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Guinea-Bissau: Citizen Frustration and Defiance in Face of Turmoil

On October 21, a violent incident occurred at an airbase outside Bissau, the capital of the small west African nation of Guinea-Bissau. Six people were reported killed, and gruesome images of bodies of accused assailants circulated on the internet.

The day after two politicians critical of the country's transitional government and military were kidnapped and beaten. (The transitional government came to power after a military coup d'etat earlier this year.)

The violence took place against a backdrop of simmering doubts about the transition negotiated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). (For background – see the International Crisis Group's August briefing “Beyond Turf Wars”).

The transitional government was quick to blame the incident – which it deemed a coup attempt – on an ex-military official Pansau N'Tchama and interference by Portugal. This photo supposedly of his arrest, in which he is draped in the Portuguese flag and restrained by a rope around his neck, was shared by those administrating the page of the Simão Mendes National Hospital. N'Tchama's humiliating transfer to Bissau, after arrest in the Bijagós islands, was captured on video by

The situation the ground is difficult to make sense of, especially for North American mainstream media, which have used the moment to rehash the narcostate narrative about Guinea-Bissau.

Frustration and defiance

While the international institutions – the AU (African Union), the UN and ECOWAS, express “concern” and conduct meetings, the people of Guinea-Bissau have little outlet for their fears and frustrations.

Fernando Casimiro, on his website Didinho, argued that

"Symbolic burning of arms following Guinea-Bissau's civil war: Reform of the country's military remains vital for achieving political stability." UN Photo / Tim McKulka shared on Flickr by Africa Renewal (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Symbolic burning of arms following Guinea-Bissau's civil war: Reform of the country's military remains vital for achieving political stability.”
UN Photo / Tim McKulka shared on Flickr by Africa Renewal (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

No caso da Guiné-Bissau, se não houvesse, ou se não houver Forças Armadas, haverá sempre outras “FORÇAS”, que estarão sempre armadas, com ou sem uniforme, ao serviço de quem se julga legitimado pelo poder. Não, a democracia na Guiné-Bissau, ainda não está preparada suficientemente, para “dispensar” quer seja o serviço das Forças Armadas Republicanas, quer de outras “FORÇAS” armadas que representam a salvaguarda dos interesses e do poder que políticos e governantes julgam pertencer-lhes pela legitimação através do voto popular.

In the case of Guinea Bissau, even if there weren't Armed Forces, there will always be other “FORCES”, who will always be armed, with or without uniform, serving whoever believes to be legitimized by power. No, democracy in Guinea Bissau is not yet sufficiently prepared to let go of either the service of the Republican Armed Forces or other armed “FORCES” who represent the protection of  interests, and power that politicians and governors believe belongs to them, legitimized through popular vote.

It seems no coincidence Guineans online have been sharing a song “Nkana Medi” ([We Are] Not Afraid) by Masta Tito, a Guinean rapper [Pt] who has been outspoken in his demand for reform of the military. An article [pt] by sociologist Miguel Barros on Buala translates part of the lyrics:

No ka na medi (…) / no karmusa no kansa / gosi i pa kada kin mara si kalsa / anós tudu i guiniensi / (…) bo gosta ó bo ka gosta n ka na para kanta pa nha povu [Nós não temos medo / Cansámo-nos de nos pavonear / Agora que cada um amarre as calças / Somos todos guineenses / (…) [Gostem] ou não [gostem], não vou parar de cantar para o meu povo] (Masta Tito, Nka Na Medi, registo sonoro, Bissau, 2012)

We are not afraid / We are tired of ‘fronting’ / Now each of us tightens our belts / We are all guineans / (…) Like it or not, I won't stop singing for my people

In the weeks that followed the bloody assault, blogger and journalist Aly Silva has once again been a key source of information and opinion. The African Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Aly Silva was threatened by military and has gone into hiding, and that Portuguese state media correspondent Fernando Teixeira Gomes was forced to leave the country by official order of the transitional government.

Aly Silva continues to write [pt] defiantly on his blog, which he says has just reached the milestone of 5 million views

Olho e registo tudo. Depois escrevo, na certeza de que alguém me vai ler e comungar dos mesmos sentimentos. O meu blogue, tem sido acessado diariamente por milhares de pessoas. Ficará para a estatística. Teria preferido uma visita por dia, a ter de suportar milhares de pares de olhos tristes e enevoados: estão a matar-nos, estão a destruir as famílias, a tornar as crianças violentas.

I watch and record everything. Afterwards I write, in the certainty that someone will read and share the same feelings. My blog has been visited daily by thousands of people. That's just stats. I would prefer having one visit a day, than having to deal with thousands of sad and cloudy eyes: they are killing us, they are destroying our families, [they are] turning children violent.

On his blog “Ditadura do Consenso”, Aly Silva also published a guest post by a man who asks for anonymity [pt] out of fear – a sort of “Oscars” for best performances by politicians and military, a darkly comic analysis of the situation.

Domadora de Camalões blogger Helena Ferro de Gouveia wrote in her post “Blood spilled (again) on the streets of Bissau” [pt] [caution: shocking images]

Os guineenses são pessoas e não uma abstração, ou uns “gajos habituados à violência”, num país tropical. Os guineenses merecem qualquer coisa chamada dignidade. Correndo o risco de me repetir: o mundo devia vir com uma errata.

Guineans are people and not an abstraction, or “guys used to violence”, in a tropical country. The Guineans deserve whatever that thing called dignity is. Running the risk of repeating myself: the world should come with errata.

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