Of Coups, Corruption and Conflicts of Interest: the Case of Guinea-Bissau

Global Integrity
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A lack of transparency and a lot of corruption surrounding Guinea-Bissau’s 2012 election have led to instability. The small state on the West Coast of Africa, also identified as a portal for the transnational drug trade, recently headed news stories about a military coup and instigating factors that accelerated the take-over.

To understand the trajectory of Guinea-Bissau’s tumultuous 2012, we need to trace our steps back to December 2011. At the end of 2011, Navy Chief Jose Americo Bubo na Tchuto initiated a coup attempt against the government adminstration of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and President Malam Bacai Sanha, by capturing Army Chief General Antonio Indjai. Bubo, known to be a “drug kingpin,” was arrested on accusations of deliberately orchestrating the coup.

Following Navy Chief Tchuto’s arrest and President Sanha’s death (natural causes), Interim President Raimundo Pereira took over. Presidential elections were set for April 2012, but yet another disruption to the country’s electoral cycle shifted the balance of power.

In April 2012, a successful retaliation coup led by Army Chief Antonia Indjai took place during the first democratic elections against Interim President Pereira and Carlos Gomes, Jr., who at that time was Prime Minister and currently is a leading presidential candidate. Shortly before the second round run-off between leaders Carlos Gomes Junior and Mohammed lala Embalo, military commanders and mutinous troops took control of the capital city of Bissau, the national television and radio, and the party offices of the incumbent PAIGC party. Soldiers also blocked off the roads coming in and out of Bissau and a two-year transitional government formed. Navy Chief Tchuto was also released from prison. The coup has been condemned by the United Nations, who have consequently imposed sanctions as a call to return to civilian rule.

A variety of elements were at play here. The first problem is Guinea-Bissau’s role in narco-trafficking. Guinea-Bissau has been identified as a narco-state, with some high-ranking government officials accepting bribes to keep quiet.  Second, Carlos Gomes Junior was reportedly unpopular within the military for allegedly being involved in or complicit to the illicit drug trade. Third, the military’s internal fractions, mixed with personal feuds, are spilling into citizens’ daily lives by jeopardizing personal security and access to government services.

These three points of corruption in the ranks of government officials and in the feuds of the military are exacerbated by the lack of transparency. The country is in a semi-permanent state of instability and uninformed chaos, with an almost constant number of military coups since Guinea-Bissau’s independence in 1974. In the 21st century, coup attempts have occurred nearly every other year in Guinea-Bissau.

Will the recent yield of control back to civilian leaders bring an end to the corruption in Guinea-Bissau’s leadership, paybacks from the drug trade and conflicts of interest between heads of state and the military? For now, the return to civilian control may alternatively bring the stability needed for Guinea-Bissau to start a new path of governance, but considering the military’s interest on forming a civilian government, this may be difficult in the long run. The military has largely been identified as a drug trade champion, and civilian leaders continue to be inculpated in the drug trade as well, all of which can be expected to create further instability down the road. That will be particularly the case if lack of transparency continues to cloud Guinea-Bissau’s reform efforts, a process we will continue to be interested in as the country develops under a new ruling power.

— Erica Penfold

Global Integrity
Global Integrity

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