Guinea-Bissau | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Guinea-Bissau's political rights rating improved from 6 to 4 following legislative elections that international observers described as largely free and fair.


With the holding of legislative elections in March 2004, Guinea-Bissau took one of the first steps in its pledged return to democratic rule following a coup in 2003 that toppled elected president Kumba Yala. However, a military mutiny in October, during which the head of the armed forces, General Verissimo Correia Seabre, who had led the 2003 coup, was killed, threatened to derail the transition.

Guinea-Bissau won independence from Portugal in 1973, after a 12-year guerrilla war. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) held power for the next 18 years. Luis Cabral became president in 1974 and made Joao Bernardo Vieira his prime minister, but Vieira toppled Cabral in 1980. Constitutional revisions in 1991 ended the PAIGC's repressive one-party rule. Vieira won the country's first free and fair presidential election in 1994, but he eventually came to be seen as the leader of a corrupt ruling class.

An army mutiny broke out in 1998 after Vieira sacked General Ansumane Mane, accusing him of smuggling arms to rebels in the southern Casamance region of neighboring Senegal, which for years had complained that Guinea-Bissau was backing the rebels. Encouraged by France, Senegal and Guinea sent about 3,000 troops to intervene on behalf of Vieira. The troops were eventually replaced by fewer than 600 unarmed West African peacekeepers, which made Vieira vulnerable to his overthrow in May 1999 by Mane.

In the November 1999 presidential elections, the populist Yala, of the Social Renewal Party (PRS), won a January 2000 second-round runoff over Malam Bacai Sanha of the PAIGC. However, fighting broke out in 2000 between military supporters of Yala and those of Mane after Mane declared himself the head of the armed forces; Mane was subsequently killed. In November 2002, Yala dissolved the National Assembly. He failed to promulgate a constitution approved in 2001, and Guinea-Bissau was governed by decree.

By the time the military, led by Seabre, stepped in, in 2003, civil servants had not been paid for nearly a year, there was no constitution, strikes were rampant, and parliamentary elections had been postponed four times. As a result of consultations with a spectrum of political groups, a Transitional National Council (TNC) was established to oversee a pledged return to elected government. A businessman, Henrique Rosa, was named interim president.

After the coup, a blanket amnesty was granted to all those involved. Nonetheless, in October 2004, soldiers staged a mutiny, killing Seabre. The outcome of his killing was not immediately clear, but it could deepen divisions within the military. Several other military officers went into hiding. The mutinous soldiers, who were demanding payment of outstanding wages, and better pay and living conditions in the barracks, denied staging a coup.

In March 2004 legislative elections, the PAIGC won 45 of the 102 seats, compared with 35 seats for the PRS. Smaller parties took the remainder. Presidential elections are to be held in 2005. Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr.'s cabinet is dominated by young technocrats. Yala, who spent nearly six months under house arrest, was barred from taking part in any political activity for the next five years.

Despite the successful conduct of the March legislative polls, Guinea-Bissau's stability is by no means guaranteed. The United Nations said in a report in June that the process of democratization remained fragile. The report highlighted the persistence of ethnic imbalances and pay arrears in the armed forces and the poor condition of the military barracks, and it also expressed concern at the human rights situation, particularly the continued detention without trial of 20 people arrested in December 2002 in connection with a coup attempt.

The vast majority of Guinea-Bissau's one million citizens survive on subsistence farming. Cashew nuts are a key export. There are hopes for substantial oil reserves offshore. An emergency budget was drawn up in 2004 with the support of the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The people of Guinea-Bissau were able to choose their government freely for the first time in 1994, and both direct presidential polls and legislative elections were judged free and fair by international observers. Voting in the 1999 legislative and presidential elections was declared free and fair by international observers despite widespread delays, isolated cases of violence, and other voting irregularities. The March 2004 legislative elections were marked by strong turnout and international observers declared the polls largely free and fair despite some administrative problems such as ballot shortages and polling booths opening late. President Kumba Yala was overthrown in a military coup in September 2003 and Henrique Rosa was named interim president pending elections; presidential elections are scheduled to be held in 2005.

Guinea-Bissau was not ranked in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. Official graft, however, has been a serious problem. Hopes were raised after Yala's ouster that new leaders would make efforts to reduce corruption.

Freedom of speech and the press is guaranteed, but journalists practice self-censorship and face some harassment. Repression of the press eased after Yala's ouster. There are several private and community radio stations. Few private newspapers publish, and the lack of vibrant, independent media outlets may be due more to financial constraints than to government interference. Internet access is unrestricted.

Religious freedom is protected and is usually respected in practice. Academic freedom is guaranteed and respected.

The right to peaceful assembly and association is guaranteed and usually respected in practice. Several hundred students rioted in the capital in March 2004 after police used batons and tear gas and fired into the air to break up a demonstration by secondary school pupils protesting a strike by their teachers; several dozen students were arrested.

Nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups operate openly. The right to strike is guaranteed. Collective bargaining rights are not guaranteed, but a National Council for Social Consultation has been established, including the government, workers, and employers, to deal with labor issues. Most wages are established in bilateral negotiations.

The judiciary has operated independently of the government, but its freedom was increasingly limited by Yala. Judicial performance is often unpredictable owing to political interference, poor training, and scant resources. The transitional government reinstated Supreme Court judges previously barred or arrested. Traditional law usually prevails in rural areas. Police routinely ignore privacy rights and protections against search and seizure. Prison conditions are harsh.

Women face some legal and significant traditional and societal discrimination, despite legal protection. They generally do not receive equal pay for equal work and have fewer opportunities for education and jobs in the small formal sector. Domestic violence against women is common, and female genital mutilation is legal and widespread. The government has formed a national committee to discourage the practice.