Guinea-Bissau Humanitarian Situation Report, 1-15 Dec 1999

Situation Report
Originally published
Unless otherwise specified, all information contained in this report has been collected in-country by OCHA from the UN, NGOs, & ICRC network in Guinea-Bissau
Political / Military / Economic Situation

On 8 December, Bissau residents feared for the worst when military began blocking streets, forbidding motorists to circulate. Radio Voz da Junta Militar announced the maneuvers were in protest over lack of pay, while the Minister of Justice and Minister of Finance made public assurances that the soldiers would be paid. Shops and businesses closed, although by late afternoon the city began to return to normal.

In response to the military protest, the Council of Ministers announced they would prioritize payment of military over civil servants, delaying an planned wage hike for the latter. The government had announced a new pay scale for government workers, a three-fold increase in pay for some, and an increase in the minimum wage. The policy was to take effect on 1 December as part of public service reform, along with extended work hours, a cut in "ghost" workers and a reduction in pension benefits. Several financial experts noted that the government may not have the financial means to implement the proposed wage increases. The ranks of military swelled to 11,000 following last years' conflict.

The military protest generated polemical coverage in some circles; civil servants threatened to conduct their own strike over lack of pay, local radio reported. Presidential candidate Kumba Yala spoke out against what he perceived to be a political maneuver to disrupt the electoral process. (Diário de Notícias, 10/12/99).

Ferry service in the country has been suspended, impeding access to the northern regions. Ferry workers claiming back pay announced a strike to commence on 15 December.

* Elections *

The official results of the Presidential and Legislative elections, held on 28 November, were made public by the National Election Commission (CNE) on 9 December. Kumba Yala garnered 38.8% of the total votes, while interim president Malam Bacai Sanhá was runner-up with 23.4%, out of a field of twelve candidates. The two candidates will now face off in a second round of elections, to be held on 16 January 2000. Election campaigning will begin officially at midnight on 30 December and end on 15 January.

In spite of logistical delays, the electoral process unfolded in a generally transparent and free context, declared representatives of the European Union and Portugal, echoing a statement made by international election observers. Voter turn-out was 83.4%. Tensions reportedly surfaced over delays in publishing the official results. Speculation resulted when partial results in Bissau were released immediately after the elections. Official results were widely accepted by all parties.

In the legislative elections, opposition parties wrested control of the Parliament from the PAIGC, which had dominated the political scene since independence in 1974. Yala's PRS (Partido da Renovação Social) won a majority of 38 seats in Parliament, while RGB (Resistencia da Guiné-Bissau) won 28; traditional ruling party PAIGC (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde) will have 24 seats out of a total of 102.

At the request of the Government, the UN will coordinate international election observation for the second round of elections. While CNE President Higino Cardoso told reporters US $ 700,000 was needed for the Presidential run-off, information from UNDP indicate the funds have already been made available by donors. UNDP will provide technical assistance to the CNE for the second round.

The Attorney-General's office held a press conference on 13 December in response to criticism leveled by the Prime Minister over judicial delays in the cases of detained soldiers. On 6 December, Prime Minister Fadul criticized the Attorney-General for failing to release prisoners as had been announced. The Assistant Attorney-General, Mamadú Saido Baldé, retorted that they had respected the delays as specified by law, since the 382 prisoners of war were handed over to civilian authorities five months ago. As of 11 December, 59 prisoners were accorded conditional releases. Three prisoners have died from illness. More prisoners are expected to be released shortly, although a number has not been announced. Baldé noted that some prisoners remain in detention for their personal security. (BBC, Diário de Bissau 15/12/99)

The Swedish Embassy in Guinea-Bissau announced that it will be closing as of 31 December. A regional Embassy will be opening in Dakar, Senegal which will cover Guinea-Bissau. Development cooperation will continue through ASDI, which will open a local office headed by Mr. Lars Nilsson, First Secretary of the Swedish Embassy. The closure does not indicate a distancing of the Swedish government from Guinea-Bissau, but an objective to reinforce the presence of Sweden in West Africa, the Embassy stated in a press release issued on 13 December.

Local press noted the important role Sweden had played in Guinea-Bissau since the struggle for independence to the recent conflict. Some speculate the Embassy closure is due to mismanagement of development funds though the years. (Diário de Bissau, 15/12/99) Sweden was one of the principal providers of bilateral aid to the country.

The Government has requested that the mandate of the UN Peace-Building Support Office (UNOGBIS), be extended past 31 December, when it was to expire. The mandate will be extended until a new government is in place, who must forward a request to the UN Secretary-General who may then make a recommendation to the Security Council. (PANA, 7/12/99)

Radio France International (RFI, 94.7 FM) has begun transmitting again in Bissau from 24 November, transmission was interrupted by last year's conflict.


On 3 December, a WFP staff member was accosted by a group of six individuals who stole his bag in downtown Bissau, near the Ministry of Finances. The staff member was apparently recognized as having participated in the payment of poll workers following the elections.

