1 June 2002 |

Political tensions increase risk of future violence and displacement

[It should be noted that very little information about internal displacement in Guinea-Bissau is currently available. The objective of the present summary is, therefore, to highlight the situation of political tension in Guinea-Bissau and to alert governments, international organizations and individuals to the risks of future violence.]

Although the prevailing instability in Guinea-Bissau following the civil war of 1998 – 1999 improved slightly, the political situation at the end of 2001 remained 'dangerous and volatile' (UN SC, 14 December 2001). While nearly all of the 300,000 to 350,000 persons initially displaced by the conflict in 1998 were thought to have returned to their homes, a string of ongoing political crises in 2001 and early 2002 continued to threaten peace and democracy in the country.

Background and causes of displacement 

Civil war erupted in Guinea-Bissau in June 1998 when armed forces mutinied against the government. The mutiny was sparked by an attempted government witch–hunt of the army general staff for alleged collaboration with Senegalese rebels of the separatist Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). The outbreak of war and the subsequent dispatch of Senegalese and Guinean forces to the nation's capital in support of (then) President Joao Bernardo Vieira led to the internal displacement of over 300,000 civilians (Manley, November 1998).

Intermittent fighting plagued the country for the remainder of 1998, but by early 1999 a relative calm had returned to the capital, Bissau. West African peacekeeping forces (ECOMOG) were deployed to the capital starting in December 1998, and by March 1999 all Senegalese and Guinean troops were withdrawn. The calm in Guinea–Bissau was short–lived however, and another bout of fighting commenced in May 1999. The clashes, lasting for two days, prompted a new exodus from the capital and resulted in the take–over of the government by the Junta Militar.

Following the fighting of May 1999, a fragile calm returned to the country. Presidential elections in January 2000 resulted in the successful transition of the government from military to democratic rule, bringing President Kumba Yala to power. However, more trouble lay ahead. In November 2000, in an episode well-documented by Amnesty International, the government made several hundred arrests following an attempted coup by Brigadier Ansumane Mané, a former leader of the Junta Militar, who was killed by forces loyal to the government later that month (AI, 17 August 2001).

Since that time, the political situation in Guinea-Bissau has remained troubled. The low points of 2001 – as documented by UN IRIN – included President Yala's dismissal, in September, of two Supreme Court judges and their subsequent detention on dubious charges of corruption; in December, an alleged coup attempt by some members of the military, resulting in numerous arrests; and, during the inauguration in December of the country's third prime minister in less than two years, the President's warning that any politician who plotted with the military to overthrow his government would be shot (IRIN, 16 November 2001; IRIN-WA, 7 December 2001; IRIN-WA, 14 December 2001). In March 2002, the UN Secretary-General reported a "slight overall improvement with respect to the political situation and governance, although certain crucial aspects still cause concern". (UN SC, 26 March 2002)

Although security along the border with the Casamance region of Senegal improved somewhat towards the end of 2001, the UN Secretary–General, in his December report to the UN Security Council, stated that occasional incursions into Guinea–Bissau by MFDC rebels had occurred, and that while no major factional fighting had been reported armed attacks against civilians were continuing. He cited the wide circulation of small arms inside the country and the unresolved issue of reintegration of demobilized former combatants as potential security threats (UN SC, 14 December 2001). Three months later, however, the UN Secretary-General reported further improvements in the border security situation. With regards to the small arms problem, the government had decided to establish a national commission to combat the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, with assistance from various international sources (UN SC, 26 March 2002).

Conditions of displacement 

It it has been widely reported that nearly all of the 300,000 to 350,000 persons forced to flee their homes during the war in 1998 have completed their return home – the inference being that at least a residual IDP population has not yet returned. However, no data is readily available for this group.

USCR reported that some 50,000 persons were still internally displaced in Guinea–Bissau at the end of 2000, but that for the most part these IDPS were able to return home over the course of the year (USCR, 19 June 2001). Although there were new displacements in the capital in November 2000 following an outbreak of violence between the government and elements of the military, these skirmishes did not last long and residents returned to their homes shortly thereafter.

The US State Department, in its country report of 2000, also indicates that all areas of Guinea–Bissau were open to returning citizens during the year, and that virtually all of the 350,000 persons internally displaced by the conflict had returned to their homes (US DOS, February 2001). The 2001 report made no further reference to internally displaced persons.

While general information points to the near complete return of IDPs in Guinea–Bissau, there is however no specific data on how these persons are coping in their regions of origin. According to the UN Security Council, over 80 percent of the citizens of Guinea–Bissau live in poverty and few opportunities for employment exist. The abundance of landmines, particularly in areas around the border with Casamance, is another factor that may adversely affect the successful reintegration of IDPs into their original communities.

Humanitarian response 

Information is scant about international aid to IDPs in Guinea–Bissau. In 1999, ICRC and the National Society provided non–food aid to people living in houses damaged during the hostilities. It was estimated that some 18,000 persons were living in 2,500 such homes throughout the capital. The ICRC also delivered messages on behalf of displaced persons and their families (ICRC, 31 August 2000).

In 2001, the African Development Fund (ADF) funded a rehabilitation and poverty reduction project with a US$6.22 million loan and a US$1.05 million grant – with the objective of rehabilitating and facilitating access to basic community infrastructure, increasing the income of the poor and integrating marginalized people and ex-servicemen into production networks. The UN Security Council reported in May 2001 that there were as many as 12,000 former combatants awaiting reintegration into society. By March 2002, a preliminary list of just over 2,700 eligible military personnel had been drawn up under the government's demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration programme. The programme, estimated to cost about US$ 20 million, continues to be supported by a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank (UN SC, 26 March 2002).

With regard to the demining process, ongoing activities have focused on the most heavily populated areas. By 31 May 2001, mine–clearing operations led by HUMAID, an international NGO, had resulted in the destruction of over 2,000 mines. It is estimated that US$2 million would be needed to remove the estimated 5,000 mines remaining in and around the capital. As reported by the UN Secretary–General at the end of 2001, a Centre for Anti-Mine Action, newly-established by the Guinea–Bissau government, estimated that about 20,000 mines still remained in the country. Demining operations are expected to intensify in 2002, once a local non-governmental organization, LUTCAM, with 70 demining staff, starts its activities.

The UN Office in Guinea–Bissau (UNOGBIS) has had a wide–ranging mandate in support of the country's peace–building process, based on promoting and supporting good governance, human rights and economic development (UN SC, 14 December 2001).


Given the close interrelation between the political situations in Guinea-Bissau and Senegal, refer also to the Overview on Internal Displacement in Senegal in this database [link]