8 November 2012

West Africa: ECOWAS Offers Guinea Bissau FCFA 32 Billion for Army Reforms

As part of its efforts to help stabilise the political and military situation in Guinea Bissau that has suffered from recurrent coups since independence in 1974, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, on Wednesday November 7 offered FCFA 32 billion for the reform of the country's military and security forces.

The aid was handed over to transitional authorities at a ceremony in the capital, Bissau, attended by ECOWAS Commission Chair, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo and Guinea-Bissau's Foreign Minister, Faustino Fudut Imbali, the AFP news agency reported. Ouedraogo said the ceremony marked the start of reform of the country's defense and security sector, describing it as an important step for the transition process. Reacting, Transitional Prime Minister, Rui Duarte de Barros, expressed satisfaction, saying with ECOWAS' support, the country would make much progress in attaining political stability.

The transitional authorities and ECOWAS also formalised the presence of a 638-strong armed West African force in the country. The force, known as ECOMIB, is charged with securing transition bodies. It replaces a contingent of Angolan troops whose presence in the country was strongly opposed by the military. This later prompted an army junta to overthrow the government of Carlos Gomes Junior on April 12, in between two rounds of a presidential election. The interim government is planning to hold elections next year.

According to RFI radio, the transitional government last March approved a road map by ECOWAS and the Organisation of Portuguese-speaking States on reforming Guinea Bissau's defence and security sectors. The reforms, among others, envisage a career plan for the army, restructuring of military units with due respect for ethnic equilibrium, and a reduction in the number of troops.

The small West African nation has suffered chronic instability since independence from Portugal in 1974 due to conflict between the army and state. No president has ever completed a full term in office. Coups, counter-coups and regular assassinations have also made the unstable nation an attractive destination for South American drug lords seeking a hub to move cocaine into Europe.

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