In Guinea Bissau, politics and drugs go hand in hand


When President Umaro Sissoco Embaló of Guinea-Bissau survived a coup attempt this week, everyone breathed sighs of relief.

West Africa has recently seen coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso – two in the same year – and all of these countries are currently under military juntas that argue that civilian-led governments are not failed to protect countries from insurgents.

But in Guinea-Bissau, the coup attempt also told a different story. That of a mixture of politics and narcotics.

After President Embaló’s troops put down a suspected rebellion near the presidential palace in Bissau on Tuesday, he addressed a shockingly old news conference that the coup plotters were against his government’s reforms, and his troops acted “in particular to fight against drug trafficking and corruption”. .”

President Embaló, a 49-year-old reserve brigadier general, is a former bureaucrat, soldier and politician. He served as prime minister from November 2016 to January 2018, and his presidency has been accused of being sympathetic to the narcotics underworld, the very one he said he fought against on Tuesday.

Five months after he came to power in 2020, the country’s diaspora gathered in Brussels, Belgium to protest against him and his government led by Prime Minister Nuno Nabiam. The Guinean diaspora accused the duo of turning the country into a dictatorship and a narco-state. In fact, narcotics have always been associated with politics here.


The US government has called Guinea-Bissau Africa’s first narco-state. In 2013, it gained a global reputation as a major transit hub for cocaine from Latin America to Europe and North America, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ( UNODC).

The drug trafficking cartel operating in Guinea-Bissau is sometimes linked to high-ranking military personnel due to their influence in the country since independence in 1974. The country has since been plagued by coups and political unrest.

In August 2021, the US State Department announced a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Bissau-Guinean national Antonio Indjai, former head of the armed forces from the country. A former army general, he has been under a UN travel ban since May 2012, “due to his participation in an April 2012 coup in Guinea-Bissau”, according to a file. public about him.

Osvaldo Bango, a political analyst on Portuguese-speaking Africa based in Luanda, Angola, said that in Guinea-Bissau, drug networks are strongly linked to the country’s political elites to such an extent that they are the only political actors. and control the army, and those who oppose it are ejected from the circles of power. “Election campaigns, coups and even instability are sponsored by drug trafficking,” he added.

The first coup in 1980 was bloodless. Nino Vieira, a chief commissioner, equivalent to a prime minister, overthrew President Luís Cabral.

But Vieira’s 18-year-old regime has been haunted by four military coups, subversions of the army, resulting in assassinations and arbitrary arrests.

In 1999 Vieira was overthrown by Brigadier Ansumane Mané, and later President Kumba Lalá was overthrown by the military.

Then the ECOWAS Executive Secretary, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, publicly stated that they would investigate the possible role of drug cartels in the deaths of President Vieira and that of the country’s army chief of staff. , General Batista Tagme na Waie.

Mr. Chambas then claimed that Guinea-Bissau was a known hub for drug trafficking. But the case was never pursued, likely because the country stabilized after the 2012 coup, the last before this week’s attempt.

In September 2019, the country recorded the largest drug seizure, of 1.8 tons of cocaine hidden in bags of rice. The leader of the main opposition party, Domingos Simões Pereira, launched a scathing attack on the government, accusing it of facilitating drug trafficking.

“There are networks that certainly protect the drug trade, but there are also some pretty brave elements within the criminal justice system and the political system that have stood up to the drug trade,” said Mark Shaw, co-author of a report entitled ‘Breaking the vicious cycle: the politics of cocaine in Guinea-Bissau’, in a BBC interview, after the incident.

President Embaló, who came to power in February 2020, promised to restore state authority in the country and end drug trafficking. But judging by the country’s recent history, it won’t be easy.

“President Embaló is very intelligent and has vast experience,” Bango said.

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