Widening trajectories: Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde since independence
Norrie MacQueen

01 | Fevereiro | 2006


Thirty years ago at the time of their independence the leaderships of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, united under the single party banner of the PAIGC, declared their joint political objective to be the unification of both territories. It is an objective which today, considering the vastly different circumstances of each country, seems almost bizarre. While Guinea appears to stagger between political crisis and military interventions on a permanent basis, Cape Verde seems to be extracting itself from the ‘African space’ altogether.

There were of course special reasons for the political relationship between the two territories and the fact that they shared a single liberation movement. Cape Verdeans had to an extent constitutes Guinea’s colonial bourgeoisie and, as throughout Africa, this was the class which when the time arrived provided the leadership of the anti-colonial movement. These circumstances created a unique set of political relationships between Cape Verde and Guinea and within Guinea itself. Ultimately, those relationships were artificial, artefacts of colonial history which in retrospect were never likely to survive the end of the liberation struggle. The myth of impending unification lasted a mere five years after independence before being destroyed by the Vieira coup in Guinea in 1980. But in reality the regimes in both Praia and Bissau had long before accepted that the rhetoric of unification was little more than political sloganeering. It was a fundamentally unrealistic position which was becoming more rather than less feasible as the post-independence experiences of both territories drew them ever further apart from each other.

The ironic truth was that the key unifying factors between the two territories had been their shared colonial status and their accidental geographical proximity. With the first gone, the second ceased to have any real relevance. And even shared experience and physical closeness were not as great as might be assumed. The population of Cape Verde had never been considered to be ‘African’ by the colonial state. The Native Statute had never applied to Cape Verde and Portuguese citizenship had therefore been available to Cape Verdeans long before it was a possibility in the rest of Africa. And, geographically the two territories were far from neighbours other than in the narrow sense of the Portuguese empire, being separated by 650 kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean.

Their post-independence divergence was, on a small scale, a parallel for later developments elsewhere in Portuguese-speaking Africa. The apparently strong political and cultural bonds between Angola and Mozambique also began to loosen as the shared colonial experience became a historical memory rather than an immediate political reality. Even a superficial examination of the respective economic and social conditions of Guinea and Cape Verde (see table below) soon pointed to the fact that one was among the poorest of the poor in global terms while the other approached the frontier between Third and First Worlds. The political conditions of the two countries also diverged dramatically as the challenges of independence mounted. While Guinea suffered years of repressive authoritarianism which finally gave way to violent instability, Cape Verde passed with relative ease through the single-party phase to democratization and pluralist democracy.

Human Development Indicators: Guinea, Cape Verde and Portugal Compared[1]

To attempt better to understand the diverging trajectories of Guinea and Cape Verde over the past thirty years it is helpful to track the process through its key stages. These begin with the final phase of the liberation struggle and the transfers of power from Portugal. The next significant period begins in 1980 with Vieira’s ‘anti-mestiço’ coup which ended even the declaratory commitment to unification. The period of democratization in the 1990s then marked a further divergence of the two countries. This decade ended with Guinea in chaos after the (apparent) end of Nino Vieira’s long rule. Finally, we come to the beginning of a new century in which each country appears to face utterly different political and economic prospects.

The Transfers of Power: the Divergent Politics of Decolonization

There is, of course, a debate about whether or not Guinea-Bissau was ever ‘decolonized’ in the sense that the other Portuguese territories in Africa were. In September 1973, seven months before the Armed Forces Movement coup in Lisbon, the PAIGC had declared the independence of Guinea – a status which had immediately been recognised by a considerable proportion of the Afro-Asian group in the United Nations (though crucially not by the Security Council). Nevertheless, the gesture and the international response to it underlined a special feature of Guinea-Bissau’s struggle for independence. Since 1963, when the colonial war began, Guinea had commanded an attention in the world out of proportion to its size or economic or strategic significance. In contrast to the war in Angola (which had predated the start of fighting in Guinea by two years) the struggle in Guinea was a unified one, uncomplicated by inter-nationalist competition. Though the PAIGC had its nationalist rivals (most notably the Frente de Libertação e Independência da Guiné - FLING) there was nothing like the three-way split which existed between the MPLA, the FNLA and UNITA in Angola. Unlike the wars in both Angola and Mozambique (where fighting began in 1964), the military challenge posed to the Portuguese in Guinea was intense and continuous. The almost total absence of European settlement in Guinea meant that questions of race and racism simply did not arise as they did in Angola and Mozambique. All of this combined with the character and intellect the PAIGC’s leader Amílcar Cabral to make the war in Guinea-Bissau appear from the outside to be almost the ‘ideal’ liberation struggle.[2] In this sense, therefore, the wider world had considerable hopes invested in Guinea. There were high expectations after independence it would continue to provide an example for other Third World states grappling with the challenges posed by an ideologically divided and economically inequitable world.

