Tuesday, March 10, 2009

West African Narco-State: Who’s Fault?

Today the nation of Guinea-Bissau buried its late President – Joao Bernardo Viera. He was killed by members of his armed forces, ostensibly in retaliation for the assassination days earlier of General Tagame Na Waie. At first, it was believed that the deaths were the result of ethnic and political rivalry gone too far. Viera was from the small Papel ethnic group, and Tagame was from the Balanta ethnic group, which has dominated the military in Guinea Bissau. However, it is becoming increasing clear that the drug trade may have played a role in the killing and in a continuing threat to the stability of this West African nation.

Guinea-Bissau, the only West African nation to have successfully fought its way to independence, has become what the United Nations has called Africa’s first “narco-state.” The world’s fifth poorest nation has no prison and few police. Only three years after being targeted by Columbian drug cartels, this small country is awash in drugs. With so few ways to sustain themselves, Guinea-Bissau’s people are vulnerable to the temptations of the drug trade. One man told The Guardian newspaper that a man who used to be his gardener recently offered to sell him 7 kilograms of cocaine.

Even more ominous, Guinea-Bissau’s military totals 4,500, but with an officer force of 3,000. This unsustainable situation is the result of officers refusing to retire to an economy in which they have few if any prospects. Such a military has already shown itself to be vulnerable to corruption, and has been involved in numerous coups and mutinies in the past. When you add the specter of drug money, interim President Raimundo Pereira and his successor must be wary of the “narcotraficantes” in their midst.

But one must ask who is responsible for this tragic situation in Guinea-Bissau. Of course, successive governments have failed to stabilize this country and provide a viable environment for its people. However, the developed world has paid little attention to what some consider a failed state. We have the example of Somalia to demonstrate the danger of ignoring states whose governance collapses. The absence of effective government in Somalia has led to international piracy and the presence of international terrorist cells. Must the situation in Guinea-Bissau reach such a crisis state before the world community pays attention to it?


  1. Will the Sullivan Foundation be addressing the matter of corruption and perhaps how it becomes possible in developing contexts at the 2010 Summit?


  2. Given the US War on Drugs, has there been any initiative to address issues of "narco-countries" outside of Latin America, like Guinea-Bissau?

  3. I just learned that five people working for humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders'were kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur region.

  4. There are some programs to counter the drug trade in Africa, but too much of the African coasts are unpatrolled and too many countries have high levels of poverty and lack of good governance. These conditions are a recipe for corruption and drug trafficking.