After going through the initial process of laying out the objectives and structuring the project, we set out to collect and analyse the most relevant sources. Our primary aim has been to investigate the relationship between macro- and micro-level power structures on one hand and the events leading to conflict on the other. The point of departure for our approach was to provide each of us with a holistic understanding of both the country and the conflict. Subsequently each of us was assigned a specific set of sources with different perspectives on patrimonialism, ethnicity and geopolitics. These were firstly pooled together and collectively assessed, secondly streamlined for purposes of our argument, thirdly put down on paper, and finally jointly structured and reassessed.
Our report starts with a macro-scale account of the events surrounding the 1998-1999 civil war in
This bilateral illegal trade can be seen as the most visible trigger of the war that started in June 1998, since the responsibility of the surreptitious supply of arms to the Casamance rebels was vehemently inculcated by the president on the chief of armed forces, Ansumane Mané. The latter reacted against this dubious accusation and was able to mobilize vast sections of a chronically underpaid army. Vieira had successfully tried to show that he was opposed to the MFDC, and was therefore supported by
The ending of the conflict in April 1999 also had a regional dimension to it, as the Community of Portuguese-speaking countries (CPLP) took the initiative to try and moderate a resolution of the conflict. Further negotiations were done under the auspices of both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as the CPLP. A truce was developed into a ceasefire, and foreign troops were allowed to enter the country in order to supervise the ceasefire. However, when negotiations for a peace agreement started, the rebels demanded that all foreign troops had to be withdrawn, and the government wanted a buffer zone to be established by
The peace agreement is still holding, and the country has managed not to relapse into conflict. However, the situation is still very unstable, both internally and externally, with renewed tensions within the region. In 2000 border disputes broke out between
Guinea-Bissau in West Africa – its place in a region of intra-state instabilities
According to Galtung (1964:2), peace can be conceived of in two different ways, either as negative or as positive. The former differs from the latter in that negative simply implies an absence of war and violence, whereas positive peace involves a sustained integration of states and peoples. Considering this, the sets of inter-state relations in post-independence
Although this view is open for debate, the fact remains that the economic cooperation remains very low at the official level while informal international trade and migration thrive in ever closer ties across the borders. These close ties, and above all their informality, contribute to the diffusion of internal conflicts into neighbouring regions and bordering states. Transboundary fluxes of refugees, arms, diamonds and mercenaries are consequences of conflict but can also exacerbate underlying tensions. As a result, even though there have not been any open inter-state wars, cross-border conflicts have occurred, Guinea-Bissau being no exception. The fact that the integration is mainly at the informal, instead of at the official level has prevented the region from presenting a set of inter-state relations of positive peace (Kacowics 1997; McGowan 2006:247).
The international community is slowly realizing the importance of the region for both regional as well as global stability, and several external actors have been increasingly involved in the area. The UN, ECOWAS,
When considering the region as a whole however, it becomes clear that the relation of the international community towards Guinea-Bissau has been low-profile and somewhat limited if one compares it to the attention Liberia and Sierra Leone have drawn (Ostheimer 2001). Similarly, the country has received comparatively little attention in academia, which is not easily justified. The fact that Guinea-Bissau is highly dependent on foreign aid greatly influences the country’s foreign policy (UI 2004:14), which is something the international community could, and maybe should, make use of in its relations with the country and the region as a whole if it wants to promote peace and stability. The African Union, for example, who has an official policy of rejecting military coups and military rule, can be an important actor to achieve this, as aid can be withheld from coup-ridden countries (Africa Research Bulletin 2006:16731; McGowan 2006:242).
The mechanisms driving the political processes in
Considering the macro-political levels, the image emerges of a receded state, an entity which relies on the support of external actors while remaining disconnected from its local constituencies. At the international level, in both the economic and the political sphere, the state is heavily dependent on external support in terms of foreign aid and military support from allied states. At the same time, at the domestic level, there is a clear disconnection between the state and society. In the economic sphere, this division manifests itself in the separation between the formal and the informal economies, with the latter playing a major role. Highly distrustful of state institutions, many citizens avoid taking part in the formal economy and paying taxes, believing that this will only benefit political elites and not help developing their local societies. Finally, the state’s possibilities of politically influencing local communities become severely limited. Instead, in what is referred to as the “localisation of rural politics” (Forrest 2001:245) community-based traditional decision-making structures end up playing a predominant role in rural societies whereas official administration is largely marginalised.
