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February 14 2014

Rap Musicians Take on Guinea-Bissau's Drug Trafficking Problem

Rapper NB on the balcony of Rádio Jovem (Youth Radio) during the interactive radio program ‘frees’. Photo shared by Buala (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

A longer version of this article, written by Miguel de Barros and Patrícia Godinho Gomes, was originally published on web portal Buala with the title Percepções e contestações: leituras a partir das narrativas sobre o narcotráfico na música Rap da Guiné-Bissau (Perceptions and demands: Readings from narratives on narcotrafficking in the rap music of Guinea-Bissau) on January 24, 2014.

The problem of drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau has been gaining visibility in the African country, thanks to rap musicians who are waging a war of words against the illicit trade. “Narco-rap”, as it is called, is building resistance to drug trafficking in an innovative way by giving a voice to the people fighting against it.  

In the beginning of the new millennium, illegal cocaine trafficking reached global proportions, not only by infiltrating the traditional markets such as the United States and Latin America, but also in Western Europe, Russia and more recently some countries on the West African coast, which have become countries of transit for drug cartels.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world and lacks the capacity to control its territory, making the narcotrafficking phenomenon there and the subregion of West Africa not only a matter of lack of development, but also a security problem (see a special mention of Guinea-Bissau in the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime reports from 2007 and 2008 [PDF]).

Song “Relatório” (Report) by MC Mário, Patche di Rima and Dom Pina

Beyond the highly publicized American intervention [en] against drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau and the subregion, it is important to understand the internal mechanisms of resistance that are being adopted and what effects they are having at the national level.

For example, “non-institutionalized” youth from lower social classes are protagonists in the fight against the trade, denouncing it in rap performances broadcast on the radio and in concert. Narco-rap is an artistic medium through which the rappers give commentary, criticize those in power and challenge prevailing social (dis)order, combining cultural emancipation with the exercise of political and democratic participation.

Take a look at the lyrics of a handful of narco-rap songs written in kriol, or Creole, the lingua franca of Guinea-Bissau, with translations in English.

Drug trafficking, condemned

The lyrics of “Culpadus” (Guilty) by Torres Gémeos (2008) condemn narcotrafficking:

droga tchiga Guiné i djumblintinu senariu/Nhu alferis ku nhu kabu/Tudu pasa sedu bida empresariu (…)
Amadu ki chefi di izersitu/Iooode/I ka fasi nin 2 dia ki tchiga la/Iooode/I mata Djokin i subi la
Ku asasinatu ku aumenta/korupson ganha forsa
I ta troka mindjer suma ropa/I tene kumbu té na Eropa
Nunde ki sai ku es manga di kusas?/no ka sibi! 

Drugs arrived in Guinea and shuffled our scenario
Mr. Lieutenant and Mr. Private
All became businessmen
Amadu is the chief of the army/Iooode
It hasn’t even been two days since he got there/Iooode
He killed Joaquim and climbed up there
With the increasing murders
Corruption gained power
He changes women as if changing clothes
He even has money in Europe
Where did he get all that?
We don’t know!

Exploring the narcotrafficking route 

The song “Bo obi mas” (Listen again) by Baloberos (2008) travels the geographies of drug trafficking:

Guiné-Bissau nason di trafico? Tráfico
kil ku na bin bai pa Spanha? Tráfico
kil ku ta bin di Colombia? Tráfico
Mira ermanos, la fuerza armada transportando la cocaína en quantidad
haciendo negócios com nuestros ermanos de Colombia
(…) bo obi es sistema di pesa coca: kilograma, decagrama, hectograma, graaama 

Guinea-Bissau, nation of trafficking? Trafficking
the one that goes to Spain? Trafficking
the one that usually comes from Colombia? Trafficking
Look brothers, the armed forces carrying a large quantity of cocaine
doing business with our brothers in Colombia
(…) listen to this system of weighing coke: kilogram, decagram, hectogram, graaam [sic]

Calling for protest

In “Kaminhu sukuru” (Dark way) by FBMJ (2008), a call is made to the people of Guinea-Bissau:

Marca di Avion 515 tisi medicamentu pa tudu duentis
i guineensis ka na duensi mas
bardadi n`fia, Guiné i terá nunde ku pekadur ta garandi ora ki misti, di manera ki misti, tudu ta dipindi 
bardi n`fia, Guine i tera nunde ku po ta sibi riba di santchu mbes di santchu sibi na po
Ma i ka sigridu ku nha kabesa na ramasa i ni i ka kudadi
i sibidu kuma i ten djintis na Guine ora ku e misti pa tchuba tchubi, tchuba ta tchubi
ora ku é mista pa sol iardi, sol ta ratcha

An airplane branded 515 brought medicine for all the patients
and Guineans will never again become ill (…)
truth I believe, Guinea is a land where people are mature when they want to be, how they want to be, but everything is relative
truth I believe, Guinea is the land where the trees climb monkeys instead of the latter climbing trees!
But it is not a secret that I am throwing up nor that it is worrying
It's known there are people in Guinea that when they want it to rain, it happens
when they want the sun to shine, it happens

Expressing uneasiness

The song “Contra” (Against) by Cientistas Realistas (2007) regrets the state of the “narco-state”:

Cartaz de Cientistas Realistas.

Poster for Cientistas Realistas

notícia di tera obidu ate na rádios internacionais
fidjus di Guine ta ianda npinadu é ka ta ossa ianda nin alsa rostu
tera i ka purmeru, ma anos pekaduris i restu
na diaspora no ta sta tristi suma kil ku tene disgostu
pais sta desorganizadu, corupson sta generalizadu, aparelho di no stadu aos torna un sistema di corupson
dinheru ku no djunta passa na sbanjadu a toa i grande orgulho, fama(!)
Guine-Bissau i narcotráfico
djintis di stadu na pratica di negócios ilegais
e na fasi crimes organizadu ma faladu na nomi di stadu
es tudu anos i contra
narcostadu puera lanta
tudu mundo misti sai nês coba

news from the land was heard even on international radio
sons of Guinea-Bissau are crestfallen without the guts to raise their faces
the country is not prioritized, people come last
in the diaspora we get used to being sad as if we were heartbroken
the country is disorganized, generalized corruption, the apparatus of state turned into a system of corruption
our money is now being wasted for nothing, great pride, fame!
Guinea-Bissau is a narco-state
people of the state practicing illegal businesses
carrying out organized crime, but let’s say in the name of the state
all this we are against,
narco-state raised dust
everyone wants to leave this hole

Calling for action

The song “Kaminhus” (Paths) by As One (2012) takes on a tone of indignation as well as gives a call to action:

No leis apedrejado
cheio de lacunas
li ki Guine-Bissau pa kin ku ka sibi
li ku traficantes ta dadu privilegio mas di ki pursoris di universidade
juro li te purcu ta pudu gravata i bistidu fatu
katchuris si é mata é ta dadu caru tipo incentivo
tipo se presente pa é continua mata
guineensis i sta na hora di no kunsa nota
no disa pa tras tudu ke ku na tudjinu avança…

Our laws stoned
full of holes
this is Guinea-Bissau for those who don't know
this is where the traffickers are given more privileges than college professors
I swear pigs wear ties and suits here
when they kill the dogs, they receive cars as an incentive
as a gift to keep killing
Guineans, it is time we start to notice
let’s leave behind everything that does not allow us to move forward…

Radios have been (and still are) an extremely important medium in Guinean daily life. Rappers, through their creative narratives, aim to spread the word [fr] in the freest way possible about those who are profiting from trafficking. They use radio as an opportunity to denounce via their music the various aspects of the illicit trade.

This trend proves the need to question the label of “narco-state”, keeping in mind that the living of a large majority of the Guinean population is not based on the drug business. 

Young rappers have opened up new pathways for reflection on the position of youth, the dispute over the management of “public affairs” and the emergence of new political actors in the public arena of a country in development.

October 16 2013

‘Thinking with Our Own Heads, Walking with Our Own Feet’ in Guinea-Bissau

This article, written by Silvia Arjona Martín, was originally published on the AECOS website with the title “Fresh Air for Guinea-Bissau” [es] on 26 August 2013. Read the first part on Global Voices: Fresh Air for Guinea-Bissau: A Country in Search of Prosperity.

[Editor's note: Since this report was originally published, the transitional president of Guinea-Bissau stated on 8 October that a new date for the general elections would be decided during the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit of heads of state, which will be held at the end of this month].

Democratic presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau have long inspired insecurity and distrust amongst the country's citizens. Few people believe that voting will go off without a hitch, including voting in the upcoming elections formerly scheduled for 24 November 2013.

