Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Spy vs. Spy in Guinea-Bissau

Posted by Bob Kohm on March 3, 2009

One of the best features of the old Mad Magazine was the brilliant Spy vs. Spy comic strip. For those who don’t recall it or weren’t Maddicts like I was as a pre-teen, two beak faced spies, one all in white, one all in black, would spend the panels of the strip plotting heinous, Roadrunner vs. Coyote type traps for one another, usually involving a surprise bomb or someone popping out of some strange place to blast the other’s head off. It was great stuff as a kid and it’s actually still pretty funny if you find them on line. When a Spy vs. Spy strip comes to life, however, it isn’t quite as much fun.

Guinea-Bissau is a tiny, poverty ridden nation at the extreme western margin of the African continent, prominent for little besides being little. A former Portugese colony, Guinea-Bissau became an independent nation in 1974 and has seen little go right before or since. Its people are well fed by the Atlantic Ocean so it is not subject to the starvation that besets so much of Africa, but it has no oil, no manufacturing base and a geography that doesn’t lend itself to much valuable enterprise.

Except one. Drug smuggling.

The Bolango Archipelago sits immediately offshore Guinea-Bissau’s western beaches and is rife with tiny, isolated desert islands, making it an outstanding base of operations for South American drug cartels seeking to move product across the Atlantic and into Europe. It is estimated that 800 kilos of cocaine pass through the archipelago each week, worth billions of dollars and making drug transshipment by far the nation’s leading economic sector. The drugs are are transported to Guinea-Bissau by aircraft flying from the East Coast of South America or are shipped via freighter and dropped offshore, where they are collected by smugglers from the archipelago who repackage them into transit packs and send them to Europe via established smuggling routes. The government has long been a partner of the South American cartels, with longtime strongman-President João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira profiting mightily from the trade.

Vieira’s complicity in the drug trade was recently a major issue in Parliamentary elections in Guinea-Bissau, which featured uncomfortable questions for the President and the first stirrings of an overthrow since Viera retook power in 2005 after having been deposed himself in a coup several years earlier. Deciding that action must be taken to quiet the anti-Viera, ani-Cartel forces in the country, Viera apparently ordered the assassination of the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sunday night, having General Batiste Tagme na Waie blown to the proverbial smithereens by a bomb placed in his car. Upon learning of the unanticipated and widespread distribution of their General, the military seems to have taken exception to Mr. Vieira’s policies and responded by shooting him in both knees and removing with a pair of scissors the parts of the body that men are often most fond of before shooting him in the head.

It was a bad weekend to be a leader in Guinea-Bissau. They all seemed to go to pieces.

The interesting thing about all of this is the manner by which General Waie was removed from the scene. West Africa, sadly, is no stranger to assassinations and killings; they seemingly happen constantly and almost always the same way– by shooting. In fact, nobody I’ve seen interviewed on the topic can seem to recall the last time a bomb was used to kill a West African leader.

Portions of South America do, however, see many killings by way of explosives wired into people’s cars, especially in Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia. That raises an uncomfortable possibility, that the assassination of General Waie was either facilitated or carried out by Cartel operatives moving to ensure their continued de facto control of GUinea-Bissau by Vieira’s narco-friendly regime. In other words, they were protecting their own.

Far looking geopolitical thinkers recognize that Africa will be one of the major locations of interest as this century unfolds, with China and India looking for space to grow, with natural resources abundant but poorly exploited, with a population that largely continues to struggle far below the standards of the rest of the world and thus potentially easy to manipulate or otherwise control. The forces of Islamization are snaking further west and south as Iran and Saudi Arabia become major players in sub-Saharan Africa. The United States under the Bush Administration considered improving relations with sub-Saharan Africa to be a major foreign policy objective, a policy which will be continued under the Obama Admin. In its waning days the Soviet Union turned its gaze on Africa, as well, and in a novel way– by sending legions of Russian Orthodox missionaries into the countryside to convert the populace to their faith and establish an affinity where no natural one had existed, a tactic which has been revived by the Putin-Medvedyev cadre. Is it then possible that we’ve all been ignoring a major non-governmental player in Western Africa, and one that not only is actively seeking power but that has already effectively taken ownership of an entire nation? If, as now seems obvious, the South American drug cartels have taken control of the nation of Guinea-Bissau one has to wonder what else they are controlling in Africa and other corners of the world not often gazed upon by the West.

In this Spy vs. Spy scenario, we’re going to need more colors than just black and white.

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3 Responses to “Spy vs. Spy in Guinea-Bissau”

  1. What a horrible way to die. Uniting Africa is probably impossible, at least until the US and allies step up to really help. The token gifts are obviously doing no good at all.

  2. ShadeEagle said

    Hasn’t Africa kind of been the central focus by nations looking to flex their muscle for the last, um, three centuries or so? This isn’t really anything new from what I can tell; the major difference between then and now is the players involved. What am I missing there?

  3. Qtbsjhzo said

    Lt4qpy comment4 ,

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