Democracy and rights
The democratic system in Guinea-Bissau has major shortcomings. Abbreviated as GNB by Abbreviationfinder, Guinea-Bissau has been shaken by several coups, the most recent in 2012. But although several general elections have been held since then, political life has periodically stalled because of a power struggle between the president and large parts of his own party. Corruption is a major problem, compounded by the drug smuggling that goes through Guinea-Bissau. Legal security has major shortcomings.
José Mário Vaz was elected by a clear majority to the country’s president in the 2014 elections. At the same time, his party gained PAIGC’s own majority in the National Assembly. But soon enough, the policy was crippled by a conflict between various factions of the ruling party, one of which accused the government – and the then Prime Minister Domingos Simões Pereira of irregularities. Others described it as a power struggle where Vaz ended up on a collision course with those who, led by Simões Pereira, wanted to modernize the party (see further Current Policy). The situation is complicated by the fact that the Constitution does not clearly state what powers the President and the Prime Minister should have. The UN Security Council and the West African cooperation organization Ecowas have pressed for the parties to resolve the political (see Calendar). The parliamentary elections in spring 2019 did not solve any problems, even though PAIGC, together with several smaller parties, gained a majority in the national assembly. The tensions between the two blocs in Parliament remain strong.
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Vaz’s term expired in June 2019, but he was allowed to remain as acting president until the next presidential election to be held in November of that year.
Ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections, it was noted that two parties, PRS and Madem-G15, could spend large sums on the electoral movement, but it was unclear where the money was coming from. However, the election was conducted in relatively calm forms and just as in the 2014 elections, turnout was high, almost 85 percent.
In connection with previous elections, there have been reports of voting and harassment and threats directed at election workers and political candidates. In 2009, the then President and former dictator João Bernardo Vieira was murdered (see Modern History). Since 2014, the military has stayed out of politics.
In principle, people can openly discuss political issues, but there are examples of public figures being threatened with prosecution for statements they have made.
Although men and women should formally have the same rights, this does not seem so in practice (see Social conditions).
More women (51 percent) than men voted in the 2019 parliamentary elections, but only 13 women were elected to the National Assembly, despite the fact that the law now states that at least 36 percent of the members must be women. In the government that took office in the summer of 2019, half of the 16 ministers were women.
The authorities have, on several occasions, in recent years intervened in protest against the protracted political conflict. In the first half of 2019, 16 protesters were arrested in connection with protest actions, but they were released following intervention by the UN intervention in the country (Uniogbis). It is also common for public servants of Guineans to strike and demonstrate against poor working conditions and against having not received their wages on time.
There is a national human rights organization, the League for Human Rights (Liga Guineense dos Direitos Humanos), which has helped, among other things, to train the police and the military in human rights.
Voluntary organizations can largely operate freely.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of the press and expression is guaranteed in the Constitution. The state gave up its monopoly over the mass media in 1991, but the authorities have continued to interfere in their work. In connection with the coup 2012, there were threats and harassment against journalists, the content of the media was censored by the military and all radio and TV channels except the state Radio Nacional were forced to close for a period.
After the 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections, conditions for the media improved. However, defamation laws and prohibitions to reveal “state secrets” still set clear limits to what may be said. In 2014, an editor at Donos de Bola was sentenced to conditional sentence on 14 months slander by President Vaz.
It is common for journalists to avoid reporting combustible substances. It has been particularly sensitive to report on Latin American drug cartels smuggling drugs via the country (see below and Current Policy) and their domestic partners, not least in the military.
In the politically tense situation that emerged in 2015, some media raised the tone, with strongly partisan political speeches, which, according to the UN, helped to heighten tensions . Both 2017 and 2019 employees at the state-run TV company TGB strike to protest against political control of their reporting . President Vaz stressed in 2018 how important it is that the country has free media.
In Reporters Without Borders rankings for 2019, Guinea ranked 89th out of 180 countries, which was the country’s worst ranking since 2013.
The work of both the newspapers and the e-media is hampered by a lack of money. Since so few can read and write, most receive their news via the radio. Alongside Radio Nacional there are several private stations.
There are a few magazines with fairly regular publishing. The newspapers have small editions. It can be difficult to get them printed as the state printing office does not always have money to pay the staff and there is often a shortage of newsprint. The first online magazine was started in 2005.
There are no formal restrictions on the Internet, but access to the Internet is limited. By the end of 2018, there were around 120,000 Internet users nationwide. But fewer than one in ten residents are active in social media. Most of them use Facebook. There is no indication that the authorities are monitoring what is being written online.
There are no laws guaranteeing that the public can access public documents.
In 2007, the UN agency warned that Guinea-Bissau had become a transit country for the smuggling of drugs between Latin America and Europe, and it was feared that drug cartels gained a foothold in the military and political elite as well (see also Modern History). After several high-level arrests, the problems seemed to diminish, although some critics claimed the arrests were for political reasons. In 2019, however, two cocaine seizures totaling 2.6 tonnes were made, which raised questions about the drug cartels still having a strong hold in the country (see Calendar). Domingos Simões Pereira (see above) accused the government of closing the drug traffic in 2018, and that President Vaz had contacts with the drug smugglers. When Vaz dismissed Simões Pereira in 2015, he accused him of corruption.
There are also fears that foreign militant Islamist groups are involved in the drug trade, and that they have tried to recruit members of Guinea-Bissau.
In general, corruption is a major problem. The country’s anti-corruption legislation has major shortcomings and it is common that the laws that are still in force in this area are not followed. Representatives of the government, for example – are required by law to report their assets, but have not yet done so.
In 2019, Guinea-Bissau ranked 168th out of 180 countries on the Transparency International’s index of corruption in the countries of the world. Four places better than the year before.
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary is formally independent, but the political authorities often interfere in the work of the courts. The courts are suffering from staff shortages and it is common for legal processes to extend over time, sometimes for several years. This has contributed to the population not having much confidence in the judiciary. There are both civil and military courts. In the countryside, there is also traditional justice.
Only a few cases reach the courts and few of them lead to convictions. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the president’s decision to appoint Baciro Djá as new head of government violated the constitution. It was the first time the Court has annulled a decision made by the President (see Calendar).
The country’s only prison was destroyed during the civil war. After that, detainees were detained during military missions, often under difficult conditions. The situation improved after 2003 and two new prisons were put into operation in 2011.
The death penalty was abolished in 1999.
In 2018, there were about 3,500 police officers in the country, most of whom lacked adequate training for the work. Arbitrary arrests, torture and mistreatment of prisoners are a problem, but few have been convicted of the abuses. This also applies to the political murders that shook the country in 2009, when, among others, President João Bernardo Vieira was assassinated. Nor have any attempts been made to investigate the human rights violations committed during the 1998-1999 civil war or in connection with subsequent military coups. Also, no trial has been initiated against the soldiers who were accused of trying to murder General Biague Na N’Tam 2017 (see Calendar).
More parties to new government
The new government consists of representatives of the Social Renewal Party (PRS), the United Social Democratic Party (PUSD), former members of PAIGC as well as some smaller parties and independent members.
New President assumes office
João Bernardo Vieira takes over as president on October 1, 2005. He promises to work for national unity and reform the army. Early on, it is clear that the collaboration between Vieira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, from PAIGC, is not working. On October 28, Vieira dismisses the government. A few days later, via decree Aristides Gomes, who had been excluded from PAIGC in May of that year, he appointed new prime minister.