The real situation in Guinea as a whole and within the PAIGC in particular did not quite match these external perception, of course. Different ethnic groups had different levels of enthusiasm for the PAIGC’s war, with the conservative Muslim Fula people of the north, for example (who formed twenty per cent of the population) being most wary of the party’s revolutionary objectives. And, within the party too, clear divisions existed between the ‘African’ rank-and-file (among whom the Balanta people dominated) and the Cape Verdean ‘politicians’ personified by Cabral himself and by his half brother Luís who would become the country’s first president. The assassination of Cabral at the beginning of 1973, like that of Eduardo Mondlane of Mozambique in 1969, was conveniently blamed on ‘imperialism’ in general and PIDE in particular, but both crimes said more about internal conflict within the liberation movements than they did about the reach of the colonial state. If those looking on with approval from the outside had been more aware of this – or more inclined to question the propaganda line – then the obstacles to Guinea providing a post-independence role model for other small Third World states would have been clearer, and external expectations would have been more realistic.

As well as occupying this special position in the perceptions of the outside world, Guinea’s anti-colonial struggle was also uniquely significant to the Portuguese MFA as it planned and then consolidated its coup against the Caetano regime. Guinea’s lack of white settlement and economic utility threw into sharp relief the larger folly of Portuguese imperialism in the early 1970s. Guinea was also, of course, the territory of General Spínola and became the laboratory for his – failed – experiment in winning ‘hearts and minds’. Guinea was also the cause of the fundamental breach between Spínola and Caetano when the latter rejected the possibility of negotiated settlement mediated by President Senghor of Senegal in 1972. This, perhaps more than anything else lit the immediate fuse for April 1974 as it led directly to the publication of Portugal e o Futuro, a book written and elaborated with input from Spínola’s loyal subordinates in the army in Guinea. On the part of the MFA too, as it became radicalised after April 1974, there were high expectations for a ‘model’ post-independence state. Although the negotiations for the transfer of power in May and June 1974 brought civilian politicians, most notably Mário Soares, into conflict with the PAIGC, the military under Spinola’s protégé Carlos Fabião, was happy to ease the way to the formal transfer of power in September 1974 (long in advance of any other in Portuguese Africa).[3] As the revolutionary process developed in Portugal during the second half of 1974 and 1975, and as troubles mounted in Angola, it was to Guinea that the radicals in and around the MFA looked for the ideal post-independence relationship to supplant the imperial one. In short, expectations of the new state of Guinea-Bissau on the part of both the Portuguese left and the ‘progressive world’ as a whole were high: unrealistically so.

In the meantime, the decolonization of Cape Verde had been negotiated and secured by the PAIGC relatively easily. The attempts of some small ‘third force’ parties to obstruct the direct transfer of power did not survive the fall of Spínola in September 1974, and formal independence came in July 1975. For António de Almeida Santos, at that time Inter-Territorial Minister, it was ‘the most perfect decolonization’ of all in Portuguese Africa.[4] It was of course at this stage that the process of unification between Cape Verde and Guinea would have been expected to begin. That it did not indicated the absence of real political momentum behind it. The two countries instead set out on their own journeys in the world.

Guinea, Cape Verde and the Vieira Regime in the 1980s

The high expectations invested in Guinea-Bissau under the PAIGC were quite quickly disappointed. Luís Cabral had little of the authority or gravitas of Amílcar and his leadership was undistinguished. It was also tainted at the outset by murderous reprisals against supposed colonial collaborators from the time of the liberation war. There were serious problems within the government as well. Personal conflicts began to flourish and eventually took on an inter-ethnic character as the political discipline which had been demanded by the liberation war evaporated. Access to the resources of the state opened the door to political patrimonialism and corruption (though this was - and remains - much less grave than in most of Guinea-Bissau’s West African neighbours).

