By Joe Penney
When Guinea-Bissau is in the news, it’s almost always for the wrong reasons: coups d’état, assassinations, drug smuggling and extreme poverty.
Journalists like to cite the fact that since the tiny West African country switched to a multi-party system in 1995, no president has completed a full term. The country is often labeled a “narco-state” because of South American drug cartels using its islands and mainland as a waypoint for trafficking cocaine to Europe, even though its neighbors are dealing with the same problems.
But this reputation is rarely put into its historical context. After the Portuguese created what is modern-day Guinea-Bissau in 1890 when European powers divided the African continent at the Berlin Conference, they fought a 49-year-war of pacification against the local African communities resisting their rule.
To gain its independence from an extremely violent Portuguese rule, the anti-colonial rebel group PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), fought a brutal liberation war from 1960 to 1974.
The independence war was fought between the nationalist PAIGC and the Portuguese and their 27,000-strong colonial army staffed by native Bissau-Guineans. Much of the Portuguese colonial violence was outsourced to the Bissau-Guinean colonial army, meaning that the independence war pitted Bissau-Guineans against their own compatriots.