The third level of analysis comprises mainly structures and processes taking place between individuals, factions and social networks within both the government and state institutions as well as other parts of society. The main image at this level is that of a system of patrimonialism, a concept alluding to the structure of networks based on personal connections through which resources, political support and loyalty are distributed (Vigh and Whyte 2003:111).
There are mechanisms at work linking the macro-level and the micro-level political processes together, as well as linking these to the actual events leading up to the civil war. On the one hand, a dependency on external actors combined with a duality between centre and periphery allows for the state to be unaccountable to its local constituencies. Forces driving for accountability become weaker in a trend towards a polarization between centres and peripheries (Moore 1998). Political elites may take advantage of their positions and the financial endowments they entail to build networks of personal relationships based on the distribution of resources in return for support and loyalty. Subsequently, as these networks extend, they can be used to further the interests of the patron by engaging them in factional conflicts with other patrons and other networks. On the other hand, there is the possibility of the inverted causality, in that the resources distributed through patrimonial networks are diverted from state resources, thus further weakening state capacity. A highly corrupt state may also instigate distrust in civil society actors, thereby making them avoid interaction with state institutions.
The result is a tendency towards individualized soap opera politics that is in fact underpinned by the possibility of activation of hierarchical and obedient informal structures and a consequent propensity towards conflict. On the surface, the conflict might have erupted as a direct consequence of the declining personal relationship between Mané and Vieira but the dependence on external support, the separation from the local communities and the patrimonial nature of inter-government relations were essential preconditions. Indeed, a vulnerable socio-political system, in which the personalisation of politics and factional conflict were prominent, allowed for a personal conflict between two individuals to escalate into a full-blown civil war.
In essence, patrimonialism welcomes individualistic personal relationships and factions to be vehicles for the transfer and accumulation of decision-making power. It does so at the same time that it lends importance to factionalist struggles and zero-sum tensions because the fate of each individual patron necessarily inflicts consequences for the larger factions and clientelist networks dependent on them. When the state is separated from its local constituencies and the main source of support and legitimacy of the government is external rather than internal, government actors are not restrained by internal constituencies, and they can indulge themselves in factionalist struggles. This mechanism contrasts with situations in which the linkages between state and society are strong. In these cases the state cannot allow itself to disregard the interests of its constituencies, but is instead compelled to having some degree of accountability.
As we have seen, during the conflict the government of Guinea-Bissau received significant support from other regional states. This factor was critical to Vieira in order for him to remain in office, and thus indicates the importance of external support on behalf of the government. It can also be elucidating to look at external dependence in the economic sphere in terms of the role of aid dependency. A look at the 1990s shows a Guinea-Bissau that is increasingly dependent on foreign aid, with coinciding increased levels of corruption, a typical characteristic of direct fiscal support and aid dependency. Moreover, Guinea-Bissau also had problems serving its debt to the IMF, causing the latter to halt payments to the country during 1990-1994. Aid dependency persisted now in the form of bilateral loans.
All in all, the government’s economic policies generated an increasing division between the state and the people. Most state employees and state-connected traders benefited from the liberalization of the 1990s and from the external funding while the ordinary people in the hinterland were left with their very own parallel relations in the informal market (Forrest 2002:244).
The government has historically been very weak, and this was further exacerbated by the civil war (World Bank 2005:7). Meanwhile, the domestic socio-political situation in Guinea Bissau is marked on the one hand by a weak state with underdeveloped bureaucratic institutions and by fairly strong and autonomous local-level decisionmaking structures on the other. Forrest (2002:238) refers to this process of strengthening local authority at the expense of the government as “localisation”. Localisation is largely a legacy of processes taking place during colonialism and the anti-colonial struggles in which traditional political structures found support in rural communities in opposition to the colonial rule (Forrest 2002:245).
After independence, the government tried to establish a system of community-level administration called village commitees, comités de tabanca. This move however, did not make a sufficient effort to consolidate national administration to improve the linkages between central authorities and civil society. Instead, focus was on factionalised political disputes within government. The result was that local communities retained a high degree of autonomy in a setting where they were more interested in local control than in national level politics, a consequence of different tendencies at play at both the level of local communities and of the central authority. The population itself wanted to pursue political autonomy, which they did not have at the national level. At the same time, the central government did not have the infrastructural resources to keep local bureaucratic control (Forrest 2002:246).