Paula Fortes, an Afro-Brazilian journalist with Guinean roots, declares herself to be skeptical while waiting to see what will happen. She does not believe that things will change, although she hopes that they will, but she sees the future in her country as very uncertain due to its continuing lack of political stability. It may be that the experience of living through the 1998 war – when she had to leave Bissau at age 14 with a bag containing her most personal belongings and go quickly to the port in search of the boat which would take her to Cape Verde – that prevents her from seeing a prosperous future. She recalls those events with a great deal of sadness, as if they were a big scar on her life.

It is for this reason, and because of the shame which she still feels when she sees that they are “interfering with” her country (referring to the latest coup d'etat) that she began to form part of the Movement for Citizen Action (MAC) [pt], a movement created after the coup by a group of young people outraged by so much unjust political insecurity. The movement follows the slogan exhorted by the national hero Amílcar Cabral during his era:

pensar por nuestras propias cabezas y andar con nuestros propios pies

thinking with our own heads and walking with our own feet

The aim was to question what was happening and how to come up with constructive solutions “leaving aside the imaginary world”, because according to Fortes, it is necessary to differentiate the world of ideas from the world of actions. To show the importance of social activism as a means of bringing about change, she says:

Una cosa es decir que estoy pensando en plantar un árbol y otra cosa es decir yo planté un árbol, es decir, puse una semilla y estoy obligada a regarla todos los días para que la planta no muera

It is one thing to say that I'm thinking about planting a tree, but it is quite another to say that I planted a tree, that is, I planted a seed and I was obliged to water it every day so that the plant wouldn't die

The young journalist also believes that the level of reflection in Guinea-Bissau is “low” and that the preferred option is always to turn to international assistance to resolve problems. But “we must all be the protagonists of change in our country”, she exclaims with a confident gaze and raised voice in one of the rooms of the Guinean League for Human Rights in Bissau from where she now works.

Changing the names of some streets and junctions in Bissau has been one of MAC's actions in protest following the coup d'etat./ MAC

Changing the names of some streets and junctions in Bissau has been one of MAC's actions in protest following the coup d'etat. Photo courtesy MAC

Elizabeth Myrian Fernandes, another memberr of MAC who usually participates in the radio programme which they broadcast on Sundays, also feels that she is planting a seed, above all with the djumbais (a Creole word used to refer to a meeting where people can express themselves freely and without any restrictions) which they carry out in the interior of the country with Guinean youth. “What is political transition?” and “What do they expect from democracy?” are two of the key questions in these dynamic and highly participatory meetings whose aim is to empower young people and to reflect collectively about what is happening in Guinea-Bissau.

The latest djumbai was held in the capital of the Biombo region, Quinhamel, where some 25 people shared the problems which they observe in their town as well as the responsibility which they have for resolving them. Amadú Mbalo, 22 years old, claims that the main problem in the region is the lack of social organisation to tackle these difficulties and the local authorities themselves, as a result of the lack of political will which they show towards the community. At the end of an intense day of debate and discussion, he was convinced of the importance of the djumbai because “it has allowed us to think about future action and to bring together more young people with the aim of working harder and better for our region”, he said smiling and proud of the day.

A group of young people from Quinhamel particpate in the djumbai organised by MAC./ S.A.

A group of young people from Quinhamel particpate in the djumbai organised by MAC. Photo by Silvia Arjona

This movement, which has a horizontal structure and self-finances its activities, is considering the path which it will take following the end of the political transition, although the decision of how it will do so is yet to be taken.

The recent invitation to participate in the international day of active citizenship entitled DEEP Global Conference “Building a Global Citizens Movement”, which will be held in Johannesburg at the beginning of November and where they will share their experience of social and political activism, has prompted an increase in their strength, enthusiasm and appetite to continue their fight. A fight which has not always been easy – some of the people involved remain anonymous for fear of potential political reprisals – but which they believe must be continued because of the breath of fresh air that it brings to the country. And because, with movements such as this, the dreams of all of Guinea-Bissau could be achieved very soon.

October 14 2013

Fresh Air for Guinea-Bissau: A Country in Search of Prosperity

This article, written by Silvia Arjona Martín, was originally published on the AECOS website with the title “Fresh Air for Guinea-Bissau” [es] on 26 August 2013.

The limited ability of Guinea-Bissau to provide for its inhabitants as the country undergoes a political transition following the latest coup d'etat on 12 April 2012 is making daily life uncomfortable and difficult for the vast majority of its 1.6 million people.

Cadija Mané, a sociologist specialising in human rights, tears up and her voice trembles as she explains the situation that the people of Guinea-Bissau are experiencing:

¡Es vergonzoso, miserable y lamentable que vayamos a cumplir 40 años de independencia y vivamos en un país en el que no podemos soñar!

It's disgraceful, miserable and pathetic that we're going to celebrate 40 years of independence and we live in a country where we cannot dream!

Living in a country where primary basic services, such as electricity and drinking water, are constantly lacking in people's homes is not easy. It can be seen everywhere: hospitals without the necessary technical material and staffing, schools without well-trained teachers, food shortages in more rural areas, violations of women's rights, intimidation and a lack of freedom of expression, corruption, drug trafficking, no communications system, etc.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) places Guinea-Bissau, a small country located between Senegal and Guinea Conakry, in the 176th position out of 186 countries. If we add to this the fact that life expectancy at birth is 48 years old, the gross national product is 1,042 dollars per capita (constant 2005 international dollars), and the primary school dropout rate stands at 88 percent, amongst other statistics, we are able to get a vague idea of the living conditions offered by the country.

In the capital Bissau, these conditions are less visible, with the exception of the potholed, dirt streets, rubbish littering every corner – including around the Presidential Palace itself – and the absolute darkness which covers the city as soon as the sun sets.

It is more evident in rural areas, where the shortages are more pronounced and where financial difficulties in purchasing food are beginning to increase in significance, above all following this year's fall in prices for the production of cashew nuts, the most important source of income in the country.

One of the streets in the centre of Bissau. Photo by Silvia Arjona

One of the streets in the centre of the capital, Bissau. Photo by Silvia Arjona

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Guinea-Bissau is currently experiencing a significant food shortage, which could be affecting some 260,000 people in the interior of the country, as a result of poor agricultural production and the political instability which the country is undergoing.

It is perhaps for this reason that Fernando Delfín da Silva, Minister of Foreign Business, Cooperation and Communities of the current transition government, considers the guaranteeing of food security to be a political priority. From his large office in the Palace of the Government of Bissau, Da Silva worriedly explains the situation, calling in some way upon the international community:

Desde que comenzamos el ciclo de castaña de cajú, hace muchos años, las personas intercambiaban cajú con arroz. Así, un kilo de arroz era igual a un kilo de cajú. Hoy, por el contrario, con un kilo de arroz compras tres de castaña de cajú, lo que significa que hay un deterioro del cambio, un problema serio para el que necesitamos apoyo

Since we began the cycle of cashew nuts, many years ago, people exchanged cashew nuts for rice. In this way, a kilo of rice was equal to a kilo of cashew nuts. Today, on the contrary, with a kilo of rice you can buy three kilos of cashew nuts, which means that there has been a decrease in the exchange rate, a serious problem which we need help with.

The lack of companies processing not only cashews, of which more than 200,000 tons are exported each year, as well as others which the country produces, is one of the key causes of Guinea-Bissau's limited development. Da Silva emphasises that the key is in processing: 

Tenemos que transformar nuestros productos agrícolas. Sin eso, no tendremos buenas carreteras ni buenas escuelas ni buenos centros hospitalarios ni buenas instituciones públicas. Es urgente cambiar y transformar el modelo económico ya que el que tenemos crea pobreza en lugar de combatirla. Y no es muy difícil. Transformando eso, en cuatro o cinco años Guinea-Bissau podría reducir bastante los índices de pobreza y crear casi 20.000 puestos de trabajo. ¡Y todo sin utilizar una tecnología sofisticada ni complicada!

We must process our agricultural products. Without this, we will not have good roads, good schools, good hospitals or good public institutions. The economic model must be urgently changed and transformed, as the one which we have now creates poverty instead of fighting it. And it is not very difficult. By changing this, in four or five years Guinea-Bissau could significantly reduce its poverty levels and create almost 20,000 jobs. And all of this without using sophisticated or complicated technology!

He is convinced that this is the change which the country must pursue in order to reach a level of human, economic and social development which will provide a better quality of life for its inhabitants.

