Guinea-Bissau | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2013

2013 Scores


Not 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 declined from 4 to 6, its civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5, and its status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to an April military coup that led to the removal of the interim president, the suspension of the national legislature, the halting of the electoral process, and increased repression of civil liberties, including harassment and arrests of regime opponents.


Less than one month after the first-round of the March 2012 presidential election, which was deemed free and fair by international observers, a military coup deposed the interim president and suspended the parliament. Freedoms of speech and movement were curtailed, and several political leaders were imprisoned. The Economic Community of West African States brokered a transition pact, and a transitional civilian government was formally established in May. Nevertheless, instability continued in Guinea-Bissau throughout the year, including an alleged coup attempt in October against the interim government.

Guinea-Bissau declared independence from Portugal in 1973 following a 13-year guerrilla war by the leftist African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Luís Cabral became president in 1974, but disaffection with his repressive rule led to divisions within the PAIGC, and he was toppled in 1980 by prime minister and former military commander João Bernardo “Nino” Vieira. Pressure from international donors led to the country’s first presidential and multiparty legislative elections in 1994, which were won by Vieira and his PAIGC.

In 1998, Vieira called on troops from neighboring Senegal and Guinea to quell an army mutiny. The ensuing war displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed the country’s infrastructure and economy. Vieira was ousted in 1999 and went into exile in Portugal. The 1999 legislative and presidential elections resulted in victory for the Party of Social Renewal (PRS) and the election of its leader, Kumba Yalá, as president. In 2002, Yalá dissolved the parliament and ruled by decree until he was overthrown in a 2003 coup.

The PAIGC returned to power after winning a plurality of seats in the 2004 legislative elections. Vieira returned from exile to stand in the 2005 presidential election as an independent candidate, and ultimately defeated both Yalá and Malam Bacai Sanhá of the PAIGC. In the 2008 legislative elections, the PAIGC took 67 seats in the 100-seat legislature, the PRS won 28 seats, and the Vieira-backed Republican Party for Independence and Development captured 3 seats.

In March 2009, Vieira and the chief of the armed forces, Batista Tagme Na Wai, were assassinated in separate attacks. A new presidential election was held in June despite serious political violence during the campaign. Sanhá defeated Yalá in the July runoff, 63.3 percent to 36.7 percent. International observers reported that the voting itself was peaceful, free, and transparent.

In April 2010, mutinous soldiers led by the deputy chief of the armed forces, Antonio Indjai, detained Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior, as well as the armed forces chief, General José Zamora Induta, and 40 of his subordinates. Gomes was released the following day and remained in office, but Induta and the military intelligence chief, Colonel Samba Diallo, were detained without charges until late December. In June, Sanhá officially appointed Indjai as chief of the armed forces, a decision that drew condemnation from the international community. In October, Sanhá reappointed Rear Admiral José Américo Na Tchuto as chief of the navy, just months after he had been named a drug kingpin by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Following the January 2012 death of Sanhá from complications related to diabetes, Raimundo Pereira, leader of the National Assembly and a member of the PAIGC, became interim president, and an election was scheduled for March 18. Of the nine candidates, Gomes and Yalá garnered the most votes—49 percent and 23 percent, respectively—and a second round runoff was set for late April. Although the election had been deemed free and fair by international observers, five candidates, including Yalá, alleged that the election had been fraudulent and called for a boycott of the second round. Just hours after the first round vote, Colonel Diallo was shot to death near his residence, highlighting fears of further instability in the country.

