The independent Guinea-Bissauan newspaper O Democrata broke the news in November about a secret agreement between Senegal's president, Macky Sall, and his Guinea-Bissauan counterpart, Umaro Sissoco Embalo.
The report revealed that Sissoco Embalo had independently negotiated and signed an agreement with Sall in October 2020 to unevenly share any future oil and gas revenues in the sea area between the countries.
Neither Guinea-Bissau's prime minister, Nuno Nabiam, nor the parliament were informed about the deal. The government released details of the deal on December 14 — weeks after the O Democrata report.
"The agreement provides for the division of future oil revenues between the two countries, albeit after a ratio that is very unfavorable to Guinea-Bissau," Armando Lona, the editor-in-chief of O Democrata, told DW.
Lona said the agreement was signed illegally because the president bypassed the public in a matter of national importance.
"We don't understand why Sissoco kept such a secret about our country's resources. After all, raw materials belong to all Guineans, and not just those who happen to be in power," he said.
Old territorial conflicts, new economic interests
As early as 1993, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau agreed to create a common economic zone off the coast of both countries. This temporarily resolved a decades-old territorial conflict. Senegal claimed 54% of the lands, and Guinea-Bissau 46%. The area is rich in fish stocks and oil and gas reserves.
In a previous agreement, Guinea-Bissau's proportion of the prospective oil and gas area was far lower at merely 15%. The renegotiations began at the end of 2014.
Both Senegal and Guinea-Bissau had allocated the exploration, extraction and marketing of the resources in the common economic zone to the Agency for Cooperation between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal (AGC), based in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.
The AGC is already doing geological studies and drilling. But Armando Lona believes the agency is very controversial, especially in Guinea-Bissau.
"Many in Guinea-Bissau consider the AGC to be an extension of the Senegalese president," he said.
Opponents in Guinea-Bissau want the dissolution of the AGC and the end of the common zone "so that each country can exploit its own resources," Lona said.
Sissoco feels he is right
"What I signed with Macky Sall is not an agreement on the distribution of oil revenues," said Sissoco said as he was approached by journalists shortly before Christmas at the airport in the capital, Bissau.
"It is an agreement that is supposed to regulate the cooperation between our two countries in the common economic zone," he said. "And I am authorized to do so as president, because the AGC is subordinate to the presidents."
The AGC's executive secretary, Inussa Balde, downplayed the agreement.
"No oil or gas is being produced in the common economic zone. And we do not yet know for sure whether the production of oil is far too expensive is," Balde said at a press conference.
Balde said Sissoco and Sall had only signed "a general agreement" about the AGC. He denied that there was any contract for the distribution of oil and gas.
Lona said this contradicted a statement by the Senegalese economy minister, Amadou Hott, who recently publicly confirmed the existence of an oil exploration contract. Hott was released from his post shortly after his statement.
Civil society at the barricades
For weeks there has been great resistance in civil society to the "lack of transparency with which the president decides on the country's raw materials." At a joint press conference on December 14, 27 nongovernmental organizations demanded the "criminal prosecution of all those involved in the treaty."
"We call on the public prosecutor's office in our country to investigate everyone involved in this act of betrayal of our homeland," said Bubacar Ture, vice president of the Guinean League for Human Rights.
In an interview with DW, political analyst Rui Landim — who is close to the opposition in Guinea-Bissau — spoke of high corruption and incompetence among those in power. He said it is now necessary "to denounce such immoral treaties so that other similar agreements in other regions of Africa can be prevented."
Parliament rejects the president's agreement
On December 15, the Guinea-Bissau's parliament approved a resolution declaring the agreement null and void.
Of the 72 MPs present in the chamber, 70 rejected the agreement. Only one MP voted for the agreement. The president of the National Assembly abstained.
"We acted to protect the country's best interests," said Bamba Banjai, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MADEM G15), a coalition partner to Sissoco's party.
The parliamentary president, Cipriano Cassama, also announced that he would call on international bodies, such as the UN and the African Union, to mediate the political standoff between the legislature and the head of state.
Sissoco reacted defiantly: "With this vote, parliament has clearly exceeded its powers and has caused serious damage to our country's international reputation."
The former military general then threatened to dissolve the parliament as soon as possible.
Iancuba Danso (Bissau) contributed to this report.
This article was translated from German.