In the second part of the article, we will learn about the vision of the young people's collective Movement for Citizen Action, which was created in the last year to provide a response to popular indignation

October 11 2013

Re-Imagining Lusophony and Decolonizing the Mind

The Fourth International Congress in Cultural Studies – Colonialisms, Post-colonialisms and Lusophonies has a call for paper submissions open until October 15, 2013:

To demystify, to dehierarchize, to establish a policy of difference, to allow a multiplicity of voices, to constitute so many projects of possible modernities/rationalities within post-modernity, to mobilize, to re-politicize, to imagine other political, social and economical models, this is the task (utopian, of course) that is, for us, essential in the re-imagining of Lusophony.


A postcolonial reflection in a Lusophone context cannot avoid the exercise of criticism to the old dichotomies of periphery/center, cosmopolitanism/rurality, civilized/savage, black/white, north/south, in a context of cultural globalization, transformed by new and revolutionary communication phenomena, which have also globalized marginality.

The congress will take place from April 28 to 30, 2014, in the city of Aveiro, Portugal.

September 10 2013

Guinea Bissau's Parliament Rejects Amnesty for Coup Perpretrators

A law granting amnesty to those involved in the Guinea Bissau's April 2012 military coup was rejected by the national parliament on Tuesday, September 10, 2013.

On the eve of the opening of the special session, the Guinean Human Rights League had repudiated the amnesty law proposed by the transition government in an open letter to National Assembly President Ibraima Sory Djalo.

The letter was shared online by human rights organization Casa dos Direitos [pt] (House of Rights) and prolific Guinean blogger António Aly Silva [pt], who also took a stand against the amnesty law:

De acordo com a organização, a aprovação da proposta de lei de amnistia pode “gerar sentimentos de injustiça susceptíveis de conduzir à reincidência e perpetuar a impunidade numa sociedade já fortemente marcada por uma longa história de violência”.

According to the organization [Guinean Human Rights League], the approval of the proposed amnesty law can “generate feelings of injustice that may result in recurrence and perpetuate impunity in a society already strongly marked by a long history of violence.”

A major human rights report by the League released earlier this year (see Global Voices report) thoroughly addresses the long history of violence and impunity, focusing on the justice system and the armed forces.

Elections in Guinea Bissau are expected to take place in late November 2013, a year and a half after the transitional government headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo came to power following the coup d'etat.

May 22 2013

Guinea-Bissau Youth Calls for Peace

The Guinean movement Ação Cidadã (Citizen Action) [pt] released an open letter [pdf] on May 8 “from a youth who wants to have their place in their own land in peace, with the freedom and progress they are entitled.” The document calls for young Guineans to mobilize peacefully for peace, democracy and freedom in Guinea-Bissau and denounces two recent episodes of assaults on young Guineans.

Casa dos Direitos informs [pt].

April 18 2013

Children Back in Guinea Bissau After Senegal Fire

The blog of the Association of Friends of Children (AMIC) reported [fr] that 20 ‘talib’ children from Guinea-Bissau who had been caught in a raging fire at an Islamic school in the capital of Senegal, Dakar, in early March, have now been handed back to their families. As Rising Voices reported back in June 2011, families from Guinea-Bissau often entrust the care of their children to Koranic teachers from neighboring Senegal, where they are promised to receive religious education.

April 15 2013

Guinea-Bissau President Caught up in ‘Arms for Drugs’ Conspiracy

Guinea-Bissau's interim president is beating back allegations that he played a role in a failed “arms for drugs” deal that involved smuggling weapons for Colombian FARC rebels into Guinea-Bissau in exchange for FARC-owned cocaine.

U.S. indictments against seven men, including Guinea-Bissau's former navy chief, includes their testimony which mentions President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo. The men were arrested off the coast of Cape Verde last week.

According to the documents, these men, now defendants, told U.S. undercover anti-narcotic agents (who were pretending to be FARC rebels) that they were in contact with the president over the arms for drugs deal. The evidence that mentions Nhamadjo is found on page 7 of the indictment [pdf]:

CC-1 (defendant) agreed to a proposal to ship FARC cocaine to Guinea-Bissau for later distribution in the United States and to procure weapons for FARC, including surface-to-air missiles. CC-1 also stated that he would discuss the plan with the President of Guinea-Bissau. CC-1 stated, “The day after tomorrow I'll talk to the President of the Republic.”

Page 10 of the same document, talks about the weapons order:

CS-1 (undercover agent) provided CC-5 (defendant) with a list of weapons that the FARC were requesting, which included  among other things, surface-to-air missiles, AK-47 assault rifles, and machine guns. Mane (defendant) said that he and CC-5 (defendant) would speak to the President and Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau about the weapons order for FARC.

The government allegedly expected a percentage of the 4,000 kg of cocaine as a fee:

During the meeting, CC-2 and CC-4 (defendants) agreed to facilitate the receipt of approximately 4,000 kg of cocaine from the FARC in Guinea Bissau, approximately 500 kg of which would be later sent to customers in the United States and Canada.

The president has lashed back at the allegations, calling them “criminal” [pt].

Political and military instability have been a constant feature of life in Guinea-Bissau, a country which has never seen an elected president reach the end of their mandate since its independence from colonial Portugal in 1974. The latest coup d'etat on April 12, 2012, a few days after the second round of presidential elections, saw Nhamadjo appointed transitional president as part of a deal made between military commanders and political, religious, and civic leaders.


US indictment.

Journalist Helena Ferro de Gouveia wrote [pt] on her blog about what it would mean for Guinea-Bissau if the allegations were true:

A confirmar-se o envolvimento do presidente de transição num esquema de tráfico de cocaína e armas, milímetros separam o país do abismo.

If the involvement of the transitional president in a scheme of cocaine and weapons trafficking is confirmed, millimeters separate the country from the abyss.

Even before the coup, connections between certain elites, military figures, and drug traffickers have long been an open secret in Guinea-Bissau. In the last decade, the country has become one of the main transit points for cocaine smuggling from South America into Europe.

Before the news of the president's alleged involvement in the drug and arms smuggling scheme, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, who has led the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office in Guinea-Bissau since February 2013, said that “Guinea-Bissau faces an existential threat, as a State, as a nation” and hoped that the political and military elites “will conduct an introspection, a self-examination” on the anniversary of the coup.

At the end of March as the anniversary of the country's coup drew near, he described [pt] on his blog Guinea-Bissau's role in the world's drug trafficking:

A Guine-Bissau nao produz droga e o consumo e baixo. Ha sim grupos que funcionam como correio e pelo trabalho recebem umas migalhas e já ficam muito contentes. Individuos de outras nacionalidades – Colombianos, Bolivianos, Peruanos, Libaneses, Marroquinos e Nigerians – os profissionais do negocio. Face a eles, o Bissau-Guineense e um amador que se contenta com migalhas mas que fica com a fama!

Guinea-Bissau does not produce drugs and the consumption is low. There are however groups that work as courier and receive for the work a few crumbs and with that they become very happy. Individuals of other nationalities – Colombians, Bolivians, Peruvians, Lebanese, Moroccans and Nigerians – the business professionals. Comparing to them, the Bissau-Guinean is an amateur who is satisfied with the crumbs but gets all the fame instead!

Confirming Ramos-Horta's point is accused drug kingpin Real Admiral Bubo Na Tchuto's amusingly amateur blog-autobiography [pt]. Na Tchuto, former head of the navy, is now under arrest in New York. He had been released from prison on orders of Guinea-Bissau's army chief in June, 2012, after serving a few months due to accusations of leading the coup attempt of December 2011.

Earlier in March, Guilherme Dias from Lusomonitor blog summarized [pt] a Der Spiegel reporter's experience looking into the drug traffic in the Bijagós islands alongside an underfunded prosecutor:

As drogas chegam em carregamentos de 600 ou 1.200 quilos e são armazenadas em três depósitos, de onde são enviadas para a Europa. Dois países europeus têm satélites apontados à região e os investigadores internacionais sabem que um destes depósitos está numa zona militar. “Eu até sei que um voo vai aterrar esta semana no sul”, afirma Biague, sem dinheiro para qualquer operação de apreensão. Com um custo estimado de 115 euros, o repórter decidiu financiar. No final, foi um fracasso.

Drugs arrive in shipments of 600-1,200kg and are stored in three warehouses, from where they are sent to Europe. Two European countries have satellites pointed to the region and international investigators know that one of these warehouses is in a military area. “I even know that a flight is landing this week,” says Biague [Director of Police Investigation in Guinea-Bissau], without any money for a drug bust. With an estimated cost of €115, the reporter decided to finance the trip. In the end, it was a failure.

Satellite image of Guinea-Bissau in January 2003. The Islands are known as Bijagos Archipelago. Image in the public domain.

Satellite image of Guinea-Bissau in January 2003. The Islands are known as Bijagos Archipelago. Image in the public domain.

