Development by Assassination in Guinea-Bissau

Reporting from Guinea-Bissau in Tuesday’s NY Times, Lydia Polgreen cites an anonymous diplomat to the effect that as far as the locals are concerned, the tit-for-tat killings of the president and the head of the Army last week may “be the best shot at stability that Guinea-Bissau has had in a long time.”

That is an astounding assertion. How bad must a country be for the killing of its two most powerful figures to be a cause for optimism? But Guinea-Bissau is no ordinary place. Ranked fifth from the bottom in terms of poverty and with no natural resources to speak of, the government’s economic development plan seems to have been to forge alliances with Colombian drug traffickers who wanted new routes to move their product into Europe. Taking advantage of the archipelago’s coastline and lack of any meaningful oversight, the South American, Nigerian and Asian drug gangs have all conspired to turn Guinea-Bissau into the world’s first narco-state. (See Joe Kirschke’s WPR series from September 2008: Part I here, Part II here, Part III here.)

Whether the killings were caused by tribal rivalries or were contract hits ordered by the drug barons, the bottom line is that the country’s new leaders will have to decide quickly how they are going to deal with a destitute population, a non-existent economy and a drug pipeline estimated to be almost a billion a year.