Although post-independence Guinea may have disappointed its radical supporters world-wide, its relations with Portugal in the first years of independence were generally good. This stood in contrast to the difficult re-engagement processes between Portugal and Angola and (more particularly) Mozambique where residual property disputes and conflicts over the treatment of Portuguese citizens greatly complicated relationships. There was a relatively minor clash between Bissau and Lisbon in 1976 when the Guinea government unilaterally liquidated the Portuguese Banco Nacional Ultramarino and introduced a new national currency to replace the escudo. Some Guinean assets in Portugal were frozen in retaliation, but the co-operative impetus in the relationship ensured an eventual settlement which, according to the Bissau government ‘liquidated definitively the colonial dispute and opened new perspectives of co-operation’.[5]

A good personal relationship was established between Cabral and President Ramalho Eanes. Cabral was sympathetic to Eanes’s attempts at this time (before Portugal’s European Community membership) to establish a special ‘bridging’ role for Lisbon between Africa and Europe. The Guinean president had visited Portugal in 1978 and Eanes returned the courtesy the following year when he referred to the Luso-Guinean relationship as a model for those Portugal sought to establish with Angola and Mozambique. In this respect Portugal’s relationship with Guinea was perhaps less important in itself than in its value as a symbol and ideal for the attempted rapprochement with Africa as a whole. Among the post-colonial African leaders at this time Cabral was the most open to the prospect of a continued lusophone relationship, both among the African states themselves but, more broadly, as a wider institution. Cabral discerned that Guinea as a small and poorly resourced country had a particular interest in maintaining a collective identity of this sort. He worked to persuade the less enthusiastic leaderships of Angola and Mozambique to agree to regular summit meetings, despite their understandable preoccupation with challenges in their own southern African region. Cabral, therefore, provided Lisbon with a conduit to the other former colonies, mirroring from the African side the attempt by Eanes to present Portugal as a bridge between the continents. One concrete consequence of this diplomatic relationship was Cabral’s successful effort (working with Ernesto Melo Antunes) to arrange a meeting between Eanes and Agostinho Neto of Angola in Bissau in June 1978 when the relationship between Luanda and Lisbon was at a particularly low point.

In view of this, it was not surprising that when Cabral was overthrown by his own Chief State Commissioner (prime minister) Nino Vieira in November 1980, the new regime in Bissau was apprehensive about the future of relations with Portugal. While Cabral could hardly claim to have a democratic mandate (the vague formulation of ‘revolutionary legitimacy’ was sufficient to rationalise the transfer of power to the PAIGC in 1974), he had been the PAIGC nomination and had, as we have just seen, been regarded as a good diplomatic friend, at least by the Belém Palace. Vieira was a different prospect. A national hero from the days of the colonial war, he represented a black Guinean backlash (he belonged to the small Papel ethnic group) against perceived ‘foreign’ mestiço domination of the party and government. Vieira himself, conscious of potential international isolation, was anxious to remain on good terms with Portugal, and relations were soon re-established. The coup, which was carried out with minimal violence, was in any case not a fundamental revolution. Key elements of Luís Cabral’s régime remained in power including, significantly for diplomatic continuity, the State Commissioner (minister) for Foreign Affairs, Vítor Saúde Maria and more or less cordial relations survived the coup.

The relationship was shaken momentarily in 1986 following Vieira’s execution of a number of alleged coup plotters, including the vice president, Paulo Correira. A previous crisis in 1983 when Vítor Saúde Maria fled to Portugal after being accused of conspiring against Vieira had been easily enough passed over, but now the violence of the regime’s response led to a suspension of Portuguese aid. The bilateral relationship was too important top both sides to be abandoned, however. On one side, Portuguese aid – both financial and human – was crucial to Guinea’s faltering development and there was no obvious alternative source of this in the 1980s. On the other side, Guinea represented Portugal’s best opening for a larger re-engagement with Africa. During the 1980s Lisbon’s relations with both Luanda and Maputo were distorted by perceptions (justified or not) of Portuguese ambivalence towards UNITA and Renamo. While Portugal’s relationship with Cape Verde remained very good, it was one with a country whose ‘Africanness’ was qualified in both cultural and geographical terms. It was important therefore that the Lisbon-Bissau axis should be nurtured, despite some deep misgivings in Portugal about the internal direction of the Vieira regime.