Meanwhile, another mainstream media article, this time by Portuguese daily Público [pt], revealed the heroic efforts of two women, Lucinda Barbosa Ahucarié and Carmelita Dias, to enforce the rule of law in Guinea-Bissau. Barbosa Ahucarié, the country's ex-director of police investigation, told Público that captured drug kingpin Bubo Na Tchuto threatened her, accusing her of feeding information to US investigators.

The article seems to have fallen between the cracks, generating very little comment in social media and in the blogosphere, even though it was republished in Brazil and beyond.

Written in collaboration with Janet Gunter.

April 06 2013

VIDEO: Guinea-Bissau Community Radio Serves People, Not Politics

Guinea-Bissau's community radio does much more than fill local airwaves with music, a recent documentary reveals.

Stations have saved lives during a cholera outbreak, fought against illegal logging, and pushed back against gender discrimination, all the while uniting local communities around the rich musicality of Guinea-Bissau, according to the 26-minute film “Voice of the Population” filmed in 2012 and released in February 2013.

The Dutch documentary, directed by Polish filmmaker Andrzej Kowalski and written by Lucia van den Bergh, aims to present “the path followed by the community radios in Guinea-Bissau, the challenges that have been raised throughout their development, their appropriation by the communities and the principles they follow”.

The full documentary is available on YouTube as well as in Portuguese and French:

Several leading figures from some of the 30 radio stations found throughout the country – even in the most isolated regions – are interviewed in the film. According to the documentary, today they represent the most popular media in Guinea-Bissau, and that is partly due to the boost that they have been given by Carlos Schwarz, director of the non-governmental organization Acção para o Desenvolvimento (Action for Development).

Screenshot do documentário

Screenshot of the documentary “The Voice of the Population”

In the film, Schwarz declares that community radios are a “fait accompli, they are a popular force”:

Estas rádios têm o apoio, têm as costas, vivem nas costas da população. E isso faz com que o poder tenha muitas dúvidas, muitas reservas em contestar ou querer silenciar estas rádios. E sobretudo porque estas rádios têm-se comportado com uma dignidade, com um profissionalismo, com um rigor político que ninguém pode dizer que estão ao serviço de partidos ou de interesses económicos. Mas de facto representam exclusivamente as preocupações das populações locais.

E isso é a grande força destas rádios e faz com que o governo muitas vezes – não as apoiando – também não as combata. A independência em relação aos interesses políticos e económicos é a pedra de toque das nossas rádios comunitárias. No dia em que elas abdicarem deste princípio, estão a condenar-se a si próprias e estão em vias de desaparecer.

These radios have the support, the backing of the population. And that gives government serious doubts and reservations about opposing or silencing these radios. Moreover, these radios have conducted themselves with the greatest dignity, professionalism, and political exactness, so that no one can say that they are serving [political] parties or economic interests. In fact the radios are the sole representatives of the concerns of local people.

That is the greatest force of these radios and because of it – even though the government may not support the radios – it will not attack them. Independence from political and economical vested interests is the key stone of our community radios. The day they wave that principle they will be condemning themselves to extinction.

“Voice of the Population” also shows the important role of community radios in promoting culture and strengthening democracy and citizenship. But radio broadcasters often go beyond this, reporting on or working on social, environmental or public health issues.

Such was the case of pioneering Rádio Voz Quelelé (Voice of Quelelé Radio), which during its debut year in 1994 alerted the population “in the several languages of the [Quelelé] neighborhood ethnicities” about preventative measures for a cholera outbreak. “The neighborhood became the least affected by this disease in Bissau, with only six confirmed cases”, explains the radio's blog:

O maior sucesso da rádio Voz de Quelele foi sem dúvida o combate à cólera, uma actividade que se baseou em duas vertentes: a) Organização da população para limpeza do bairro, remoção do lixo desinfecção do poços, evacuação dos doentes para o hospital (a AD teve um veículo sempre à disposição), desinfecção em casa dos doentes, visitas diárias dos membros do comité dos moradores a cada residência a fim de detectar casos de cólera; b) Sensibilização da população para uma maior higiene doméstica, para um maior e reforçado acompanhamento das crianças, para a explicação da origem e formas de propagação da doença.

The biggest success of Voice of Quelele radio was undoubtedly the fight against cholera, an activity that was based on two components: a) Organization of the population for the neighborhood's cleanup, trash removal, disinfecting wells, evacuation of patients to the hospital (Action for Development had a vehicle always available), disinfection of the sick at home, daily visits by committee members to residents’ homes in order to detect cases of cholera, and b) Raising public awareness of greater domestic hygiene, for a greater and enhanced monitoring of children, to explain the origin and ways of spreading the disease.

“For the girls, it is harder”, says Elisa Gomes from the Voice of Quelelé in the documentary, referring to the domestic and family labor that prevent Guinean women from getting further involved in community radio. However, community radio makes efforts to encourage feminine participation, such as the creation of a group of “women radio broadcasters within the National Network of Community Radios (Rede Nacional das Rádios Comunitárias, RENARC).

With the title “Community radios: a tool for fighting against poverty and social exclusion in Guinea-Bissau” (pdf, 2010), an article by Adão Nhaga, former radio broadcaster and coordinator of several radio broadcasters in the country, calls for women to “actively get involved in the internal functioning of community radios”:

As mulheres têm que utilizar as Rádios Comunitárias enquanto processos populares, educativos, livres, participativos, interactivos, mostrando a diversidade e a riqueza dos diferentes movimentos associativos de mulheres, das diversas opções e práticas de desenvolvimento, das culturas próprias das mulheres de cada etnia enquanto elementos fundamentais da cidadania guineense e não da superioridade ou inferioridade de alguma delas em relação às outras. Daí que o desafio seja o de promover o acesso das mulheres à palavra para democratizar a sociedade.

Women must use the community radios as popular, educational, free, participatory, interactive processes, showing the diversity and the wealth of: the different associative movements by the women; the diverse options and practices of development; the specific cultures of women of different ethnicities as fundamental elements of Guinean citizenship, and not the superiority or inferiority of some of them in relation to the others. That's why the challenge is to promote women's access to the word in order to democratize society.

According to an article published by AngolaPress, the documentary's writer Lucia van den Bergh has said that since a military coup in April 2012 resulted in the arrest of the country's president and presidential candidates, “self-censorship” in community radios programs has escalated:

“Mas não os fez desistir e eles continuam a divulgar o que está a acontecer”, realça, contando que “a população local, que quase não tem nada, apoia com algumas pilhas”.

“But it didn't make them give up and they continue to spread the word on what's happening”, she stresses, adding that “the local population, who has almost nothing, supports with some batteries”.

Nevertheless, the documentary makes clear that “Guinea-Bissau is not only about coup d'etat, it is also people and good ideas”, as director Andrzej Kowalski stated.

March 25 2013

Nine Street Kids Die in Senegal Quran School Fire

At least nine children died in a raging fire on the night of Sunday 3 March, 2013 in the Medina district of Dakar, Senegal. It was reported that a fire broke out while the children were sleeping in a crowded room at an Islamic school in the capital, and at least seven of the dead are thought to be ‘talibs’ (Quran students).

Following the tragedy, several politicians reacted [fr] to the news, and in doing so, have highlighted just how tough the living conditions can be for talibs.

Hady Ba [fr] explains, on his blog, what being a talib [fr] entails:

Traditionnellement au Sénégal, les parents confiaient leurs enfants à des érudits pour qu’ils leur apprennent d’abord à mémoriser le Coran puis, au fur et à mesure qu’ils grandissent, les sciences religieuses. Durant les premières années de cet apprentissage, ces enfants ne sont pas nourris par le marabout auquel ils sont confiés mais par la communauté toute entière. Chacun de ces enfants a une écuelle et, trois fois par jour, ces élèves qui sont appelés talibés (oui, c’est la même racine arabe que taliban J) font le tour des maisons de la ville ou du village et reçoivent des poignées de nourritures qu’ils recueillent dans ces écuelles et mangent …  Cette éducation était faite pour former des hommes stoïques se contentant de ce qu’ils ont, résistant à la faim et indifférents aux plaisirs de ce bas monde. Elle s’inscrivait dans une certaine vision du monde et dans un réseau social tel que toute la communauté se sentait responsable des enfants errants.

In Senegal, parents would traditionally entrust the care of their children to scholars who would teach them to memorize the Quran and then, as the children grew older, theology. During the first few years of their studies, these children would not be fed by the marabout [translator's note: Quran teacher] to which they were assigned, but by the entire community. Each of these children had a bowl and, three times a day, these students – which are know as ‘talibs’ (yes, the word comes from the same Arabic root as ‘Taliban') – would go from door to door among the houses of the town or the village, receiving handfuls of food that they would gather in their bowls to eat … The tradition was meant to be educational – it was intended to form stoic men who, content with what they have, would resist hunger and be indifferent to the pleasures of this base world. The tradition was based on a particular world-view and on social networks through which the the whole community felt responsible for the wandering children.

