Dire economic conditions and drug trafficking continued to threaten the country's fragile political and social stability. There were reports of attempted coups. Journalists and judicial officials received death threats in connection with their work. Efforts were made to combat child trafficking.
Poverty remained widespread. In February the authorities said they needed 20,000 tonnes of food aid. However, the country remained politically unstable and donors were reluctant to grant aid for food and social projects, or for much needed reforms of the armed forces and security sector.
There were frequent strikes throughout 2008 by civil servants and others over non-payment of salaries. A cholera epidemic broke out in April which spread to the whole country, killing more than 200 people by November, when the epidemic was brought under control. According to a UNICEF report in May, the country had the world’s sixth highest child mortality rate.
In August, President João Bernardo “Nino” Vieira dismissed parliament and appointed a new government. Parliamentary elections were held in November and were won by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, PAIGC. The leader of the Social Renewal Party, PRS, claimed that the results were rigged. Although a new Prime Minister was appointed in late December, no new government had been established by the end of the year.
There were sketchy and unverified reports of a coup attempt in August. In November a group of soldiers attacked the Presidential Palace, two days after the results of the elections were announced. The authorities disagreed as to whether this was an attempted coup or a mutiny. One soldier died in the attack and several Presidential Guards were reportedly injured. Seven soldiers were arrested and the alleged leader of the attack, a nephew of the PRS leader, fled to Senegal where he was reportedly arrested.
"...journalists who reported on drug trafficking received death threats"
Drug trafficking continued to be a major destabilizing factor and allegations persisted that members of the armed forces were involved in the trafficking. In July a private plane containing drugs was seized at Bissau airport. However, soldiers obstructed investigations by the judicial police and prevented them from entering the plane. Five Latin American crew members and a Guinean air traffic controller were arrested but were released on bail. The foreign nationals fled the country.
Four soldiers were arrested and remained in detention at the end of the year, after reportedly being accused of involvement in an alleged coup attempt in August. The alleged leader of the coup attempt, the former Chief of Staff of the Navy, fled the country, although the authorities claimed that he had been placed under house arrest. He had been persistently linked to drug trafficking.
In August Guinea-Bissau ratified the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression was curtailed and journalists who reported on drug trafficking received death threats.
- In January, journalist Alberto Dabo received anonymous telephone death threats, a few days after he met the then Chief of Staff of the Navy in the street. Alberto Dabo claimed that the naval officer brandished his fist at him in a threatening manner. Alberto Dabo first received threats in June 2007 after he accused the naval officer of involvement in drug trafficking. In August 2007 the officer filed a case against him, but the trial was still pending at the end of 2008.
- Journalist Athizar Mendes Pereira was arrested and interrogated for several hours by the Intelligence Services of the Ministry of Interior in March. He had written an article in which he said that the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces had taken it upon himself to promote police officers. He was released uncharged six hours later.
Death threats against judicial officials
In July the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice said they received death threats to force them to stop their investigation into a cocaine haul. Both had publicly accused high ranking political, military and security service figures of involvement in the trafficking, and of obstructing their investigations.
Trafficking in human beings – children
Reports of child trafficking decreased by about 45 per cent, as there were better co-ordinated efforts to end it. Surveillance committees were set up along the border between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal with the participation of local residents, NGOs, lorry drivers and the authorities. Nine children from Guinea-Bissau were reportedly rescued from the streets in Dakar, Senegal, in April.