It is increasingly hard to read the signals from Bissau. The Prime Minister continues to sing from a hymn sheet broadly acceptable to the international donors and organisations concerned with stabilisation and development in Guinea Bissau, but the actions of the Government continue to be at odds with his words. The PM knows that Guinea Bissau’s image needs some serious polishing, and he has set about improving accountability and transparency within his sphere of influence within the Government. But the continued tenure of Antonio Injai, the new Chief of the Defence Staff following the 1 April mutiny, and the re-appointment of Bubo suggest that the politics of the ruling elite in Bissau has still not settled down. It is reasonable to expect more instability and disturbance from Bissau over the coming months, not least as the various factions seem to be out courting different international partners ranging from the European Union to Iran and Libya.
Sailing serenely through these decidedly troubled waters is Angola. A series of top level Bisssau Guinean military and civilian visitors have called at Luanda in recent months, and it seems clear that Angola is keen to partner many of them. Angola has commercial interest in Guinea Bissau for sure, but it is perhaps the case that Angola is also looking for a trouble spot in which to assert itself as a force for good. The African Union has appointed an Angolan as its Special Representative in Bissau, and Luanda seems to be doing a fairly good job of playing all sides. The jury is out on why Angola is engaging – beyond the obvious Lusophone connections. The proof of this particular pudding may well lie not in why they engage, but in what they do. Despite the oft repeated commitment of many to security sector reform in Guinea Bissau, the real issue is in fact military reform. If Angola can reign in the military, then they will have done something useful.
But Angola doesn’t have a free hand. Nigeria has recently woken up to Angola’s interest in Bissau. Long just about cordial rivals facing each other across the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria is unlikely to welcome a heavy Angolan footprint in Guinea Bissau. Angola’s apparent willingness to contribute to a military stabilisation force is likely to annoy Nigeria. But if the threat of doing so wakes Nigeria up to the problem in its backyard, it may yet prove the catalyst for better preventive action by the regional grouping, ECOWAS.