Magazine article New African

Country at Tipping Point

Magazine article New African

Country at Tipping Point

Article excerpt

One of Africa's 'forgotten' countries, the tiny enclave of Guinea-Bissau, sandwiched between Senegal in the north and Guinea in the south, has been virtually in turmoil since gaining its independence from Portugal in 1974. An ECOWAS-generated agreement to stabilise the country is still lying on the table. Tom Collins asks what is in store for the country's two-million-strong population.

Since Guinea-Bissau's independence from Portugal in 1974, the tiny West African nation has been blighted by coups, military rule, internal government squabbles and the stultifying remnants of international drug smuggling cartels.

Although the coastline of the country, consisting of myriad islets, coconut groves and sandy beaches, gives the impression of being a tourist paradise, the reality is very different.

The country relies heavily on international aid to keep itself going. In the period 2005 to 2010, with the state apparatus in chaos, it became a haven for Colombian drug lords.

The UN designated it the 'first narco state' in Africa as South American cocaine traffickers, feeling the heat of anti-drug enforcement in Central America, switched to Guinea-Bissau. It was within easy flying distance from Brazil (the take-off point) and the multitude of bays and inlets allowed easy entry and concealment for cocaine sent by sea and transferred to smaller boats for landing.

The drugs were destined for Europe. Later, a reverse trade, smuggling heroin from Asia to the US, also used the country as a corridor.

For many years, the drug barons lived in expensive, highly fortified haciendas and made a point of displaying their wealth by living the life of ultimate luxury in the midst of extreme poverty.

The poverty, coupled with a weak governance structure, made it easy for the barons to buy compliance from government offices, including the military.

The drug traffic has declined over the past few years as international drug enforcement agencies, including the US's DEA, have turned up the heat but little has changed in terms of the government s ability to deliver essential services, including electricity and running water to the population.

Sad end to Amilcar Cabral's legacy

The country continues to labour under the strains of an oppressive, chaotic political system, in place since the early days of independence. The current situation is a sad end to the legacy of Amilcar Cabral, one of Africa's greatest freedom fighters.

Cabral led perhaps the most successful guerilla war against the Portuguese colonialists in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Angola and formed the legendary African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

He was assassinated in 1973, eight months before Guinea-Bissau's unilateral declaration of independence. His half-brother, Luis Severino de Almeida Cabral became the first president of Guinea-Bissau. He served from 1974 to 1980, when a military coup d'etat led by Joao Bernardo Vieira deposed him.

Vieira was to rule the country for a total of 19 years, gaining office on three separate occasions, from 1980 to 1984, from 1984 to 1999, and for the third time from 2005 to 2009.

He was ousted at the end of the 1998-99 civil war and went into exile, but made a political comeback in 2005, winning that year's presidential election. …

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