Cape Verde like Guinea was an early supporter of a continuing lusophone , though its commitment faltered for a time after the 1980 coup in Bissau as the practical implications of cooperation with a now hostile Guinea had to be considered. In the first decade of independence Cape Verde took a distinctly pragmatic approach to both domestic politics and external relations. The most instructive comparison here is perhaps not with Guinea-Bissau but with São Tomé & Príncipe, the other lusophone microstate which emerged in 1975. At independence both countries faced dire social and economic problems and both, nominally at least, were committed to dealing with them within the same Marxist framework. Here, though, the similarities ended. Cape Verde was physically much closer to Europe and the former metropole than São Tomé, was less embroiled in the politics of African neighbours and enjoyed a much higher level of internal social cohesion and stability.

The PAIGC regime, with Aristides Pereira as president and Pedro Pires as prime minister, was ‘Marxist’ only in a very loose sense. At the point of independence Cape Verde had already suffered long years of drought, exceptional even for islands which historically suffered from severe water shortages. Within a few years Cape Verde was reliant on foreign sources for 90% of its food requirements and was spending some twenty times more on imports as it earned in exports. Ideology was therefore subordinated to the diplomacy of economic survival and in practical terms this dictated good relations with the West. Given the paucity of natural resources in Cape Verde, the national economy was highly dependant on the remittances of its large diaspora. A considerable proportion of these emigrants, particularly those in the United States, was conservative by nature. The regime therefore had to shape its domestic and foreign policies in a way that did not offend an annual source of some US$25 million dollars in hard currency transfers. And, moreover, among all of the lusophone countries of Africa Cape Verde was the most resolutely Christian, with some 90% of the population being baptized Catholics. The highly conditional approach to the broader Afro-Marxist project that this dictated placed Cape Verde in contrast to the other former Portuguese territories, including Guinea-Bissau, which were more strongly committed to radical development policies in the 1980s.

There was another aspect of Cape Verde’s situation which demanded careful diplomacy, especially after the unravelling of superpower détente and the return to Cold War in the 1980s. The archipelago occupied a key strategic location between the northern and southern sectors of the Atlantic Ocean. Great caution was therefore necessary in the management of foreign policy if Cape Verde were not to find itself in a difficult and possibly dangerous diplomatic position. Consequently, the government pursued a more rigorous model of non-alignment than the other lusophone African states which, though members of the Non-Aligned Movement, were closer to the Soviet bloc than to the West. The coup in Guinea-Bissau in 1980 therefore had an ambiguous impact on Cape Verde. On one hand, the anti-mestiço agenda of Vieira’s action and the threat it posed to Cape Verdeans in Guinea was an obvious cause of concern. But as a means of ending definitively the declared commitment to unification it was probably not an entirely unwelcome development. The PAIGC became the PAICV and the two countries adjusted their constitutions to remove references to unification. They then continued to pursue their own development strategies and their own foreign policies just as they had before the coup.

Cape Verde's careful foreign policy in the years following independence saw it become one of the most generously aided (as well as aid-dependant) countries in Africa. In 1987 aid accounted for half its Gross National Product. Cape Verde’s own revenue generation was inventive if not always politically attractive to its partners in the Organization of African Unity. South Africa - at this time in the last violent days of Apartheid a pariah in the continent - was given landing and re-fuelling rights at Sal for its civil aircraft on transatlantic routes. The arrangement was worth about US$10 million a year to Cape Verde. To have refused this on grounds of principle would, in view of Cape Verde’s fragile economic situation, in the words of Aristides Pereira have been a ‘suicidal solidarity’ with the rest of Africa.[6] While Cape Verde’s need for foreign economic support may have been large in relatively speaking, the small population (about 400,000) and limited land area meant that they were not large in absolute terms. This, along with the special needs created by the continuation of Portuguese as the national language, meant that Portugal continued to occupy a central place in Cape Verde’s post-independence foreign policy.

The contrast between the foreign policies of Cape Verde and Guinea should not though be over-stated. Both stood apart to an extent from Angola and Mozambique in this regard. While Guinea retained a stronger rhetorical commitment to Marxist modes of development, it was less diplomatically tied to the communist world. In purely practical terms, it was not as dependant as either Angola or Mozambique on support from the Soviet bloc in the 1980s. The brutal and apparently unending civil wars in both of these countries meant that they had to look to Moscow (or in the case of Angola to Havana) for the military resources to ensure regime survival. Guinea in contrast was free to express its disapproval of Soviet activities in Africa (specifically in its own case over the depredations of the Soviet fishing fleet in its maritime economic zone).