Over the course of the last few decades, however, the hardships faced by the talibs have started to become excessive. In its article ‘La détresse des enfants talibés‘ [fr; translator's note: the plight of  talib children], Sentinelles, a Swiss NGO, explains:

Les talibés survivent dans des daaras (écoles coraniques), souvent des habitations de fortune, inachevées, sans eau ni électricité, où les enfants, en surnombre, privés d'hygiène et de soins, s'entassent pour dormir, généralement à même le sol ou parfois sur des nattes, les uns collés aux autres. Beaucoup de daaras fleurissent ainsi, avec à leur tête des marabouts recherchant plus des profits personnels que le bien-être des talibés, devenus pour eux une source de revenus. Ils sont à la merci de leur «maître» qui a tous les droits sur eux. Le sévices corporels violents sont courant durant l'enseignement religieux. Au Sénégal, à peu près n’importe quel musulman peut se dire marabout, et il n’existe aucune loi régissant les daaras, contrairement aux établissements scolaires. Les marabouts sont vénérés et jouissent d’un véritable pouvoir sur la population.

The talib survive in the daaras (Quran schools) – often unfinished, makeshift shelters, without water or electricity, where children, deprived of hygiene and basic care, crowd together to sleep, usually on the floor or sometimes on mats, each child pressed up against the next. Many daaras thrive in this way – under the management of marabouts who are more concerned with their own profits than the talibs’ welfare, the students having become a source of income for their teachers. The talibs are at the mercy of these “masters”, who may do with them what they please – violent beatings are common during a talib's religious education. In Senegal, nearly any Muslim can become a marabout, and – in contrast to other types of schools – there is no law governing the daaras. The marabouts are revered and enjoy very real power over the population.

In response to this tragedy, the government has given instructions on the immediate banning of the practice of begging, believing that at the heart of the problem lies the exploitation of children by organized begging. has quoted [fr] Abdoul Mbaye, Prime Minister of Senegal, as follows:

Selon Abdoul Mbaye, cette « mendicité organisée et cette exploitation des enfants en leur faisant vivre des conditions terribles et des risques doivent cesser ». À l’en croire, « c’est parce que les ressortissants sénégalais ne sont pas dupes que certains marabouts vont aller [chercher des enfants] jusque dans les pays limitrophes en Gambie, en Guinée Bissau et au Mali. Le Président de la République a donné des instructions fermes : de telles pratiques doivent cesser. Les marabouts véreux seront chassés et punis… »

According to Abdoul Mbaye, this “organized begging and this exploitation of children by making them live in risk and in terrible conditions must stop.” According to him, “it is because Senegalese nationals are not gullible that some marabouts go [looking for children] in the neighboring countries of Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Mali. The President has given clear instructions on this issue: such practices must stop. Corrupt marabouts will be sought out and punished …

However, as the columnist Dom Bochel Guégan [fr] has pointed out, this is not the first time that the Senegalese government has taken such measures. She would like to believe that the prohibition on begging by children will be effective, however [fr]:

Il est tentant pour certains parents, tentant ou seule issue possible, de confier leur enfant en espérant qu'ainsi, il aura de quoi manger…

Sans compter tous les gamins venus de l'étranger, de Guinée ou d'ailleurs et qu'il faudra rendre à leurs familles, si on les trouve…

En 2010 déjà, Abdoulaye Wade, alors président de la République avait lui aussi annoncé la fin de la mendicité de ces mêmes talibés, poussé par la pression internationale des bailleurs de fond qui avaient posé ce préalable à toute autre aide financière.

La promesse n'aura pas tenu longtemps. Durant quoi ? deux, trois semaines nous avons effectivement constaté la disparition de ces gamins des rues, avant qu'ils ne reviennent, tous, et que les choses reprennent comme avant.

It is tempting for some parents to entrust their children [to a marabout] in the hope that this way, they will not starve. Indeed, this may sometimes be the only possible solution…

Not to mention all the children who have come from abroad – from Guinea or elsewhere – that would need to be returned to their families once they are found…

Already in 2010, Abdoulaye Wade, then President of the Republic, had announced an end to talibé begging. He had been driven by pressure from international donors who had set this as a precondition to further financial aid.

The promise did not last long. How long? We saw the streets kids disappear for two or three weeks and then they came back, all of them, and things once again became as they had been before.

These are not the only difficulties facing the government. As Hady Ba and Dom Bochel Guégan have pointed out, there was also swift backlash from religious leaders. They cite two instances of such opposition:

Quran teachers from Touba, Darou Moukhty and Diourbel have been reported [fr] as stating:

« Aucun daara ne sera fermé… Nous refusons le diktat de l’Etat… L’Etat est dans une logique de règlements de comptes… Le talibé est un petit mendiant et l’Etat un grand mendiant … Nous sommes prêts à regrouper 6.666 daaras pour des prières destructrices … ».

“Not a single daara (ed's note: school in wolof) will be closed … We reject the government's diktat … The government is out to settle scores  … While the talibé is a small beggar, the government is a bigger beggar … We are ready to bring together 6,666 daaras to pray for its destruction … “.

The Rufisque daara Quran teachers' regional collective was reported [fr] to have held a press conference in which they threatened mystical combat against the President.

Some commentators have suggested that the government might introduce religious instruction into the general school curriculum. Serigne Mansour Sy Djamil [fr], a member of parliament and a religious leader, has argued that the government is responsible for the Medina fire. He has accused the government of abandoning Quran schools, leaving them to face poverty so that it can fund its republican [secular] education agenda.

Photo de Dom Bochel Guégan. Avec autorisation.

Photograph of a child in a Senegal street taken Dom Bochel Guégan. (reproduced with her permission)

One netizen has reacted [fr] as follows on Facebook:

Ce matin [12 mars]  encore j'ai croisé des enfants, nus pieds, vêtus d'un simple tee-shirt trop grand, l'interdiction n'est bien évidemment pas respectée. Le premier ministre a dit hier que les lois étaient déjà existantes (vrai) et qu'il suffisait de les appliquer. Yako, fokon, espérons.

Still this morning [March 12], I bumped into children, barefoot, wearing nothing but an oversized T-shirt – the prohibition is clearly not being respected. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the necessary laws were already in place (true) and that these need only to be applied. Yako fokon which means let's hope.


February 19 2013

New UN Envoy Blogs from Guinea-Bissau

Ex-President of East Timor, UN representative and Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta is blogging from Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau. He writes of his warm reception by people at a marketplace. He republishes his posts on his Facebook page where they are widely commented on.

February 14 2013

Hand-painted Ads in Guinea-Bissau

Photo by Manuel Bivar on Buala (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

Photo by Manuel Bivar on Buala (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

In Guinea-Bissau “there is a real market of experts on painting wall advertisements”, says landscape architect Manuel Bivar. In 2011, he shared a collection of photos featuring hand-painted ads from Guinean shops on the African contemporary culture website, Buala.

February 07 2013

Untenable Human Rights Situation in Guinea-Bissau

As the world's attention is focused on another part of West Africa, the citizens of the small, troubled country of Guinea-Bissau struggle to bring a worsening human rights situation to regional and international attention. Guinean Human Rights League released a major report on the human rights situation today, a serious wake-up call for those who think that silence means everything is okay in the country.

As Global Voices reported, an April coup d'etat destabilized the country, followed by an ongoing “transition” brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has been punctuated by intrigues and repression of political voices.

Some of the largest international human rights organizations have been silent on Guinea-Bissau for months, and notably Human Rights Watch did not include the country in its report on 2012, making the Guinean Human Rights League report that much more important.

Guinean Human Rights League Report on Human Rights. Click the image to download the pdf file.

Guinean Human Rights League Report on Human Rights. Click the image to download the pdf file [pt]

The League writes of its reporting

…este trabalho difícil, sobretudo por se realizar num contexto de ameaças de toda a orden, só foi possível graças aos esforços dos membros e estruturas a todos os níveis desta or- ganização, assim como às pessoas singulares, radicalmente comprometidos com as causas nobres de direitos humanos e paz

…this difficult work, most of all because it is carried out in a context of all kinds of threats, was only possible due to the efforts of members and structures at all levels of this organizations, as well as individuals, radically committed to the noble causes of human rights and peace

While the report documents violations of economic and social rights, as well as violations of the rights of women and children, the most timely sections are those focusing on impunity, the justice system and the armed forces. Starting with April's coup d'etat, the League writes

[...] os direitos e liberdades fundamentais nomeadamente, a liberdade de expressão, de manifestação e de reunião, foram e continuam a ser ilegalmente restringidas pelo Estado-Maior, detentor do poder real no país, em nome da garantia de uma paz e estabilidade inexistentes, numa clara violação da constituição da república e dos instrumentos jurídicos interna- cionais dos direitos humanos. A sociedade guineense vive hoje, independentemente da sua vontade, num clima de insegura e amargurada impotência e refém de uma classe política e castrense dividida, imprevisível e violenta.

