African Powers Turn Attention to Guinea-Bissau
August 30, 2011 | 1202 GMT
Guinea-Bissau has received considerable international attention recently, particularly from the governments of South Africa, Angola and Nigeria. This notable amount of attention for the largely politically insignificant country has largely come in the form of security cooperation, as the three African powers attempt to combat militant elements and drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau. Each country has its own reasons for pouring resources into Guinea-Bissau, however, and the three will both cooperate and compete with one another as their attention increases.
South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe began Aug. 30 a two-day official visit to Guinea-Bissau. Molanthe, hosted by Bissau Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., will discuss security- and defense-sector reform during his trip, as well as efforts to combat drug trafficking. He is accompanied by South African State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Deputy Minister of International Relations Marius Fransman, Deputy Minister of Defense and Military Veterans Thabang Makwetla and Deputy Minister of Health Gwen Ramokgopa.
The visit is one of several examples of the considerable attention Guinea-Bissau has been receiving recently from the dominant African powers. Angola and Nigeria both have reached out to the country over security, and international organizations such as the United Nations and European Union are providing support to the Bissau government to combat drug trafficking and other illicit trafficking and money moving. Such attention is notable for Guinea-Bissau. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa, with few resources and no political influence (other than as a result of its “narco-state” vulnerabilities, or predations) beyond its borders. While combating drug trafficking is a legitimate international concern, the positioning of security forces — and militant threats — in Guinea-Bissau is compelling the governments of Angola, South Africa and Nigeria to mobilize significant attention and resources there.
Angola launched the Angolan Security Mission in Guinea-Bissau on March 21 to provide military assistance to the country. STRATFOR sources say Angola has approximately 140 commandos stationed in Guinea-Bissau’s capital, Bissau, at the Bissau Palace Hotel, which Angola bought and refurbished. Angola also has provided $30 million for security-sector reform for the country. Luanda’s stated reason for its military assistance is the countries’ shared Portuguese colonial background, but the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) also wants to monitor elements of anti-MPLA militants possibly being harbored in Guinea-Bissau. Moreover, STRATFOR sources say MPLA officials use Guinea-Bissau as a hub to launder money diverted from Angolan government coffers, as well as a base to project influence into the broader Gulf of Guinea region.
South Africa is interested in both a security relationship and a resource-development relationship with Guinea-Bissau. While Guinea-Bissau has few resources, they are largely untapped, and Pretoria thus could see to the development of Guinea-Bissau’s oil, bauxite, phosphate, gold, uranium, nickel and others, as well as in Bissau’s agriculture sector. The South African government is liaising with Angola in the security field, as the two are involved in Guinea-Bissau’s security sector reform initiatives, though each is there under bilateral accords with Guinea-Bissau, not as a result of any international agreement. This cooperation is likely a way for Pretoria to keep an eye on its rival.
Nigeria also has reached out to Guinea-Bissau on security; at an Aug. 19 meeting with Bissau Foreign Minister Adelino Mano Queta, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said security and defense reform in the small west African nation will be a top agenda item when Nigeria hosts the Economic Community of West African States summit in September. Of the three powers interested in Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria is geographically closest, viewing it as part of its West African sphere of influence. Nigeria has been involved in Guinea-Bissau’s security sector reform initiatives in the past and will reinforce its assistance at the very least to monitor the activities of its African rivals, South Africa and Angola.
The Bissau government is chronically weak — the past few days have seen a massive reshuffling, with nine top ministers fired from their posts. A long history of political coups and assassinations has left a military both powerful and corrupt. This makes the country vulnerable to foreign manipulation, both by the several foreign governments interested in the country or by networks such as Latin American drug cartels, though it has yet to fall under the influence of any single outside power. This includes Western governments; the United States and France cooperate extensively in neighboring Guinea, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, the United States is the dominant force in Liberia and the United Kingdom is a political force in Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau remains largely uncaptured by these interests. With Guinea-Bissau vulnerable to security concerns such as drug traffickers, weapons smuggling and militants, Angola, South Africa, and Nigeria are taking matters in their own hands, and are responding with increasing attention and assistance to counterbalance one another as they cooperate — and compete — in this geopolitical space.
Read more: African Powers Turn Attention to Guinea-Bissau | STRATFOR