Critical Change: the 1990s

While the domestic and foreign policy directions of Guinea and Cape Verde appeared to be settling into a certain post-colonial stability in the 1980s, by the end of the decade the seeds of fundamental change had been sown. Both countries were touched relatively early by the great wave of supposed democratization that passed over Africa at the beginning of the 1990s. The PAIGC in Guinea and the PAICV in Cape Verde both began to prepare for a historic move to multi-party democracy in 1990. The implementation of the new systems, and their form, were quite different in each country, however. In Guinea progress was slow. Although new independent parties began to form quickly once the transition was announced, they were denied any electoral opportunity until 1994. The increasingly remote Vieira seemed in no hurry to seek a democratic mandate, though when the elections for new legislature and the presidency were eventually held in July 1994 he and the PAIGC retained power. The party easily retained control of the National Assembly, though Vieira’s victory over his chief opponent, Kumba Yala (who was closely associated with the Balanta ethnic group), was much narrower.[7]

By this time the pace of the democratization process in Cape Verde had already outstripped that in Guinea – and had produced a fundamentally different outcome. Legislative elections in January 1991 had seen the PAICV decisively defeated by the new Partido para a Democracia (MPD). Four weeks later the MPD candidate easily the presidential election. While by most indicators the PAICV had provided Cape Verde with relatively good government since 1975, there was a perception that it had become ‘tired’ by 1990 and that it was becoming increasingly authoritarian. The new government in Praia (headed by Carlos Veiga as prime minister with his MPD colleague António Mascarenhas Monteiro in the presidency) promised to replace ‘Marxist’ collectivism with a vigorous application of market-oriented policies.[8] There was even talk in the immediate aftermath of the MPD victory of a fundamentally new foreign policy for Cape Verde which would break decisively with the old ‘liberation movement mentality’ of the PAICV and switch support to UNITA in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique. The MPD government also seemed somewhat hostile towards Portugal because of its previous close relationship with the PAICV – a rich paradox given the suspicions of the Angolan and Mozambican governments about Lisbon’s attitude towards their ‘counter-revolutionary’ enemies.

The end of the Cold War confronted Africa as a whole with new foreign policy dilemmas. The old certainties of the bipolar international system no longer determined national positions. Although, as we have seen, Guinea-Bissau was not as close to the Soviet bloc as Angola and Mozambique, the new situation in the early 1990s required some rethinking of its diplomacy. Guinea was not unique in Portuguese-speaking Africa in experiencing countervailing regional pressures on its post colonial relationship with Lisbon. Guinea with its generally cordial relationship with Portugal stood in sharp contrast to Mozambique, perhaps the least reconciled of the former colonies to its lusophone identity. But like Mozambique Guinea’s regional position cut across colonial and linguistic identity. While the alternative focus of Mozambique was provided by its anglophone neighbours and was institutionalised by its entry to the Commonwealth in 1996, in the case of Guinea the ‘challenge’ was from the francophone grouping. Hemmed in by Senegal to the north and Guinea-Conakry to the south, Guinea-Bissau had always been an enclave in French-speaking West Africa. The post-Cold War, post-single party reassessment of foreign policy led the Vieira regime closer to francophonie. The most significant event in this process came in May 1997 when Guinea dropped the peso (the currency adopted at independence to replace the escudo) (the peso) and joined the African ‘franc zone’.[9] Coming on the heels of Mozambique’s ‘defection’ to the Commonwealth, the move was not enthusiastically received in Lisbon.

Then, almost immediately, Guinea found itself in the sequence of dramatic and bloody events which were to pose the most difficult questions about its post-colonial identity. The Casamance region of Senegal on Guinea-Bissau’s northern border had long been an area of separatist activity. The frontier area, where ethnic loyalty engendered sympathy on the Guinea side for the secessionists, became a conduit for arms supplies to the rebels. At the beginning of 1998, under pressure from both the Senegalese government and its historically close ally France, Vieira moved against his popular military chief of staff and one time close associate, Ansumane Mané, who had allegedly been involved in cross-border arms trafficking. In June long-standing resentment at Vieira’s authoritarian and increasingly corrupt leadership, as well as grievances over unpaid wages led almost the entire army to put itself behind the now disaffected Mané in an attempt topple the regime. Senegal and Guinea-Conakry immediately sent forces into Guinea-Bissau to support Vieira, an action widely thought to have been backed if not actively encouraged by France. After an initial period of indecision the Socialist government in Lisbon was spurred into action by mounting public and press anger at what was seen as yet another French incursion on the ‘lusophone space’ in West Africa. Portuguese initiatives through the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) now resulted in the organisation undertaking a wide-ranging mediation role in the second half of 1998. This achieved some real success in achieving a cease-fire and creating conditions for negotiations between the Guinean factions, though more ambitious plans for a lusophone peacekeeping operation in Guinea were not realised.