[...] fundamental rights and liberties namely the freedom of expression, of protest and assembly, were and continue to be illegally restricted by the [Military] Command, possessor of real power in the country, in the name of guaranteeing non-existent peace and stability, in clear violation of the Constitution of the Republic and of the international human rights instruments. Guinean society lives today, against its will, in a climate of insecurity and bitter helplessness and hostage to a divided, unpredictable and violent political and martial class.

What violence is referred to here? In October, after violence at an airbase and allegations of coup plot, its supposed leader was caught (Global Voices reported), an opposition leader was kidnapped and savagely beaten [warning: graphic photos]. Then reports surfaced of killings of young people in Bolama [pt] swept up by the military crackdown. In November, the Guinea Human Rights League denounced a kidnapping of a well-connected man [pt] whose “lifeless body was found days later in the morgue of the country's main hospital”. Blogger Pasmalu wrote [pt] in November

Perante a inércia dos países democráticos e com a conivência activa da CEDEAO, que pinta este país como se a barbárie não tivesse assentado praça na Guiné-Bissau e tudo estivesse a correr da melhor forma, prossegue todos os dias a MATANÇA de pessoas em Bissau.

Já não são só por razões de perseguição política, embora esses casos sejam os mais numerosos, mas os militares e alguns civis ligados ao (des)governo, que fazem questão de estar presentes e participar não só nos espancamentos como nos assassinatos, aproveitam para ajustes de contas de ódios pessoais antigos e recalcados.

In face of the inertia of democratic countries and with the active connivance of ECOWAS, who paints this country as if barbarism never set up shop in Guinea-Bissau and as if everything was going really well, the everyday MASSACRE of people in Bissau goes on.

Now not just for political persecution, although these are the most numerous ones, but military men and some civilians connected to the (un)government, who insist on being present and in participating not only in the beatings as in the murders themselves, to take advantage of the settling of personal scores from long-time hatreds rehashed.

Hopes for the future

The UN Security Council heard yesterday from its own high-level diplomats that there is a “general atmosphere of fear” in the country, where UN envoy and Nobel Peace Laureate José Ramos Horta is set to arrive in coming days.

The League writes in its report

[...] a Guiné-Bissau tornou-se num país isolado de um mundo cada vez mais globalizado, país onde o pânico e o terror caminham de braços dados. A população vive entrincheirada no seu próprio receio de um amanhecer de novas violências, de fugas sem destino, agravadas pelo facto de de se aperceber que a comunidade internacional não consegue unir-se, para garantir os interesses e aspirações.

[...] Guinea-Bissau has become an isolated country in an increasingly globalized world, a country where panic and terror walk hand-in-hand. The population lives entrenched in its own dread of waking up to new violence… worsened by the fact that the international community cannot come together to guarantee [its] interests and aspirations.

Blog Ação Cidadã quotes liberation hero Amílcar Cabral [pt] in its manifesto

a luta do nosso povo é contra tudo quanto seja contrário à sua liberdade e independência, mas também contra tudo que seja contrário ao progresso e à sua felicidade

the struggle of our people is against all that goes against liberty and independence, but also against all that counters progress and the happiness of the people

Recent months have seen citizen initiatives arise, like Movicidadão [pt], which is a coalition of individuals and groups who will participate in a drive to register and issue documents to the numerous citizens who lack these. Ação Cidadã [pt] also shows how young people are “appropriating” public space in the town of Buba by naming streets and public places with names like “Active Voice Alley” and “Patio of Justice”.

Meanwhile Guinean poets and artists organized a week of cultural activities in Portugal [pt] to show the world that “Guinea-Bissau has much more than the military men”.

January 25 2013

Three Portuguese Language States Ignore UN Convention Against Torture

Three Portuguese language countries are part of a short list of states which have not ratified the UN Convention against Torture: São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola and Guinea Bissau. Fábio Pereira, Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal, shares an open letter [pt, pdf] he has sent to the Portuguese Language Countries Community (CPLP) and a petition in Avaaz.

January 11 2013

Nobel Peacemaker Ramos Horta's Mission to Guinea Bissau

The political chaos in which Guinea Bissau finds itself embroiled - still more so since the April 2012 coup d'etat - may be a little closer to finding a resolution with the recent appointment of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, to lead the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office (UNIOGBIS) in the country from February.

Political and military instability has been a constant feature of life in Guinea Bissau, a country which, since its independence from colonial Portugal in 1974, has never seen an elected president reach the end of their mandate. In April 2012, a few days after the second round of the presidential elections, the country was plunged into a new crisis with a military coup d'etat which placed the current “transition government” in power.

Ramos Horta has now been appointed to “consolidate peace”, succeeding the Rwandan Joseph Mutaboba, whose mandate ended at the end of January. His appointment has been praised by international diplomats [pt] and Guinean civil society organisations alike. An article [pt] published in Deutsche Welle (DW) explains why:

Ramos Horta on a state visit to the Maldives, as President of East Timor. Photo by Mauroof Khaleel on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ramos Horta on a state visit to the Maldives, as President of East Timor. Photo by Mauroof Khaleel on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Presidente de Timor-Leste entre 2007 e 2012 e anteriormente ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros, Ramos-Horta dispõe de experiência diplomática e de influência internacional, algo que poderá ser relevante para voltar a colocar a Guiné-Bissau na agenda política mundial. Foi condenado ao exílio forçado nos Estados Unidos na sequência da invasão indonésia do seu país e durante 24 anos defendeu a causa timorense na Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) e nas capitais mundiais. Em 1996, o seu esforço valeu-lhe o Prémio Nobel da Paz, que partilhou com o bispo de Díli D. Ximenes Belo.

President of East Timor between 2007 and 2012 and former minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramos-Horta has both diplomatic experience and international influence, something which will be important in order to put Guinea Bissau back on the global political agenda. He was condemned to forced exile in the United States following the Indonesian invasion of his country, and for 24 years he defended the Timorese cause at the United Nations (UN) and in the global capitals. In 1996, his efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with the bishop of Dili, Ximenes Belo.

While many people consider the appointment of Ramos Horta to be a “good omen”, Nádia Issufo, a Mozambican journalist, suggests that it could represent a “poisoned gift” for the transition government. On her personal blog, Acalmar as Almas [Calming Souls], she points to various organisations representing the international community which have tried to intervene in the current political situation in Guinea Bissau, of which she highlights the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), which does not recognise the current transition government, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which does recognise it:

Está assumido pelo governo de transição guineense que a CPLP não é exatamente bem vinda na negociação da sua crise. A CEDEAO é o parceiro confiado de Bissau. Por exemplo, recentemente o governo de Serifo Nhamadjo disse estar satisfeito com a presença das forças desta organização no país, apesar da Liga dos Direitos Humanos Guineense afirmar que a tal força assiste impávida as violações dos direitos humanos no país.


A nomeação de um representante da ONU proveniente de um país membro da CPLP, pode parecer inocente, mas em termo práticos isola e sufoca a CEDEAO e obviamente a Guiné-Bissau. Quer queira quer não, de alguma maneira o governo de transição é obrigado a engolir a CPLP, se não desliza com mel, então…

Enquanto a guerra entre a CEDEAO e a CPLP não terminar as chances para uma saída pacífica são mínimas. Sabemos que no fundo a disputa é dominada por Angola, que se quer impor no continente africano ao nível diplomático, e a Nigéria que quer também o posto. Portanto, está um país a afundar-se também em nome de ambições alheias.

It is assumed by the Guinean transition government that the CPLP is not exactly welcome in the negotiation of its crisis. ECOWAS is Bissau's trusted partner. For example, Serifo Nhamadjo's government recently said that it was satisfied with the presence of ECOWAS forces in the country, in spite of claims by the Guinean Human Rights League that these forces were passively observing human rights violations in the country.


The appointment of a UN representative originating from a member state of the CPLP may appear to be innocent, but in practical terms it isolates and suffocates ECOWAS and of course, Guinea Bissau. Like it or not, in some way the transition government is obliged to swallow the CPLP, if it doesn't slip down easily, then…

As long as the war between ECOWAS and the CPLP continues, the likelihood of a peaceful exit is minimal. We know deep down that the dispute is dominated by Angola, which wants to impose itself on the African continent on a diplomatic level, and Nigeria which also wants that position. Therefore, it is a country which is sinking also under the weight of foreign ambitions.

