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Guinea-Bissau - Military Personnel

A decade after the 1998-99 military revolt, Guinea-Bissau officials said they agreed with international assessments that the nation's 4,500-member armed forces were in need of reforms and restructuring. Between 60 and 70 percent of Bissau Guinean military personnel were military officers, a ratio far out of balance with most militaries, where enlisted personnel ordinarily far outnumber the officer leadership. In addition, a large percentage of those officers were in senior ranks. Guinea-Bissau civilian and military officials explained that restructuring the military includes finding a solution to properly care for senior officers, the majority of whom served in the nation's past conflicts. However, the country lacks the financial resources to offer them retirement pay in accordance with their veteran status.

Within the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau, groups of Balanta (the country’s largest ethnic group, but one over-represented in the military) are on one side, aligned with their respective leaders, and the other ethnic groups, organised in more disperse fashion, are on the other. Personal loyalties to military leaders frequently supersede the chain of command, many higher-ranked officials also frequently use the “weight” of their ethnicity (and a corresponding network of relations inside different military units) as a bargaining chip, as well as a weapon and a shield. This is especially true in regards to the distribution of profits accrued from drug trafficking. The launch of the security and defence sectors (SSR) program in January 2008 coincided with the conduct of a UNDP-funded Census of the Armed Forcesto determine the exact number and details of military personnel for a decision on levels of financial and technical assistance to be provided. The Census results indicate that there is a total of 4,493 military personnel in active service, of which 1,869 are officers (41.9 %); 604 under-officers (13.5%); 1,108 sergeants (24.9%); and 867 foot soldiers (19.7%). The census concluded that that Guinea-Bissau’s Armed Forces has an inverted hierarchical pyramid, and has a ratio of 2.73 military personnel per 1000 inhabitants, compared to the sub-region’s average of 1.23 military personnel per 1000 inhabitants.

The security sector reform plan envisaged a reduction in size of the armed forces and the setting up of a national guard and new police and security forces. Those forces will focus on stemming the increasing influx of drugs transiting the national territory and other goods smuggled into the country. Despite previous unsuccessful demobilization efforts, the army seemed committed to the latest plan, as expressed at the launching ceremony in Parliament on 22 January 2008.

In mid-2007, a pilot project was conceived as a viable forerunner for pioneering security sector reform programs that would not end up with demobilized personnel rejoining the Armed Forces and also for paving the way for in-depth security sector reform. As part of the larger framework of the recently launched security sector reform programme, ECOWAS has received a US$ 2 million financial assistance package from the Government of Nigeria for a project in Brazil aimed to provide training in vocational skills for senior officers of the GuineaBissau Armed Forces. This project was conceived within a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration mechanism under the Government’s security sector reform program so as to provide livelihoods to demobilized Armed Forces personnel.

On March 10, 2014 Taleb Barrada, the ambassador of Morocco accredited to Guinea Bissau, delivered 11 tonnes of cargo containing 541 boxes in full uniforms for 2,000 soldiers from Guinea-Bissau. "In addition to the historic solidarity that binds the two countries, this donation is another means for the Kingdom of Morocco to support the transition through democratic, transparent and peaceful elections, and to accompany the institutional reforms and modernization that is coming, in short, The transition towards the institutional stability promised to the Guinean authorities and the brotherly people, which will result in the creation of an environment conducive to development, international cooperation and the creation of private investment" said Taleb Barrada.

One of the controversial points of the reform was the demobilization, which if misled can cause social discontent. The issue of the change in the numbers of the troops is subordinated to the compensation that people should receive to leave the Armed Forces. Contrary to what some think, by 2014 there were many soldiers who want to leave the ranks of the armed forces. The key question was how these people coming out of the Armed Forces will be treated, referring to what guarantees will be given to these people and what will be the avenues of social reintegration of these people. The demobilization and reintegration program has long begun to be thought out, and ended in 2006 without concrete results.

The people who must retire, should not go home without any compensation so that they can live the rest of their lives in tranquility and with their families, with some dignity. International participation in the reform process can thus be crucial. At a regional level, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) already played a leading role, but the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) through Brazil can be equally vital after the failure of attempts to Angola.

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