Cape Verde had a prominent role in the crisis. In part this was accidental – the CPLP’s second summit coincidentally had been scheduled for Praia in July 1989. But in part, of course, it reflected Cape Verde’s geographic proximity to and historically association with Guinea. The Grupo de Contacto de Alta Nível formed by the CPLP to engage with the crisis in Guinea was composed of national foreign ministers, chaired by Cape Verde’s José Luís de Jesus. [10] A series of meetings on board a Portuguese warship moored off Bissau between the contact group and the parties to the conflict led to a Memorandum of Understanding involving cease-fire and a commitment to negotiations for a permanent settlement. The apparent breakthrough disguised some real difficulties in the relationship between the Vieira faction and the mediators, however. The complex history of the triangular relationship between Guinea, Portugal and Cape Verde loomed large in this. Conscious of the circumstances of the breach between the two countries after his coup in 1980, Vieira was suspicious of Cape Verde’s motivation. The notoriously paranoid, Vieira suspected a Portuguese-Cape Verdean conspiracy to eject him from power. His self-justification, which was not in fact unreasonable, was that however he had first come to power his presidency had been legitimised by the 1994 election and that it was the duty of the CPLP (of which he had been among the more enthusiastic founders) to support him against the rebels. Instead, he felt, Portugal and Cape Verde were using the CPLP as a vehicle for their own interests. In his view Portugal was taking the opportunity to reverse Guinea’s approach to the francophone community while Cape Verde was settling scores for his overthrow of Luís Cabral.

While Portugal was undoubtedly resentful at what it saw as French aggrandizement in the region, it is more likely that the Lisbon government’s aim was not to do down Vieira, but to use the crisis as an opportunity to breathe life into the CPLP which had been in a crisis of relevance virtually since its creation two years previously.[11] Cape Verde’s motivation was, though, more questionable, and there may well have been a germ of truth in Vieira’s suspicions. While Ansumane Mané had also been an enthusiast for 'Africanization' in 1980 (he had helped plan Vieira’s coup), he was naturally not as strongly identified with the anti-Cape Verde position as the president himself. When the crisis in Bissau had first arisen, some time before the Praia summit and the formation of the Contact Group, Cape Verde had called for the withdrawal of the Senegalese and Guinea-Conakry troops. It had moreover opposed Vieira’s call for an intervention by ‘peacekeepers’ from the regional organization, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Although Cape Verde was itself a member of ECOWAS it rightly suspected that such an intervention would merely be a pretext to support Vieira against the rebels.[12]

In the event, the CPLP was edged out of the mediation process by ECOWAS which resented what it saw as interference in its region by a ‘neo-colonial’ institution. This did not, of course, serve Vieira’s longer term interests in the way he hoped. An ECOWAS intervention force failed to materialise in the form or the strength originally planned, and a tense truce ended in May 1999 with Vieira’s final defeat. In the short term at least, the three-way relationship between Guinea, Cape Verde and Portugal was strengthened by the crisis and its outcome. The removal of Vieira left both Portugal and Cape Verde in a more or less favourable position in relation to post-conflict Guinea. Had he remained in power with the support of an ECOWAS military intervention, he would have found it difficult to rebuild relations with actors whom he considered to have undermined him in 1998. Interestingly though when it became clear that his position was impossible in May 1999 it was in the Portuguese embassy that Vieira sought refuge and it was Portugal that subsequently granted him asylum. Meanwhile the close cooperation between Portugal and the MPD government in Cape Verde during the CPLP mediation in Guinea had helped strengthen the bilateral relationship after the tensions of the previous years. In a curious way therefore the relationship between the three countries was probably closer in the second half of 1999 than it had been since the heady days of the revolutionary process in Portugal and the transfers of power in Africa a quarter of a century earlier.