On 6 December, preparations began in Banjul to set up peace talks between Casamance separatist rebels (MFDC) and the Senegalese government. The Gambia Foreign Minister is to mediate the talks, a date has yet to be set for negotiations. Shelling near provincial capital Ziguinchor, allegedly by MFDC rebels, has been reported in early December. (Reuters, 6/12/99)

Humanitarian Situation

Food Assistance and Production

  • Food Assistance
Containers of WFP food stocks detained at the Port of Bissau since 4 September have been cleared and will be transported to WFP warehouses on 16 December.
  • Agricultural Activities
AFVP (L'Association Française des Volontaires du Progrès) is continuing support of rural populations in the Gabú region with a four-month project (from 15 November to 15 March) financed by the French Cooperation. The project will provide a supply of essential rural products (salt, soap, cooking oil, seeds, basic medicines) to set up village-level shops in forty villages in Pitche, Pirada, and Boé sectors. Profits from the sale of the initial stock will provide a revolving fund to purchase new supplies. Training in management and accounting will accompany the program, provided by the NGO IRFED.

Health, Education and Community Services"

  • Health
Attention on prevention and transmission of HIV and AIDS was highlighted on World Aids Day on 1 December. UNDP, WHO, UNFPA and the National Aids Program visited several schools to give presentations on risks and prevention.

Bissau has the highest incidence of HIV-2 in the world, the Bandim Health Project discovered in studies conducted on the incidence of HIV-1 and HIV-2. However, this is expected to decrease with better controlled blood transfusions. HIV-2 is less contagious than HIV-1; however 20% of blood donors were found to be infected with HIV-2, screening was initiated only in 1987.

In 1995, the government estimated 1,000 cases of HIV, in reality there may have been approximately 5,000. With the 1998 conflict and high prevalence of military troops, the current caseload is expected to be much higher. BHP estimates that the prevalence of HIV-1 is currently 3-4%. The prevalence of HIV-2 is 6-7 %, compared to 9% ten years ago.

The second round of National Immunization Days were held from 3 to 5 December as part of a larger campaign to eradicate polio from Africa. The campaign aimed to vaccinate over 214,000 children under the age of four. Nationwide coverage of polio vaccinations reached 85% of the target population, an improvement over the second round. Coverage in the Bissau region was again lower than the rest of the country (only 64% of the target population.) Concurrent vaccinations against measles reached 80% of the targeted population nationwide. Coverage exceeded expectations in the region of Biombo, where over 106% of the target population were reached. Support to the Ministry of Health was provided by WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the Center for Disease Control (CDC/ Atlanta, USA).

An Inter-Agency Workshop on Reproductive Health in Emergency and Crisis Situations organized by UNFPA was held on 13 to 15 December in Dakar, Senegal. The Workshop featured presentations by medical experts from UNFPA, UNHCR, UN/AIDS, IFRC, MSF and ECHO. The objective was to highlight the particular social-medical vulnerability of women in crisis situations, such as in refugee camps, where there has been a noted increase of sexual violence. This results in sexually transmitted diseases, psychiatric trauma, unwanted pregnancies, and maternal deaths linked to miscarriages or unhygienic abortions.

  • Education
OCHA organized a meeting with UN Agencies and NGOs working in the domain of Education on 13 December to coordinate and assimilate information on project activity. Participants, which included representatives from UNFPA, UNICEF, UICN, the World Bank, IRC and local NGOs, agreed to evaluate projects which include additional modules in the curriculum (such as environment and reproductive health.) The group will elaborate a database on the education sector.

UICN (Union mondiale pour la nature) has organized environmental education days in Bissau from 14 to 16 December.

Relief Activities and Rehabilitation

  • Mine Action
Former US Ambassador John Blacken will take the helm of the de-mining NGO HUMAID. All de-mining activity has been temporarily suspended until protective gear such as shields and anti-fragment clothing is made available. HUMAID reports it has removed approximately 500 mines to date. In an incident reported by the Ministry of Defense, two soldiers trying to defuse an anti-tank mine were killed.

COAM (Celúla de Operações Anti-Minas) and UNICEF will position 17 billboards in Bissau and Safim to alert population of mined areas. Thirteen billboards will be placed in other regions of the country where mines pose a danger. The Ministry of Defense has begun re-marking mined areas where grass has covered original markings. Marking material was provided by COAM.

Human Rights, Protection, and the Promotion of Solutions

  • Refugees
The planned voluntary repatriation of over 800 refugees in Guinea (Conakry) has been put on hold due to the electoral period. The process was to begin before the elections, but due to security reasons, repatriation will likely be considered only following the announcement of the results of the 16 January presidential run-off.
  • Human Rights
UNOGBIS organized a human rights week of activities from 6 to 10 December in Bissau with the support of UNDP and UNFPA. Activities included student marches, a soccer tournament for female teams, human rights education in schools, and the use of media to disseminate human rights messages. A debate on "Women and Human Rights in Guinea-Bissau", featuring the Mayor of Bissau, Ms. Francisca Vaz Turpin, Presidential Candidate Antonieta Rosa Gomes, and representatives of NGOs and the Ministry of Health was broadcast on radio on 10 December.

Carlos Pinto Pereira has been named the new president of the national bar association.

Contact: Wendy Cue Information Officer UNOCHA - Bissau Tel (+245) 20 35 77/ 20 36 17 Fax (+1 847) 589-1655

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit