‘Fragile’ Bissau needs help, says presidential hopeful

Wearing the same wool cap with a pom-pom made popular by Guinea Bissau’s independence leader Amilcar Cabral in the 1970s, presidential hopeful Carlos Gomes Junior sits in his courtyard in the shade of a fruit tree.

His calm demeanour is remarkable considering it is the last day of election campaigning in the coup-prone West African country eager to prove its democratic credentials and shake off a reputation as a failed state and major drugs smuggling route.

“Our objective is to win the elections in the first round,” said Gomes Junior, a long-serving prime minister who quit last month to run as the ruling PAIGC party’s candidate for president.

The 62-year-old former banker is keen to point out his party was forged in the struggle for independence from Portugal that came in 1974 — a key part of its enduring popularity.

But he says the country now needs international rescue from its problems, mainly in combating the drugs trade and reforming the army — a force of some 8 000 in a tiny country of 1.6-million that has repeatedly interfered in politics.


Early election
“We have a lot of things to do, and we are counting on our bilateral and multilateral partners,” he said. “Guinea Bissau is a fragile country and we can not do it alone.”

Sunday’s election was set early to replace former leader Malam Bacai Sanha who died in a Paris hospital in January after a long illness.

The poll represents a chance for Guinea Bissau, whose weak governance has made it a haven for Latin American drugs smugglers seeking a stop-off point to Europe, to “build the foundations for peace, stability and development,” according to the UN mission here.

An estimated 800-1 000 kg of cocaine are flown into Guinea Bissau every night en route to Europe, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable from 2009, with an unknown amount arriving to the unpatrolled jigsaw of mangrove-lined creeks and islands that make up its coast by sea.

The challenges are huge in a country whose main official export is cashews: an ordinary Bissau Guinean lives on less than $2 a day, and military meddling, political assassinations and health problems have prevented any president from serving a full term since multiparty politics began in 1994.

Richest
Gomes Junior’s rivals include Social Renovation Party leader Kumba Yala — a former president who claims ethnic ties with the mostly Balanta military – and Manuel Sherifo Nhamadjo, who quit the PAIGC to run as an independent.

in the capital, Gomes Junior still looms large as the likely favourite. Reputed to be Bissau’s richest man, his personal wealth has allowed him to plaster campaign posters and hand out T-shirts at a rate others cannot match.

Gomes Junior says his appeal comes from his long record as prime minister during which he says he fought drugs smuggling, pushed for army reform, and worked with foreign partners to cut debt and draw investment.

Opposition leaders have hurled scorn at him claiming the government he ran until recently is organising an unfair poll.

Top military officials in Bissau have been accused by the United States of being drugs runners, and diplomats say the army is aware of, if not involved in, every cocaine-filled plane that lands on its soil. Gomes Junior’s critics say he is complicit in the trade, a charge he denies.

More help needed
“The government has done everything possible, with the collaboration of the UNODC, INTERPOL and all our partners to combat narcotics trafficking. We’ve put in a lot of effort, but as you know Bissau is a very fragile country and requires help. We alone, cannot combat narco-trafficking.”

“This requires money,” he said.

“We think now the conditions exist in Guinea Bissau for the economy to take off,” he said, citing a bauxite mine and port project in the country’s south announced by Bauxite Angola in 2010. He said construction on the project should start soon, once an environmental impact study is complete.

While Guinea Bissau has won debt relief from the Paris Club of creditors and a credit line worth $33-million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Gomes Junior said more help was needed from foreign partners.

The EU withdrew its support for Guinea Bissau’s army reform effort in 2010 after a coup within the military changed its leadership, though Angola has since stepped in with a $600-million line of credit and more than 100 troops.

“We’re also waiting for help from (West African regional bloc) ECOWAS and other friendly nations,” he said. “We need to organise a republican army that respects the political power, and we want a defence force that is modern and well-equipped to help fight drugs smuggling and international crime.” — Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Malawi elections provide a global lesson in democracy

COMMENT: Opposition candidates and party can increase their chances of success at the polls by putting aside minor differences and presenting a united front

The Trump era is over. But the fight for democracy is just getting started

A respected and robust United States — with all of our flaws, mistakes and missteps — can be good for the defence of democracy, not least in Africa

A litmus test for the 2021 election

In this week’s 96 by-elections, the trend was the ANC held its ground and grew, while the DA lost big, with minority parties eating into its voter base

Maintaining Museveni’s securitised state

As Ugandans prepare to go to the polls in January 2021, the involvement of security forces in the electoral process is a given and political reform seems a long way off

A pan-African stand must be taken against political oppression in Tanzania

As the country prepares for elections, the president is misusing state machinery to undermine, subjugate and repress citizens and civil society organisations

The October election season: Guinea, Tanzania and Cote D’Ivoire head to the polls

October is election month as three presidents seek another term in office. For two, it will be their third
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

See people as individual humans, not as a race

We need to ingrain values of equality in education, businesses, society broadly and religious groups to see people

JJ Rawlings left an indelible mark on Ghana’s history

The air force pilot and former president used extreme measures, including a coup, enforced ‘discipline’ through executions, ‘disappearances’ and floggings, but reintroduced democracy

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…