Guinea Wants Peace. Photo by Sofia da Palma Rodrigues on the blog Brancon'pelele (used with permission)

“Guinea Wants Peace. Photo by Sofia da Palma Rodrigues on the blog Brancon'pelele

The “foreign ambitions” to which Nádia refers are also mentioned by Portuguese political marketing consultant José Paulo Fafe, who comments [pt] on his blog:

Recorde-se que, em 2004, Ramos Horta chefiou a missão da CPLP que “fiscalizou” (sem grande sucesso, diga-se de passagem…) as eleições naquele país, quando sob o olhar cúmplice da comunidade internacional e do governo então chefiado por Durão Barroso, se sucederam as fraudes e as “chapeladas” por todo o território. Esperemos agora que o antigo mandatário timorense “emende a mão” e, pelo menos, não seja à semelhança do chefe da diplomacia portuguesa [Paulo Portas], um porta-voz dos interesses angolanos naquele país. É que para mandarete, já basta o que temos…

It must be remembered that in 2004, Ramos Horta led the CPLP mission to “oversee” (without great success, by the way…) this country's elections, when under the complicit gaze of the international community and the government then led by Durão Barroso, fraud and “ballot-box stuffing” took place all over the country. Let us hope now that the former leader of East Timor “corrects his hand” and, at least, does not resemble the head of Portuguese diplomacy [Paulo Portas], a spokesman for Angolan interests in the country. We've got enough errand boys as it is…

Journalist Helena Ferro de Gouveia, on the blog Domadora de Camaleões [Tamer of Chamaeleons], says that Ramos Horta, “the man who declared that ‘Timor ida deit'” (Timor is a single country), calling for the union of the Timorese people, could be “the right man to prevent the future from deserting Guinea and to help the country to find a way home”, but she points out some of the difficulties which he may encounter:

- A ossatura de um Estado faz-se de dois pilares: o da segurança e o da justiça; na Guiné-Bissau, o pilar da segurança ruiu há muito e o sistema de justiça é inexistente.

- O uso da força pelos militares [substituiu] as instituições do Estado. Sem ajuda externa para acabar com o envolvimento das Forças Armadas na política, é impossível acabar com a chantagem dos militares sobre os políticos, a sua manipulação do poder legislativo e do poder judicial e o deslizar  do país para o tráfico de drogas entre a América Latina e a Europa.

- The frame of a state comprises of two pillars: security and justice; in Guinea Bissau, the security pillar collapsed a long time ago and the justice system is inexistent.

- The use of force by soldiers [has replaced] state institutions. Without external help to put an end to the involvement of the Armed Forces in politics, it will be impossible to stop blackmail by soldiers over politicians, their manipulation of legislative and judicial power and the slide of the country into becoming a point on the drug-trafficking route between Latin America and Europe.

Remaining on the subject of drug trafficking, an editorial on the blog Página Global [Global Page] [pt], dedicated to Lusophone countries, says that this is a “burden which weighs excessively on the Guinean people (…) who are struggling with a crisis caused by corrupt officials and coupists linked to drug cartels”:

A determinação de fazer da Guiné-Bissau um território sobre a posse do narcotráfico é por demais evidente e não será Ramos Horta que conseguirá mudar o curso desses objetivos se a comunidade internacional, a ONU, não der um “murro na mesa” e usar os argumentos e provas que possui para criminalizar em Tribunal Internacional os criminosos e cúmplices que detêm os poderes e a sistemática subjugação do país aos ditames do narcotráfico, dos golpismos e de prepotência. Basta de impunidades.

The determination to make Guinea Bissau into a territory in the possession of drug traffickers is quite evident and Ramos Horta will not manage to change the course of these objectives if the international community, the UN, doesn't put its foot down and use the arguments and evidence which it possesses to prosecute in an International Tribunal the criminals and their accomplices who are holding onto power and systematically subjecting the country to the dictates of the drug trafficking industry, of the coupists and of arrogance. Enough impunity.

December 31 2012

From Indigenous Protests to Online Preaching, Portuguese Language Countries in 2012

Every year, as the last days of the calendar approach, we select a few glimpses of citizen media from the action and imagination of the Portuguese-speaking online world.

Mainstream media often fails to provide broader and deeper coverage of social, cultural, political and environmental issues occurring in any of the eight lusophone countries. But citizen media from this vast linguistic region that spreads across the globe, has been there to fill some of the gaps and to fuel public awareness.

Such has been the case of the coverage of development policies adopted by the Brazilian government, and the consequences that directly affected river-dwellers, ‘caboclos' and indigenous communities across the country, and particularly in the Amazon. The construction of the Belo Monte Dam in the Xingu river, has perhaps become one of the strongest causes at the national level and beyond borders. In October, Sany Kalapalo, a young indigenous and a Xingu activist, told us how she makes use of the Internet as a tool to disclose indigenous culture and to mobilize people towards her campaign to protect the Volta Grande do Xingu region in the state of Pará.

In November, the Cry of Resistance of the Guarani Kaiowá quickly spread from the village of Pyelito Key/Mbarakay, in the town of Iguatemi, State of Mato Grosso do Sul, to a worldwide wave of protests in solidarity with the indigenous rights for their lands.

In November, the Cry of Resistance of the Guarani Kaiowá triggered a worldwide wave of protests in solidarity with the Indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá and their cause.

Photo of 5,000 crosses planted in Brasilia. Image from the Facebook page of Itiban Comic Shop

Throughout the year, a series of articles on Brazilian migration has taken us in journeys we don't embark upon through mainstream media.

From a “Dekasegibridge-blogger in Japan for the Brazilian community after the earthquake, to the 93 year-old Syrian migrant living in the state of São Paulo, passing through the history of the “Brazilebanese“, or Brazilians from Lebanon, and other stories. Brazilian immigration policy itself faces new challenges. In December, immigrant associations in Sao Paulo organized a rally demanding more rights with regard to the law of the country. Brazilian emigration too has been under debate, particularly through the lens of how Brazilian women are seen abroad, after highly criticized statements from the President of the Portuguese Bar Association at the end of the year, who said that what Brazil exports the most to Portugal is prostitutes.

To calm down the waters surrounding that debate, and bringing a bit of music to the mix, something that Brazilians have also exported this year was Michel Telo's hit ‘Oh if I Catch You' song, whose official video on YouTube has already reached an impressive 470 million visits. Although Telo's major worldwide success didn't reach the numbers of Gangnam style, it did indeed spark a global phenomenon of “Telobalization” at the beginning of the year, with the appropriation of the song for new versions in dozens of different languages. It also attracted some critics due to the arguable quality of Telo's work, and whether or not it should represent Brazilian culture abroad.

On culture and literacy, we highlight the Bicicloteca, a bicycle that carries a small library and free solar-powered internet access to the homeless of the city of São Paulo, and a creative writing competition promoted by the young Cape Verdean journalist Odair Varela on his blog over the course of seven weeks.

Platforms for civic participation

Interesting initiatives for civic participation that bridge the offline and the online worlds arose in Mozambique in 2012.

Up North, in Cabo Delgado, an "open terrace" hosts monthly public debates - which are transcribed live to Facebook - allowing for the discussion and dissemination of important issues such as the missing transparency in the extractive mega projects in the country.

In the Northern region of Mozambique, in Cabo Delgado, an “open terrace” hosts monthly public debates - which are transcribed live to Facebook - allowing for the discussion and dissemination of important issues such as the missing transparency in the extractive mega projects in the country. Photo by Terraço Aberto (Public Debate in Cabo Delgado) on Facebook

The People's Wall of Maputo, an authentic ”offline Facebook wall” in the extensive outer wall of @Verdade newspaper's building, allows for any citizen to express his or her complaints in a public and open way. Messages are later transcribed to @Verdade's media outlets, such as their print newspaper but also Facebook page and website.

A local diving school in Tofo, Bitonga Divers, has been raising awareness on the need to defend marine life against overfishing at one of Mozambique's most important tourist beaches.

Whereas in Guinea Bissau, where there is a huge Internet accessibility gap, a digital inclusion project called CENATIC - a computer center featured by Rising Voices in April - unfortunately had to shut down at the end of the year due to the high costs to support it. CENATIC was launched by a local NGO and aimed at providing more affordable access and support to individuals and organizations interested in exploring how a better connection can benefit their work.

From Sao Tome and Principe, STP Radio (Somos Todos Primos / We Are All Cousins)

In December Global Voices interviewed STP Radio (Somos Todos Primos / We Are All Cousins), from Sao Tome and Principe, an online community radio that plays an important role uniting the diaspora.

