Just over a year after Guinea-Bissau’s president was assassinated by the country’s military, army officers attempted another coup on April 1. Led by General Antonio Indjai, the Deputy Chief of General Staff, a small group of officers arrested the prime minister and held the chief of staff hostage. As well, the suspected leader of a previous coup, Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, left the UN headquarters in Bissau, where he had been hiding since December 29, 2009 after returning from exile in the Gambia. Despite ongoing negotiations facilitated by the UN about Tchuto’s legal standing in Guinea-Bissau, he was seen by crowds in the capital with General Indjai.
While the event was largely downplayed by General Indjai and Guinea-Bissau’s president, the attempted coup raises questions about whether sufficient progress is being made to reform the security sector and to strengthen civilian control over the military.
Although an agreement has been reached to create the “Guarda Nacional,” a security force with military status and police functions, and a legal framework for the military has been drafted, the repeated coups and general political instability suggest that progress to date has been inadequate. Moreover, the EU Mission in Support of SSR in Guinea-Bissau is scheduled to end in May and the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Guinea-Bissau recently suggested that drug trafficking and organized crime continue to impede progress.
While some of the recent achievements in Guinea-Bissau are cause for optimism, what has yet to change is the military’s attitude toward the country’s elected civilian leaders.