China will help feed the tiny West African nation of Guinea-Bissau’s troubled armed forces as part of increased cooperation between the two nations, a senior Chinese diplomat said.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhai Jun was visiting the former Portuguese colony days after Malam Bacai Sanha was sworn in as its new leader after a series of political killings culminated in the slaying of the president earlier this year.
The Bissau military has been at the root of the country’s instability for decades, meddling in politics and fuelling a series of coups, mutinies and assassinations.
Independent analysts say security reform is vital, particularly as the country becomes a prime narcotics hub for Europe.
“The Chinese government sent me personally to show the importance that China places in its bilateral relationship with Guinea-Bissau,” Zhai said of the 6 million euros ($8.9 million) of aid. Most will be spent on government buildings and technical aid, with nearly one million euros going to feeding the army.
A UN census last year estimated there were some 4500 soldiers in Guinea Bissau’s armed forces, around 3000 of which were officers and counting hundreds in their sixties.
China’s trade with Africa has boomed over the last few years, reaching $106 billion in 2008, up 47 % on the year before. Much of this has been fuelled by Chinese demand for Africa’s minerals and oil.
But China’s President Hu Jintao visited the continent earlier this year to try and show that his country’s commitment to Africa extended beyond resources and trade deals.
Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest nations, ranking 175th out of 177 nations in the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Plagued by instability and with an economy dominated by cashew nuts, it has struggled to attract investors.
However, fellow former Portuguese colony Angola, itself now a major oil-exporter, has expressed interest in investing some of the country’s industries and is currently developing a $500 million bauxite project there.
Pic: Guinea Bissau troop soldier