The New Century: Prospects and Challenges

This evident rapprochement did not presage a new beginning in relationships, however. Guinea-Bissau desperately required a period of stability after the end of the 1998-99 crisis but it was not to have it. The sequence of chaotic and violent events which occupied the following years destroyed any possibility of effective post-conflict reconstruction. Almost from the time of his election to the presidency at the end of 1999 Kumba Yala (Vieira’s adversary in the 1994 contest) proved utterly incapable of rebuilding the political system in Guinea. The untenable situation in which Ansumane Mané remained as an alternative focus of power was only resolved by his violent death at the end of 2000. This did not improve overall conditions in Guinea, however, and what was described as ‘Africa’s most predicted coup’ saw Kumba Yala removed from office by the army in September 2003.[13] Pressure from both ECOWAS and the CPLP ensured that power then passed to an interim civilian administration rather than remaining in the hands of the military, but still stability eluded the country. Continuing military discontent next expressed itself in the murder of the man who had led the coup, General Verissimo Correia Seabra, the following year.[14] Finally, the tense presidential poll of 2005 saw something unprecedented in Africa: the democratic rehabilitation of a deposed dictator with the return to power of Nino Vieira after a generally free and fair election.[15]

In these circumstances it is difficult to be optimistic about Guinea-Bissau’s short-term future. Unless the attitude of Nino Vieira to power and its exercise has been transformed during his time in exile – an unlikely eventuality - political stability and therefore economic development will continue to be denied to Guinea. It is equally unlikely that the views of Vieira’s many enemies from the late 1990s, political, ethnic and military, have changed significantly. The scene would appear to be set for continued factional conflict in Guinea. Vieira’s election was a result of essentially negative processes. It came in part from a tactical alliance of anti-PAIGC parties at the political level. But in part too it was a result of despair among voters after years of weak and fragile leadership. Vieira was at least a known quantity and one seen as capable of imposing his authority on the machinery of government. Given Guinea-Bissau’s recent history this was a wholly understandable reaction; it may yet prove to be a seriously misguided one, however.

The political trajectory of Cape Verde continues on its divergent track from that of Guinea. In Cape Verde too there has been a return to power of the personalities of the decolonization era, but in a wholly different climate from. Elections in January 2001 secured a majority for the PAICV in the legislature with the party leader, José Maria Neves becoming prime minister. Then, the following month, the post-independence prime-minister Pedro Pires was elected to the presidency, defeating (narrowly) his successor as premier in 1991, Carlos Veiga. This historical ‘reversion’ did not, of course, come with the same foreboding as that surrounding the reappearance of Nino Vieira in Guinea, even though Pires represents the old leftist faction within the PAICV rather than its newer reformist wing. In 2004 Cape Verde was reclassified by the United Nations Economic and Social Council from as a ‘medium developed’ country from its previous categorization as ‘less developed’.[16] Its continued status as a ‘Third World’ state was thus put in question. The country continues to face major economic challenges, however. Despite its unquestionably high stock of human resources, it remains trammelled by its geographical and environmental limitations. For this and other reasons the flurry of speculation during 2005 about the possibility of Cape Verde becoming a member of the European Union was premature.[17] Beyond Cape Verde’s own disabilities, the Union itself is in a phase of uncertainty and already occupied with the task of absorbing its recent enlargements. But as much of the rest of the continent (including Guinea-Bissau) faces apparently irreversible problems of political, social and economic decline, Cape Verde’s ‘Africanness’ is even more questionable now than it was in 1975.[18]

After thirty years the triangular relationship between Portugal, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde remains far from a long-term definition. The only axis in it which has any predictability is that between Portugal and Cape Verde. Always close by virtue of Cape Verde’s special needs and Portugal’s unique capacity to meet many of them, difficulties in the early period of MPD rule in Praia in the 1990s were quickly overcome. The discussion of EU membership for Cape Verde is significant not, as we have already suggested, because it is a feasible short-term objective, but because of the role that would assuredly be played by Portugal in any long-term accession discussions. It is probably this, with its resonances for the post colonial relationship, which explains the (to outsiders) disproportionate attention given to the issue in Portugal. The reappearance of Nino Vieira as president of Guinea-Bissau provides intriguing grounds for speculation on the future of Guinea’s relationships with both Portugal and Cape Verde. The extent to which Vieira still harbours resentment at what he saw as Portugal’s less than supportive role in 1998 and 1999, and how far this might affect future relations, remains to be seen. Vieira did, however, spend his exile in Portugal and there is at least a possibility that this – as well as a new awareness of his political vulnerability in Guinea - might have a more positive impact on the relationship. The Guinea-Cape Verde relationship will be the most problematic; but it is also perhaps the least significant of the three. With Vieira and Pires as the presidents of each it is natural to think in terms of a reversion to the difficult days of the early 1980s which brought the end of the unification ‘project’. But Guinea, Cape Verde, Africa and the world have all moved far in their various directions since that time. The fact that the two one-time comrades, one-time adversaries are once again leading their countries is in reality not of much importance. This fact, as much as than anything else, marks the distance travelled in the past thirty years.


