10 April 2014

Guinea Bissau: A History of Endemic Instability

Photo: IRIN/John James
First round voting in Guinea Bissau


Since independence 40 years ago, no Guinea Bissau leader has ever completed his term. Guinea-Bissau is today one of the world's poorest nations, due largely to the political problems that have plagued the former Portuguese colony of 1.7 million people. A number of reasons explain this state of affairs - among which is the all-too powerful military, corruption, poverty, the 1998 civil war, drug trafficking and weak state institutions that are easily prone to corruption.

Coups, Assassinations

Amilcar Cabral, the independence war leader who led the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, PAIGC was assassinated on January 20, 1973 in neighbouring Guinea Conakry.

The mastermind was Inocencio Kani, a PAIGC Naval commander who allegedly acted at the behest of Portugal's secret police, the PIDE-DGS. Since independence in 1974, the military has remained too powerful, carrying out five successful coups. There have also been several failed attempts at forcefully taking over power.

João Bernardo Vieira overthrew Luis Cabral (Amilcar Cabral's brother) in 1980, Ansumane Mané toppled João Bernardo Vieira in 1999, Verissimo Correia Seabra ousted Kumba Iyalla in 2003, João Bernardo Vieira was shot dead in 2009 by soldiers, hours after a bomb attack killed Army Chief-of-Staff, Gen. Tagme Na Waie.

Acting President Raimundo Pereira was overthrown in April 2012 as the PAIGC presidential candidate, Carlos Gomes Junior, was set to win the second round of elections.

Though the Speaker of Parliament, Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, took over as Transitional President after the coup, the putsch is believed to have been led by current Army Chief, Gen. Antonio Indjai.

Meanwhile, a civil war broke out in 1998 after President João Bernardo Vieira sacked then Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ansumane Mané. Beginning with a mutiny, a military junta led by Mané later conducted a war against the government as President Vieira sought asylum in Portugal.

Poverty, Corruption

According to the BBC, Guinea Bissau, which was once hailed as a potential model for African development, is today one of the poorest countries in the world. With a massive foreign debt and an economy that relies heavily on foreign aid, it placed 177th out of 187 countries in the 2012 UN Human Development Index.

Added to this, the country experienced a bitter civil war in the late 1990s in which thousands were killed, wounded or displaced. Political instability and mismanagement have undermined the economy, leaving the country dependent on cashew nuts and subsistence agriculture. On the other hand, the government often struggles to pay wages. Only last week, public service workers went on strike to demand the payment of a backlog of wages.

Drug Trafficking Hub

Guinea-Bissau is also a major hub for cocaine smuggled in from Latin America for Europe. Several senior military figures are alleged to be involved in the trafficking of narcotics, prompting fears that the drugs trade could further destabilise the already volatile country.

An operation in April 2013 by the US Drug Enforcement Administration led to the indictment of two notorious drug kingpins - former Navy Chief, Rear Admiral José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto and current Armed Forces Chief, General António Indjai.

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