Against the Odds: Free and Fair Elections in Guinea-Bissau
Author: Gordon Evans
Publication Date: 2014

Guinea-Bissau, a small West African nation, has endured violence, suffering, political repression and military coups since its independence from Portugal in 1974. Despite constant setbacks to its democratic aspirations, the nation has managed to conduct several peaceful, free and fair elections. This case study describes Canada's successful efforts to support the United Nations with coordination and logistical support for the 2008 and 2009 elections. Undertaken amid political tension, against virtually impossible time lines, the two projects made significant contributions to the effective coordination of the international observer teams. Reflecting on the experience, both projects concluded that future election monitoring efforts could be strengthened by sufficient advance planning and efficient, timely execution of administrative tasks. In essence, the key lesson learned has been to take care of the little things so that one can focus on the real problems. From a democratization perspective, the high degree of competence and impartiality demonstrated by Guinea-Bissau's National Electoral Commission and the high level of satisfaction expressed by citizens in the voting process provided some grounds for modest optimism. Sadly, after experiencing yet another military coup in April 2012, Guinea-Bissau's one significant democratic accomplishment, achieved against formidable odds, may be at serious risk.