Traditional kingships, which had initially been outlawed after independence, re-emerged as effective decision-making bodies, as the marginalization of official institutions made it impossible for the authorities to wield any actual power in rural areas. The response was an attempt to re-legalize the traditional power structures in order to include them into formal, national administration. But in practice they remained local-level autonomous political actors independent of the state. The result is a situation in which the government enjoys low levels of trust concerning its ability to address issues relevant to the rural population of the country. By contrast, traditional authorities are widely trusted, particularly in rural areas, despite their lack of financial means (Forrest 2002:249; Forrest 2003:221; World Bank 2005:19; 44; World bank 2006:14).
This separation between official authorities and the population is also visible in the economic realm. As in many African countries, the informal economy and its markets are highly important to producers, traders and consumers while official markets are often widely distrusted. In
The weakness of the government and state institutions at the macro-political level is closely related to the diffusion of patrimonial structures at the micro-political level. As noted, the main function of patrimonial networks is the distribution of political support and loyalty on behalf of the client and the distribution of resources on behalf of the patron through a network of personal relationships (Vigh and Whyte 2003:111). In a situation where the most important economic sector is the informal one, combined with the fragility of the central administration and its disconnection from the larger parts of society, patrimonial structures thrive. When the local constituencies are the main source of resources and legitimacy of the government, they will inevitably influence the actions of the government. However, when the government does not rely on local constituencies for support, it is easier to revert to patrimonialism and factionalism to build a support base.
Within the state, these personal power networks are more influential in de facto distribution of political power than the formal bureaucratic institutions. The consequence is that certain individuals, top-level patrons of patronage networks, and their factions achieve dominant positions in politics based on their ability to gather informal support (Forrest 2002:239; 249). In such a situation of factionalisation of politics combined with a lack of accountability and state dependence on external financial support, centripetal forces concentrate power competition in the government since it constitutes the primary locus for financial resources. When the state controls the resources, there are significant incentives to control the central state positions at any cost (World Bank 2006:9).
A legitimate political system based on effective bureaucracy and institutions is in this way undermined by factionalist struggles for control over state resources and central positions. The aforementioned localisation of rural politics exacerbates this process by further reducing the legitimacy and restraining the influence of central government, making it more externally dependent and less accountable (Forrest 2002:249).
An important point which has great relevance for the Guinean civil war is the fact that such a system implies an inherent instability. In patrimonial networks, resources flow downwards from a few top-of-the-pyramid patrons, on whom the rest of the networks are dependent. If these persons lose their resource bases or positions of power, large amounts of people are negatively and dramatically affected at once. The result is a situation of perpetuated structural insecurity and unpredictability (Vigh and Whyte 2003:148).
In the case of
In a two-sided process of weakening of the state vis-à-vis society and growing factionalism, Vieira was faced with the need to deal with ever increasing perceived threats to his rule. Engaging in micro-level factional disputes with other leaders became the strategy to clinging on to power and keeping his opponents from overthrowing him. However, this strategy eventually backlashed as he tried to oust his old companion Mané from his position as leader of the armed forces (Forrest 2003:221-222).
4.1 The presence of ethnicity in the micro-politics of
Ethnicity has for a long time been a “hot topic” for researchers in the conflict studies when looking at causes of conflict, particularly in sub-Saharan
In terms of ethnicity and religion the first main visible rift is between the Muslim community and those practicing traditional religions. Muslims are mainly Fulani and Mandinga, with strong levels of hierarchization and with highly influential religious leaders. Balante are the most numerous and are organized in more egalitarian ways among themselves. After the coup of 1986 there were growing ethnic tensions, particularly on behalf of some Balante war veterans that felt discriminated. All groups were nevertheless represented among the soldiers who participated in the build up to the civil war with the Balante having an edge (UI 2004:4).
