the agreement on the ZEC did not leave the top leaders indifferent, who feel marginalized in deciding on a document that affects national sovereignty. In reality, the current that advocates the radical suppression of the ZEC is mostly composed of the military. The signing of such an agreement is interpreted by a fringe of the military as “a bazucada in national sovereignty” and “vassalage to Senegal”. However, they are still waiting to know the real content of the agreement.
Political parties remain silent, regardless of whether they are with the Government or form the opposition. Domingos Simões Pereira, leader of the main opposition party, PAIGC, has not yet fully reacted, when he always defended the need to negotiate the ZEC agreement on a model more favorable to Guinea-Bissau.
© e-Global News in Portuguese
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