1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. West Africa
  4. Guinea-Bissau

Security sector reform must go ahead

Veterans chosen to attend a university in Brazil to study agriculture and fishing as part of a scheme to demobilise some 2,500 members of the bloated army.
(Anna Jefferys/IRIN)

Recent political instability including the early August dissolution of government could delay long-awaited plans to reform Guinea-Bissau’s swollen security sector which could impact the country’s long-term security says the president of the national defence institute Baciro Dja.

Nine police units, the army, air force, navy and judiciary, are to be reformed over the next few years as part of an ambitious government exercise underpinned by the European Union and headed by a Spanish army general, Juan Esteban Verastegui.

"Installing a new government could demotivate the [security sector reform] process. If we say we'll reform and then nothing happens that will be very dangerous,” said Dja.

Unaffordable army

Central to the reform process is modernising and slimming down the country’s oversized army, the country's” Achilles heel” according to Dja, which currently has 4,800 registered members, a significant proportion of them generals who were promoted under former President Kouma Yala's regime. Just six members of the army are under 20 years-old according to a recent Reuters report.

"Guinea-Bissau has more generals than [Africa’s most populous nation] Nigeria," confirmed Shola Omoregie head of the UN peacebuilding office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS).

The hope is to create a smaller, more efficient “modernised” army, reducing the overall tally to 2,500, according to Dja, whose members can live in dignified conditions, be well-trained, and have adequate equipment.

Reform is sorely needed because despite dedicating up to 30 percent of its annual budget to the security sector according to an International Crisis Group estimate, the government cannot afford to support the current structure said an international security expert in Bissau.

"Many members of the military and the police haven't been paid in two months," he told IRIN. "You don't want military officers having to sell coffee in the streets to survive... that's a recipe for disaster."


It is also hoped that reforms would limit the alleged involvement of some members of the military in drug trafficking in the country, according to an international drug expert who also asked to remain anonymous.

Shola Omoregie, special representative to the UN Secretary General and head of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), added, "Drug trafficking is a big threat here and it will undermine everything we do to build peace here if it is not tackled."

But some fear the early August dissolving of government could delay security sector reforms, further complicating a process that already faces a number of challenges including how to raise the US$180 million required to fund it.

However Colonel Salamao Kiermes at UNOGBIS is confident the reforms will go ahead, citing the fact that efforts have progressed despite the recent government shake-up. He added, “Key people such as the ministers of defence and of justice have not changed… [and] the new government has given assurance that it will not change ongoing plans.”

Meanwhile those backing reforms are not about to let up the pressure. Giuseppina Mazza, resident coordinator of the UN in Bissau stressed, "Security sector reform, alongside good governance and building up the government's administrative capacity is a pre-condition for everything the UN does here.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.