Guinea Bissau – a small West African state and former Portuguese colony – won its independence in 1974 after a protracted liberation war (supported by Cuba). Luis Cabral – the half brother of Amilcar Cabral (killed in 1973) the charismatic left-wing leader of the country’s liberation movement (the PAIGC) was himself deposed in a coup in 1980 by João Bernardo Vieira.
Vieira’s regime lasted (somewhat precariously) until 1998 abandoning the socialist leanings of the liberation struggle and professing support for a market economy and a multiparty system. It was also characterised by the suppression of political opposition and the frequent purging of rivals. In 1994 – due to popular national and international pressure – elections were held returning the incumbent leadership to power. However, in 1998 an uprising by the military ousted the President and the country slipped into civil war.
The war was a short lived affair involving both Senegalese and Guinean soldiers fighting on the government side, and rebel factions in the army which took control of several parts of the capital city Bissau headed by Brigadier-General Mané.
Negotiations quickly followed, but not before the majority of troops deserted Vieira, leaving his regime in command of little more than a small portion of the capital. After the truce had been negotiated an ECOWAS Cease-fire Monitoring Group was installed in the country. The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution1216 which called for both parties to form a government of national unity and to hold elections by the end of March 1999.
In early May 1999, Vieira announced that legislative and presidential elections would take place on 28 December. On 7 May, to widespread condemnation by the international community, Vieira was overthrown by the rebel military junta. The rebels, who claimed that their actions had been prompted by Vieira's refusal to allow his presidential guard to be disarmed, surrounded the presidential palace and forced its surrender. Vieira subsequently took refuge at the Portuguese embassy, where on 10 May he signed an unconditional surrender.
Elections were held in 2000 and Kumba Iala was elected president with 72 percent of the vote. His administration was however – in keeping with the volatile political atmosphere – short lived. In 2003 Iala was ousted in a bloodless coup. In June 2005, presidential elections were held for the first time since the coup that deposed Ialá. The election was won by former president Vieira, deposed in the 1999 coup.
On March 2, 2009, however, Vieira was assassinated by what were indicated to be a group of soldiers avenging the death of the head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai. Tagme died in an explosion on March 1, 2009. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira was appointed as an interim president until a nationwide election on June 28, 2009, which was won by Malam Bacai Sanhá.
In April 2010 Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior was detained by the soldiers in an apparent coup attempt. Military music played on the radio, a telltale sign of a coup, during the incident. Gomes was released hours later as hundreds of people gathered in front of his office chanting "Never a coup d'etat in Guinea-Bissau."
The cocaine trade is thought to lie behind the political and military rivalries. It generates more than 10 times the national income, and Guinea-Bissau is reputed to have the worst drug trafficking problem in Africa.