A fresh start for Guinea-Bissau?

A fresh start for Guinea-Bissau?

Notorious for its chronic instability, Guinea-Bissau didn’t have the best reputation in the past. However, in 2014, Guinea-Bissau had peaceful and credible elections and the country went back to constitutional normalcy, presenting a window of opportunity for the investment community. 

Guinea-Bissau successfully completed its legislative and presidential elections in 2014 and appointed an inclusive multiparty civilian government. The military, which conducted its last coup in 2012, accepted the results despite backing the losing Partido de Renovação Social (PRS), suggesting that it intends to stay out of civilian affairs.

Together with the robust parliamentary majority of the historically dominant Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), this means that the country has returned to relative stability. After decades of civil strife, repeated coups d’état led by the military, and poor governance, the country is living a unique window of opportunity, with democratic and committed authorities that show real willingness to lead the country towards more stability and development.

However, one should stay cautious, since the small country has all the ingredients to become a focus of destabilization in the region: widely entrenched organized crime linked to cocaine traffic, weak state institutions, potential ethnic conflict, et cetera.

The European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) and the African Union have been playing an active role in the stabilization process of Guinea Bissau.

International efforts trying to consolidate stability

In this respect, the International Conference for Guinea-Bissau was organized by the EU and UNDP at the request of Guinea-Bissau’s Prime Minister, aiming to support the consolidation of democracy and stabilization of a country that has had more than its fair share of coups d’état. This conference therefore came at a crucial moment to consolidate the fragile democracy and seize the chance to start a process of sustainable and inclusive development.

The conference, with the slogan “Terra Ranka” (or “fresh start”, in the main local language) marked the return of the country to the international scene, and the resumption of the international community’s support for Guinea-Bissau.

According to the EEAS’ Newsletter of EU-African Affairs, the Conference brought together 330 participants, 82 delegations, including 47 countries (several represented at ministerial level), pledging an amount of € 1.3 billion. The outcome is a big boost for stabilization in a country that is still very fragile, and located in an equally fragile region.

For a country that is so far from the headlines, there was an incredible sense of the international community rallying around the country and wanting to support it in this window of opportunity. The outcome of the conference was perceived as very satisfactory by all parties – though a lot of hard work lies ahead to kick off real development, strengthen the rule of law, and bring about real reconciliation.

The positive developments may not just enhance confidence for international business in Guinea-Bissau, but could also mean a very welcome evolution for the region as a whole.

Notorious as being a safe haven for drug traffic, it is estimated that 13% of cocaine trafficked to Europe is transited via Guinea-Bissau. This high level of organized crime has corrosive effects on human security, development and good governance. Feeding on and being fed by underdevelopment and state weaknesses and heightening fragility have been two primary reasons for state failure.

Furthermore, the presence of illicit markets distorts legal economies, hindering trade and diverting resources that could be dedicated to ensuring the access of citizens to education, health and other basic services through corruption, lost tax or customs revenue.

Civilian control over the military is still weak and impunity is still commonplace; the process to reform the army is fraught with pitfalls and there still remains a risk of renewed political turbulence. Government capacity will have to be built, but with a raising aid inflow, positive tendencies might enable this much needed capacity development and a consolidation of the domestic stability.

Hope for the future

Some modest signs have already been proving the enhanced confidence in the country. On the 22nd of April a delegation of potential Gambian investors met with Guinea Bissau’s minister of Commerce Antonio Serifo Embalo at San Domingo, where the two parties discussed investment opportunities in the country.

Embalo confirmed the country’s readiness to share any information regarding economic opportunities. He equally reached out to other potentially interested investors to make field studies and visits to Bissau so as to have first-hand information about the business environment and opportunities.

Secondly, on the 29th of April, the World Bank approved support for a regional transmission network to enable electricity trade among Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal.  The $200 million credit will finance the construction of transmission lines to connect the electrical networks and ground wires equipped with fibre optic cables to improve public communications.

This will “bring new communication tools to households, businesses, and institutions throughout the region, helping to boost job opportunities, reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for millions of people in West Africa”, according to Chris Trimble, Project Co-Task Team Leader.

Last but not least, the EU and GB have signed a new three year fisheries agreement, which will allow up to 40 EU vessels to operate in Guinea-Bissau’s waters in return for compensation of €9.2 million a year.

These steps of increased engagement with Guinea-Bissau prove that the commitments of the international community, together with the efforts of the newly elected and genuinely committed government might trigger decisive steps towards stabilization of the country.

With the ongoing efforts in the security sector, coupled with sustainable political stability and the return to the international scene, Guinea-Bissau has a unique opportunity to effectively tackle its domestic problems and to attract further FDI. As the whole region might benefit from a more stable Guinea-Bissau, West-Africa might become a more attractive place to go to in the future.


About Author

Nick De Vlaminck

Nick De Vlaminck has worked for the Belgian Embassy to Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and the Gambia, as well as for the European External Action Service where he worked in the Horn of Africa, East and Southern Africa, Indian Ocean Directorate. He holds a Master’s Degree in European Union Studies from Ghent University and an Advanced Master’s degree in Diplomacy & International Relations from the University of Antwerp, and has spent semesters abroad at the Marmara University in Turkey and the University of Coimbra in Portugal. Nick is proficient in Dutch, English, French and Portuguese.