By adopting a constructivist approach to ethnicity, instead of a primordialist one (Eriksen 2002:54), we will look at ethnicity as a fluid social construction. In the case of
The civil war in
So here we are, before a country with only 1.5 million people, comprised of more than 20 ethnic groups, none of them with an obvious prominence over the others. It appears that the ethnic networks of patrimonialism during the war did not assume an explicit role, they were actually activated underneath the surface even if not very successfully. Overall, the conflict was not a conflict about identity, not a conflict where Guineans fought for who they were, but a conflict where Guineans fought for who should rule them. Who they were had been well defined long ago during the anti-colonial struggle and the fluidities of local comités de tabanca. The people of
If one looks at the smaller print of the story of the conflict there were a few instances where the ethnicity played a small role in the events and in the strategies of the factions. An example was late in the war, when the conflict was re-ignited by Mané even after the peace deal. Mané justly claimed that Vieira was so desperate as to recur to “recruiting young militia members from the Papel and Bijagos groups” (Ostheimer 2001). Realizing that the military and the majority of the population was taking sides with Mané, Vieira decided to look into his personal ethnic networks for help. The recruitment of Papel-composed government militias followed, albeit not in an overtly full-on ethnicized way as was the case with other factions in other conflicts in the region. Ethnicity, as Vigh and Whyte (2003:54) see it, was an “underlying factor in a consecutive line of conflicts”. The easy explanation of ethnic affiliation to Vieira’s recruitment of the Papel must however be considered in relation with the geographical aspect. Indeed, the frontline of the conflict cut across the heartland of the Papels, a reality that was strategically used by Vieira to argue that the Mané-led junta had ethno-political motives. Vieira thus played the ethnicity card by recruiting Papel militias, to whom the military junta’s shelling posed a very real threat, a threat that could easily be perceived as ethnically motivated aggression. Looking at the micro-strategy of the conflict there was therefore a use of a “narrative of ethnically motivated victimization” (Vigh and Whyte 2003:125) which did not however blow out of proportion as it did in
Another example of underlying ethnic tensions during the conflict was, as we previously saw, the MFDC, with its historical and ethnic ties to Guinea-Bissau causing tensions between the two countries. Senegal has accused Guinea-Bissau of allowing the movement to operate from their territory while supporting Vieira’s government during the civil war, something that proved unpopular among many Guineans, and adding to fears that the conflict could spread to a regional level (UI 2004:15). Recently, the rebels have been expelled back to Casamance territory but an unresolved conflict such as this can reignite the whole region rather quickly. Also, there is the possibility that Guinea-Bissau’s fragile democratic system can be challenged from within, with some actors using “the MFDC’s military strength to pursue their own political agendas” (Ostheimer 2001).
In conclusion, looking back at the conflict, the tensions were inherent in Guinea-Bissau’s society since independence, particularly from the transition to neo-liberalist capitalism in the 90s. Factionalist struggles which were not evidently related to ethnicity were present. Ethnicity was more often a means of communication and interaction used to build social networks than a primary source of hostilities that fractionalized and exacerbated the conflict. Ethnicity never remained overtly institutionalised or stable, but insistently underlying the “constantly changing political configurations” (Vigh and Whyte 2003:44).
Twenty years of a one-party system has taken its toll in the politics of the country and the ties of ethnicity are essentially ties of subsistence, the patronage of the need. Nino, himself a member of a minority group, has cunningly managed the politics of ethnicity, first by expelling the privileged minority of
This reality somewhat changed with the coming of multi-partyism in
The situation today is one of great influence by the Balante group, with a visible majority in office and state positions together with a constant preoccupation by those holding power to keep ethnic groups content. Under the rule of Kumba Yalá, for example, Balante were offered the most high-ranking positions (UI 2004:4) but a complex game of ethnic balancing was constantly played. This game extends to the present, resulting in an interethnic balance of power that keeps changing with government instabilities but that is always particularly sensitive to any religious imbalances within the system. The Muslim community especially is always well sought after. Ethnic grievances as a whole have been successfully kept on the low key. Ethnicity is the factor that is perceived by most people as having the least influence on economic inequality, compared to religion, age, gender and geographic location (World Bank 2006:30). The religious factor, also constituting ethnicity, cuts across the different groups but also tends to privilege connections between some of them. How the inter-religious relations are dealt with remains nonetheless a very important issue to take into account for the future.
In terms of migration,
As in other countries, including neighbouring
After looking back at the steps taken along our argument, what previously appeared like disgruntled and disconnected dimensions in the narrative of Guinea-Bissau’s conflict, begin to intersect each other in drawing a complex interrelated system of dynamic actors and forces. Moving beyond the soap opera picture of two former friends falling out because of struggles for power and resources, a complex reality involving interrelating actors and structures on several levels unfolds.
Being a small country dependent on external aid, in both economical and political terms,
The dependence on external actors has had serious repercussions in the internal situation, as democracy has been undermined by a lack of need to be accountable to the population following the high importance of foreign aid and the low importance of taxes paid by the public. Hence, the importance of traditional structures of locality-based rural politics have become more salient, underscoring the dichotomy of central and peripheral political actors.
It could quickly be assumed that these power divisions would follow ethnic lines, as has been the case in several other African countries. However, this is not evidently the case in
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