The future awaits

In the political arenas, 2012 was a year of presidential and parliamentary elections in East Timor, municipal elections in Brazil and local elections in Cape Verde. In Angola, Eduardo dos Santos was re-elected after 33 years in power. The country's complex path of development through the lens of citizen media is summarized in a separate post, Year of Change in Angola, But Everything Stays the Same.

By the end of November, São Tomé and Principe plunged into a political crisis, and in Guinea Bissau another military coup d'etat toppled the government in April 2012. A post from October reads:

While the international institutions express “concern” and conduct meetings, the people of Guinea-Bissau have little outlet for their fears and frustrations.

In Portugal, there were plenty of protests and two general strikes against the austerity measures in the European economic crisis scenario which develops into harder life conditions for the general population. The most participated demonstration took place in September under the motto “Screw Troika! We Want Our Lives”.

Among the multiplicity of conventional uses of digital platforms for activism, one of the most curious characters that caught our attention early in the year is in fact a 75 year old priest and writer called Mário Pais de Oliveira. He religiously uses social networks to share his very particular - and disruptive - thoughts on current events, and has hundreds of videos on Youtube and thousands of friends on Facebook. We finish this roundup of the year with a simple quote from one of his subversive homilies. Whatever 2013 brings:

We must come up with new ways to transform society

December 30 2012

New GV e-book: African Voices of Hope and Change

Here is a perfect gift to salute the new year: our new e-book dedicated to Africa's Sub-Saharan region. “African Voices of Hope and Change,”  gives you an intimate perspective into the stories and people of Sub-Saharan Africa through our best English-language posts from 2012. From a total of about 800 posts produced over the year from the region, we hand-picked 13 posts to feature from Senegal, Uganda, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mauritania, Kenya, Angola and other countries.

African Voices of Hope & ChangeYou are welcome to download it here. You can even send a copy (in PDF, ePub or Mobipocket format) to your relatives or friends across the world, maybe as a present for their donation to GV. Most important, please spread the word in your global circles, social networks and anywhere you deem fit!

African Voices of Hope and Change is more evidence of the power of we‘, a collective effort focusing on places and people too often ‘forgotten' by mainstream media worldwide, despite Africa’s diverse but promising growth in the upcoming years. As stated in the ebook introduction, “At the start of the new millennium, it felt as though the African continent was essentially written off by the international community… [but] recent statistics suggest that nine of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

And while many experts actually believe that new technology's most lasting influence will be on a broadening field of education, “also important is the potential for leveraging technology towards a more general transparency and accountability, as shown by initiatives based on social and citizen media for monitoring local elections or making government data available on the Internet.”

Aimed at providing a larger context and fostering the Global Voices mission, this collection of 2012 posts will try to parse out such complex framework and open up the horizon for the upcoming year. These voices tell us about moving forward in hope and change, their accounts reveal a path infused with struggle and collaboration.

Thanks to Mohamed Adel for technical support and to those who variously contributed to articles selected for this new e-book: Afef Abrougui, Ahmed Jedou, Anna Gueye, Eleanor Staniforth, Endalk, James Propa, Kofi Yeboah, Lova Rakotomalala, Nwachukwu Egbunike, Richard Wanjohi, Sara Gold, Sara Moreira, and Ndesanjo Macha.

December 21 2012

Guinean Journalist Mysteriously Disappears in Angola

Where is Milocas Pereira? A question echoing through the blogosphere for a couple of weeks, but the response is slow in coming. On social networks a movement sprung up to pressure Guinean authorities to investigate the disappearance, six months ago, of the journalist and university professor in the Angolan capital city Luanda, where she has lived since 2004. On Facebook the group “SOS, STOP! – Queremos a Jornalista Milocas de volta” (We Want Journalist Milocas Back) [pt] already has 5,775 members.

Recently, the President of the Association of Community of Guinea-Bissau Immigrants in the United States, Celina Spencer, also launched a petition directed to the UN High Commission of Human Rights, to try and get support to locate the journalist.

She offered some interviews, analyzing some of the crises currently occurring within Guinea-Bissau. Specifically, the Guinean government's role and presence of the Angolan military “Missang” deployed to Guinea-Bissau for military reformation [on which Global Voices reported upon the coup d'etat in April 2012]. It is unknown whether her disappearance is connected with the interviews or not. It is certain however, she was assaulted by strangers. Afterwards, feeling threatened in Luanda, she considered and confided to a friend that she desired to return back home.

In an interview with Angolan television, at the beginning of January, the professor spoke about the situation in Guinea-Bissau after the death of President Malam Bacai Sanhá. After this, Milocas Pereira said that she began to feel under great pressure [pt].

On last November 3, the Sindicato dos Jornalistas Angolanos (Union of Angolan Journalists) [pt] denounced that the Guinean journalist had been “terrorized” in Luanda:

Milocas Pereira foi agredida no início do mês de Maio por desconhecidos antes de ter comunicado a algumas pessoas com quem falou a sua intenção de deixar Angola, na sequência desta agressão, que foi apontada pela própria como sendo a causa mais próxima da sua decisão.

Milocas Pereira was attacked in the beginning of the month of May by unknown people, before having communicated her intention to leave Angola to some people she had spoken with. She pointed to this attack as the cause for this decision.

According to “Sol Mansi” Radio [pt], the journalist had no doubts that the attack had strong political motivations:

Ela estava a correr risco de vida, pelo que a única solução que tinha era abandonar imediatamente Angola, para regressar ao seu país. Aconselhada pela sua amiga a denunciar publicamente a agressão, MP disse que preferia não o fazer. Aconselhada ainda a ir para Portugal, MP disse que não confiava nos portugueses e que se sentia melhor na Guiné-Bissau com os responsáveis de transição.

She was running the risk of losing her life, and the only solution that she had was to immediately leave Angola, and return to her country. Counselled by a friend to publicly denounce the attack, MP said she preferred not to. Further counselled to go to Portugal, MP said she did not trust the Portuguese and said she would feel better in Guinea-Bissau with those responsible for the transition.

Last October, in statements to the same radio station, the Secretary of State for Communication in Guinea-Bissau, Idelfrides Gomes Fernandes confirmed the news [pt] about the possible disappearance of the journalist for the first time. Four months after her mysterious disappearance, the family decided to contact authorities, but the only response that they got was silence.

In its November 2nd edition, the Novo Jornal (New Newspaper) (Angola) dedicated an entire page to the disappearance of the journalist.

In its November 2nd edition, the Novo Jornal (New Newspaper) (Angola) dedicated an entire page to the disappearance of the journalist.

Two months ago, Bartolomeu Capita of the National Movement of Cabinda wrote on the site of the organization Peace & collaborative development network that Milocas Pereira could have been ordered killed in Angola:

Nobody has seen Ms. Pereira or simply heard from her for almost a month now. Yet she was teaching at the independent University of Angola. Concerns have arisen which must be addressed. More and more fellow scholars are discreetly suggesting that she may have been murdered, for having sought to investigate certain matters related to the obscure links between Angola's criminal regime and Guinea-Bissau.

News of the disappearance [pt] of the 58 year old journalist was made public at a time in which the family – that was trying not to complicate police investigations – began to lose hope that Milocas was still alive. The brother of the professor, Carlos Pereira, who lives in Lisbon, said to Voice of America [pt]:

O que nos chega [de Luanda] é isso, está desaparecida desde finais de Julho. Suspeitamos de muita coisa. Que ela tivesse dado com muita coisa e tivesse necessidade de fugir, de esconder ou que tenha havido alguma retaliação.

What comes to us [from Luanda] is this, she has disappeared since the end of July. We suspect a lot. That she could have run into many things and needed to flee, hide or had some could of retaliation.

On the blog Rispito [pt], the Guinean Samba Bari alleges that the disappearance is another challenge for the transitional authorities and that the situation could widen the fissure between the Guinean government not recognized by Luanda and the Angolan government.

November 14 2012

Guinea-Bissau: International Arrest Warrant Against Blogger

The most visible face of Guinea-Bissau's blogosphere, António Aly Silva, wrote [pt] that he is being accused of “the crime of incitement to war” and that an international arrest warrant was issued against him by the regime in power since the coup of April 2012. In an interview [pt] for the blog O Informador (The Insider), Aly talks about his escape to Dakar and current exile in Portugal.

November 12 2012

Guinea-Bissau: More citizen frustration with turmoil

Buala blog shared a message circulating via email by Moema Parente Augel e Johannes Augel [Pt] raising international awareness about the “abusive and illegal regime” in Guinea-Bissau and what they deem to be an attempted counter-coup on October 21. IT specialist Gabriel Vaz also shared his dissatisfaction with turmoil in his home country on Youtube [Pt].

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