[1] United Nations Development Programme 2005 Human Development Index. Found at http://hdr.undp.org/statistics/data/countries. The statistics given here for the 2005 HDR indicate conditions in 2003.

[2] Perhaps the most influential revolutionary romantic in regard to Guinea, at least in the English-speaking world, was Basil Davidson who in a series of articles and books both before and after independence painted a wholly uncritical picture of the PAIGC and its achievements. Typical is The Liberation of Guinea: Aspects of an African Revolution (London: Penguin, 1969), updated in the post-colonial period as No Fist is Big Enough to Hide the Sun: the Liberation of Guiné and Cabo Verde (London: Zed, 1981).

[3] Fabião’s realism conflicted with Spínola’s reluctance to accept the totality of the PAIGC’s victory. For Spínola’s account see País sem Rumo: Contributo para a História de uma Revolução (Lisbon: Scire, 1978), p.279.

[4] António de Almeida Santos, 15 Meses no Governo ao Serviço da Descolonização (Lisbon: Representações Literárias, 1975), p.397.

[5] Africa Contemporary Record, 1976-77 (London, 1978), p. B605.

[6]Colm Foy, Cape Verde: Politics, Economics and Society (London: Pinter 1988), p.180.

[7] The PAIGC’s nearest rivals were the Resistência Guiné-Bissau /Movimento Bafatá (RGB/MB) with sixteen seats and the Partido para a Renovação Social (PRS) with twelve. In the second round of the presidential poll Vieira won with 52% of the vote against Yala’s 48%.

[8] Monteiro won 75% of votes in the presidential poll. The MPD took 56 of the 79 seats in the Assembly.

[9] The move came after three years of preparation. The CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc is pegged to the French franc.

[10] The Contact Group consisted of three other ministers: Jaime Gama of Portugal, Leonardo Simão of Mozambique and Homero Salvaterra of S.Tomé & Príncipe. Angola and Brazil, who were less enthusiastic about CPLP activism in the crisis, were represented by diplomats.

[11] On the Portuguese response to the crisis of 1998-99 see Norrie MacQueen, ‘A community of illusions? Portugal, the CPLP and peacemaking in Guiné-Bissau, 1998-99’

International Peacekeeping, vol.10 no.2, 2003, pp.1-26.

[12] 'Mediação (im)possível', Expresso, 11 July 1998, 2o caderno p.29.

[13] The description comes from a report on ‘Yala’s unlamented end’ in Africa Confidential (London) vol.44 no.19, 26 September 2003, p.8.

[14] Paradoxically, Seabra’s death was a result of anger over the non-payment of soldiers for their contribution to stabilising another chaotic West African country, Liberia, in their role as United Nations peacekeepers.

[15] Vieira’s main rival (and winner of the first round of voting) was Malam Bacai Sanhá who was not only the official candidate of the PAIGC but the interim president installed after Vieira’s expulsion in May 1999. In the first round in June 2005 Bacai Sanhá took 34% of the vote against Vieira’s 29%. In the second round the following month Vieira won with 55% against Bacai Sanhá’s 44%.

[16] ‘A small success’, Africa Confidential, vol.45 no.8, 16 April 2004, p.8.

[17] See for example the extensive analysis in A Capital, 16 March 2005, ‘Cabo Verde na União Europeia’, (Destaque) pp.2-6.

[18] Even as he was negotiating its independence Mário Soares, by his later recollection, doubted whether or not Cape Verde was really ‘African’, and felt that its prospects would have been better had it become a Portuguese region (presumably on the lines of Madeira or the Azores). Interview in Maria João Avillez, Do Fundo da Revolução (Lisbon: Público: 1974), p.274.