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Policy Thoughts

15 June 2014




by Rui Faro Saraiva


April 2012 - another “semi-successful” coup d’état in a fully failed state - this seems to be the never-ending story of Guinea Bissau.

On this occasion, the presence of the Angolan Military Mission in Guinea Bissau – MISSANG – appeared to be the prime trigger for the event. But we can also observe that this was in fact only a tool used by the coup plotters to interrupt the current electoral process.

MISSANG, composed of the Angolan armed forces and police, was concluded on the 9th June, with the withdrawal of all personnel. The Angolan military were in Guinea-Bissau on the basis of a military technical cooperation agreement signed by the two countries, which aimed to carry out reforms within the armed forces and local police, as well as to rehabilitate its infrastructures. The Angolan military have now been replaced by forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commanded by Lieutenant-General Guibanga Barro, of Burkina Faso, who, in a ceremony at a Guinean military airport, presented farewell greetings to Lieutenant General Gildo dos Santos, the Commander of the Angolan troops.

The Angolan program, which was interrupted, included the repair of military barracks and police stations and administrative reorganization, along with technical and military training held in not only in Bissau, but also in military and police institutions in Angola. The mission failed to achieve its objectives, which were to support defence and security sector reform, and ultimately raise Angolan influence over Guinea Bissau, which has rich bauxite deposits and possible offshore oil.

Along with the MISSANG mission, Angolan financial support given to Guinea-Bissau to reorganize its Security and Defence infrastructure was also cancelled. Ultimately, the only apparent beneficiaries of the coup d’état were the coup plotters themselves, who have succeeded in dragging the beleaguered country into yet another crisis. Nigeria, through its mediation role and its interpretation of the “zero-tolerance approach”, may try to consolidate its influence in Guinea Bissau and profit also from the coup d’état.

The CPLP (Portuguese Speaking Countries Community), the EU and the UN condemned the coup in Guinea-Bissau and advocate a strict zero-tolerance approach to coups in general. These international institutions still call for the immediate restoration of constitutional order in Guinea Bissau and refuse to recognize all non-elected transitional institutions. Although as yet without success, they continue to push for a different outcome from the recent Guinea Bissau political crisis.

The issue of competition for influence in Guinea Bissau aside, the success of this coup seems to demonstrate definitely the failure of a weak democracy in a strong “narco-state”.

What this episode also shows is the positioning of the Angolan State as an emerging power in Africa and an influential actor among the Lusophone countries. While Angola's active involvement in the case of Guinea Bissau needs to be seen from the perspective of linguistic, cultural and colonial ties, it would be naïve to think that Angolan interests in West Africa are confined to Guinea-Bissau.

The competition for mineral (e.g. bauxite) and energy resources in west Africa as a whole will mean continued interest and involvement at some level by Angola. It is likely to become more influential, not as a South Africa proxy but in its own right, and perhaps along with the support of China.

The southern African region cannot be fully understand politically without bearing in mind its interaction and interdependence with other parts of Africa and beyond.



Angolan Air Force Ilyushin Il-76TD, Photo by Dmitry Karpezo

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