Former ambassador to China heads key ministry in new Guine-Bissau government

6 March 2020

Guinea-Bissau has a new government, supported by a parliamentary majority, formed by the newly inaugurated president, Umaro Sissoco Embaló. Malam Sambu, the country’s long time ambassador to Beijing, is set to take over the key government folder of Fisheries.

The new government, supported by a three-party parliamentary majority (MADEM G-15, PRS and APU-PDGB), is led by Nuno Gomes Nabian as prime minister. Nabian, APU-PDGB’s leader, supported Sissoco Embaló’s successful presidential bid in December 2019.

Sambu, a member of the PRS party, will take over one of the most important Ministries in terms of revenue for the state. His main task will be to negotiate fishing licenses in Guinea-Bissau’s rich seas with European Union (EU) countries, as well as China.

Under the current fisheries agreement with the EU, Guinea-Bissau receives EUR 15.6 million (US$17.46 million) per year, to allow European fishing vessels to operate on its waters. The five-year contract, signed in June 2019, earmarks EUR 4 million (US$4.48 million) for supporting the sustainable development of fisheries.

Guinea-Bissau’s economy is highly dependent on the export of agricultural products, namely fish and cashews. Plans to develop bauxite deposits identified have not come to fruition, due to political instability.

According to our sources, Sambu is well connected to the Chinese business community in Bissau. He has also distinguished himself by making important donations to the PRS’s electoral campaigns. Sambu has been Guinea-Bissau’s ambassador to Beijing since 2012.

The nomination of the new government, disputed by the PAIGC party and some of its allies abroad, has allowed the country to move ahead from the stand-off generated after the defeated candidate in the presidential run-off election, PAIGC leader Domingos Simões Pereira, refused to accept the result and presented a complaint to the Supreme Court.

Election observers declared the election free and fair and, by order of the Supreme Court, the National Election Commission verified the results in various instances, the last time with the presence of experts from the regional community.

However, the PAIGC, the largest single party in parliament, continues to reject the legitimacy of Sissoco Embaló’s presidency, going so far as to swear in an interim president the day after his inauguration. The interim president, Cipriano Cassamá, resigned his post shortly after amid death threats and military pressure.

Despite the ongoing tension, a few members of Nabian’s government have been drawn from the previous government, the most notable being Foreign Affairs Minister Suzy Barbosa (PAIGC), who retained her position as chief diplomat.

João Fadia, economist and former national director of the Central Bank of West Africa (BCEAO), will once again serve as minister of Finance, a role he’s held several times. Fadia has no known political affiliation. The Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Integration will be run by Victor Mandinga, deputy of the MADEM G-15.

In total, Nabian’s government comprises 32 members, heading 19 ministries and 13 secretariats, with only the minister of Public Health yet to be named. (CLBrief/Macauhub/Photo of Malam Sambu, Guinea-Bissau Ambassador to China, meeting NNU President Minqiang Hu in 2016, courtesy of Nanjing Normal University)