On April 12, Major General Mamadu Ture Kuruma led a military coup, and Gomes and Pereira were arrested. The self-proclaimed Military Command announced that the coup was in response to a plot by Gomes to use Angolan troops stationed in Guinea-Bissau to suppress the country’s armed forces. However, critics charged that the true purpose was merely to eliminate Gomes, who had publicly backed plans to reform the military, before his probable second-round victory. The National Assembly was suspended, and the Military Command took over television and radio stations and the headquarters of the PAIGC. On April 27, Gomes and Pereira were released, but forced to leave the country for nearby Côte d’Ivoire. The European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations imposed sanctions against the regime, and the UN Security Council imposed a travel ban against a number of military officers allegedly involved in the coup.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) brokered a transition pact signed by the Military Command and most political parties, except the PAIGC, on May 18. The third-place candidate in the election, Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, was named acting president. Even though the Military Command formally handed over power to a transitional civilian government on May 25, the country continued to be fraught with instability throughout the year. On October 21, soldiers attacked an army barracks in what was described as a coup attempt against the interim government. Just days later, Indjai and another prominent politician, Sylvestre Alves, were abducted and beaten by unknown assailants. In December, the former attorney general, Edmundo Mendes, and the former governor of Gabu, José Carlos Macedo Monteiro, were violently attacked by members of the military.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Guinea-Bissau is not an electoral democracy. The 100-member unicameral National Assembly was suspended following the 2012 coup; prior to the coup, its members were elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Before the coup, the president was elected for a five-year term, with no term limits; the president appointed the prime minister. The military currently dominates politics, and the country’s leadership is increasingly under the influence of the international narcotics trade.

Political parties in Guinea-Bissau are competitive but institutionally weak. They routinely suffer from military interference and shifting personal cliques. Party leaders are often unable or unwilling to fully carry out their constitutional functions and policy agendas, as military factions have repeatedly shown a readiness to maintain or expand their own interests through coups, assassinations, and threats. Guinea-Bissau was ranked 45 out of 52 countries surveyed in the 2012 Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

Corruption is pervasive, driven in large part by the illicit drug trade. With weak institutions and porous borders, Guinea-Bissau has become a major transit point for Latin American drug traffickers moving cocaine to Europe. Powerful segments of the military, police, and government are reportedly complicit in the trade, and the judiciary—either through lack of resources or collusion in the crimes—does not investigate or prosecute corruption cases. In July 2012, the UN secretary general for West Africa stated that drug trafficking was on the rise following the April coup. Guinea-Bissau was ranked 150 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Although the constitution provides for freedoms of speech and the press, these freedoms are currently not respected. Television and radio stations and newspapers were shut down during the coup; they were allowed to reopen days later but were warned not to criticize the coup or report on protests. Journalists regularly face harassment and intimidation, especially regarding the military’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking and its role in the coup. Antonio Aly dos Santos, Guinea-Bissau’s most popular blogger, was arrested and violently beaten in April 2012 and forced to leave the country under threat in November. In October 2012, Fernando Teixeira Gomes, a Rádio Televisão Portuguesa reporter, was told to leave the country because of his critical reporting of the government. A few days later, the government revised its position, and he was allowed to stay. 

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

Freedom of assembly was sharply curtailed following the 2012 coup. Demonstrations, including by the National Front Against the Coup, have been banned, and protesters threatened, arrested, and violently assaulted. Nongovernmental organizations are subject to harassment, and many are reluctant to criticize the Military Command. Workers are allowed to form and join independent trade unions, but few work in the wage-earning formal sector. The right to strike is protected, and government workers frequently exercise this right.

Scant resources and endemic corruption severely challenge judicial independence. Judges and magistrates are poorly trained, irregularly paid, and highly susceptible to corruption and political pressure. There are essentially no resources to conduct criminal investigations, and few formal detention facilities. With support from United Nations, the government rehabilitated the Mansôa and Bafatá prisons. These facilities, currently the only secure prisons in Guinea-Bissau, started receiving their first prisoners in June 2011. A culture of impunity prevails, especially in the military. A commission formed in 2009 to probe that year’s assassinations of Vieira and the chief of the armed forces, Batista Tagme Na Waie, did not make any progress in 2012.

Following the coup, freedom of movement was curtailed by roadblocks established by the military throughout the capital. Many members of government, civil society, political parties, and state institutions such as the Supreme Court have been banned from leaving the country.

Ethnic identity is an important factor in politics, and the country’s largest ethnic group, the Balanta, dominates the military and thus the transitional government.

Women face significant traditional and societal discrimination, despite some legal protections. They generally do not receive equal pay for equal work and have fewer opportunities in education and employment. Women of certain ethnic groups cannot own or manage land or inherit property. Domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and early marriage are widespread. A June 2011 law bans FGM and establishes penalties of up to five years in prison for violators. Trafficking in persons, especially children, is a serious problem, despite efforts by NGOs to raise awareness, improve law enforcement, and repatriate victims.