Safety and Security
Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in West Africa and lacks sufficient resources and infrastructure to insure a stable security environment. Since Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal in 1974, the country has been plagued by coups, political assassinations, and a civil war. The country’s fragile political system and weak governance allows for widespread corruption directly influenced by illicit activity. Criminals, corrupt officials, and drug cartels continue to undermine the rule of law and utilize the country for criminal activity, including using Guinea-Bissau as a major transit-point for cocaine and light-arms trafficking, and for illegal immigration. Guinea-Bissau’s unprotected coastline and archipelago, with over 90 islands, many un-policed, and remote airstrips, is a haven for narcotics trafficking and other criminal activity. Due to the current political, economic, and security instability in Guinea-Bissau, all U.S. citizens and organizations should exercise heightened personal security awareness.
Guinea-Bissau continues to experience periodic political disruptions and instability; all travelers to the country should closely monitor the political situation. In January 2012, Bissau-Guinean President Malam Bacai Sanhá died from natural causes. A transitional government is in place following a coup d’état on April 12, 2012, that interrupted elections to replace him. The government plans to hold presidential and legislative elections in 2013.
Visitors should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations. Demonstrations typically begin or end in front of the former Presidential Palace in “Praca dos Herois Nacionais.” While most demonstrations in Bissau are non-violent, the imbalance of power in the country can lead to violent demonstrations.
Unexploded military ordnance and landmines remain scattered throughout the country. Although the capital city of Bissau was declared “mine-free” in June 2006 by the national de-mining center (CAAMI), there have been occasional findings or unintentional mine explosions. Two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been active in successfully removing mines. Avoid driving in rural areas at night and remain on well-traveled roads at all times to minimize the risks posed by landmines.
The U.S. Embassy in Bissau suspended operations on June 14, 1998, at the outbreak of a violent civil war. There is currently no permanent U.S. diplomatic or consular presence in Guinea-Bissau. The U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, is accredited for all diplomatic and security concerns to the Government of Guinea-Bissau. In 2007, the U.S. government opened a U.S. Liaison Office in Bissau (BLO), staffed by locally employed personnel who provided limited services to U.S. citizens in the event of an emergency. The Bissau Liaison Office suspended operations on April 4, 2013. All security and consular services should be coordinated through the American Citizens Services Section and the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.