The end of impunity? After the kingpins, what next for Guinea-Bissau?


In April 2013 a successful sting operation and an indictment by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) targeted two of Guinea-Bissau’s most notorious cocaine kingpins: the former chief of the Guinea-Bissau navy, Rear Admiral José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto, and the head of Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces, General António Indjai. This is a victory for the law enforcement response to organised crime. In the decade since the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) first warned that Guinea-Bissau had become a 'narco-state', the country has been caught in an accelerating cycle of political fragility that is driven in part by the desire to control lucrative cocaine connections.

Impunity has become part of the fabric of Guinea-Bissau as trafficking is an essential survival strategy for many, which has disintegrated any basis for a society predicated on the rule of law. The DEA intervention is significant because it has ended impunity in a dramatic way, but the risk is that without the proper follow-up Guinea-Bissau will become a flashpoint for further instability and conflict, when the country should instead be preparing for democratic elections.To avoid this, a sustained and comprehensive strategy should be put in place to strengthen the criminal justice system in the country and to build citizens’ confidence that the state has the capacity to deliver justice and uphold the rule of law.

About the authors:

Tuesday Reitano and Mark Shaw are senior research associates at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and work for STATT Consulting, Hong Kong ( They are collaborating with the ISS on a programme funded by the National Endowment for Democracy on drug trafficking and democratic governance in West Africa. The paper includes contributions from a third STATT associate in Bissau, who for reasons of security remains anonymous.

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