The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

Civil–military relations and political order in Guinea-Bissau*

Birgit Embalóa1 c1

a1 Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisa (INEP), PO Box 112, Bissau, Guinea-Bissau


Since independence in 1974 the military of Guinea-Bissau have succeeded in controlling the political system, even attempting to impose their rule directly in the aftermath of the 1998/9 war. What makes the analysis of civil–military relations and political order in contemporary Guinea-Bissau particularly challenging is the overlapping of political, ethnic and personal considerations of the politico-military elite and their fluctuating and ambiguous short-term alliances. Guinea-Bissau's armed forces include an amalgam of veterans, claiming historical legitimacy from the liberation war, and officers who use their positions for personal gain rather than furthering democracy and national interests. This article examines the logic of civil–military relations against the heterarchical political figuration and the specific character of the politico-military elite of Guinea-Bissau.


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* This article draws on research and fieldwork at INEP/Bissau in the collaborative research project ‘Local strategies of conflict management in Guinea-Bissau 2006–2012’, INEP/Bayreuth University, Germany, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation; for approach and results see Klute et al. 2008, Klute & Embaló 2011. I am grateful to the referees of JMAS for encouraging revision of the first version of this article. My special thanks go to Paula Kitendaugh, Dakar, for proofreading.