AFRICAN efforts to stabilise Guinea-Bissau, potentially by sending in soldiers, will meet stiff resistance from divided politicians and soldiers accused of providing protection for international drug smugglers.
Bissau-Guineans, sick of decades of instability, would welcome foreign intervention, but any mission would have to tackle the question of military reform to restore order to a nation that risks spreading insecurity and criminality in West Africa.
Frustrated by the army’s meddling in politics, the European Union and the United States have pulled out of military reform efforts, denting hopes for change in a nation where the flow of cocaine dollars has exacerbated decades of unrest.
“The recent announcements by the US and the EU have made the Africans realise that they have to fill the gap,” said a diplomat who follows Guinea-Bissau closely.
West African regional bloc Ecowas said last week that the region could provide 600 soldiers for the force that has been called for by the president, and the grouping would meet on September 13 to discuss the country’s crisis.
“It is very unclear at this stage what the mandate will be,” the diplomat added, saying options included a stabilisation force and a security assistance mission. “There will be resistance, that is for sure. That is why we need to have an idea of what each significant party is saying.”
Trouble in Guinea-Bissau risks undermining efforts to stabilise a fragile region, especially mining giant Guinea next door, and is likely to stoke drug-fuelled corruption.
“The politicians are implicated with the military. That is why they don’t want a stabilisation force to be sent,” said Helder Mended, a student in the crumbling capital, where residents lack basic services, but have seen politicians and soldiers grow rich and feud as the drug trade flourished.
“They are all responsible for this crisis -we don’t have any confidence in them.”
President Malam Bacai Sanha’s appeal must be passed by parliament, a move most of his political rivals, including Koumba Yala, an influential member of the Balante ethnic group which holds sway with much of the army, say they will oppose.
General Antonio N’Djai who ousted the army chief in a coup within the military in April, has said he is also against the idea of a force, but said he was obliged to accept it.
N’Djai’s rise is a triumph for drug barons over reformers at a time some had held hopes for progress.
“The army declares that they will be subject to civilian rule, (which) is a good thing. But when this chief of staff says it, it’s not clear what that means,” another diplomat said. — Reuters.