Short of patrol ships, planes, radios and even a prison, Guinea-Bissau is in danger of falling under the control of international organized crime gangs trafficking drugs, arms and migrants, security experts and diplomats say.
The government of this tiny, coup-prone West African state, one of the poorest and most unstable in the world, is urgently seeking millions of dollars of foreign aid to modernize its army and police to tackle this security threat.
International donors, who will meet on November 7-8 in Geneva to consider the aid request, want guarantees that the restless armed forces can be reshaped to keep the peace and not destroy it. The military has staged a rash of coups and mutinies and fought a brief civil war since Portugal granted the territory independence in 1974.
“This is such a small and poor country that it can become a center for organized crime. It can be bought,” a foreign diplomat, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Diplomats say recent interceptions of drugs, arms and illegal migrants point to Guinea-Bissau becoming a defenseless target of trans-national crime.
The United Nations, which maintains a peace-building mission in Guinea-Bissau, is supporting the government’s request for financing for a $170 million security reform program. This proposes reducing and modernizing the army, and retraining the police and judiciary.
The crumbling capital Bissau is plagued by almost permanent power outages, most roads become pot-holed quagmires a few dozen kilometers outside the city and civil servants have not been paid for three months.
“Guinea-Bissau wants to be a state of law and order,” Justice Minister Namuano Dias Gomes said Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, the only thing our armed forces know about is waging war … in times of peace,” he added.