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Latest coup another setback for Guinea-Bissau

Parliamentary headquarters

Development, democracy and stability gains in Guinea-Bissau have suffered a major setback following the military takeover in Guinea-Bissau on 12 April.

The UN Security Council has threatened sanctions; and the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLC) has proposed sending “peacekeepers” to the country.

On 12 April military leaders detained Prime Minister and presidential candidate Carols Gomes Jr (known as Cadogo) and interim President Raimundo Pereira, going on to appoint failed presidential candidate Manuel Serifo Nhamajo as president of a proposed two-year transitional government in a move which the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deemed “illegal” and which has also been strongly condemned by the UN Security Council, European Union, African Union and CPLC.

Since 1994 no elected president in Guinea-Bissau has finished his mandate.


The UN Security Council on 21 April threatened to impose sanctions against coup-leaders. Following this announcement, the Junta allegedly shifted its hardline stance, telling a reporter the two-year transition government was just a proposal, according to one international press report. ECOWAS communications director Sonny Ugoh announced on 19 April that it was “completely taken aback” by the transition proposal.

The CPLC has taken a more hardline approach from the start, pushing for a peacekeeping intervention force. Following a 19 April meeting of the UN Security Council, Guinea-Bissau Foreign Minister Mamadu Saliu Djalo praised the idea of sending a peacekeeping force to the country. But no final decision has been made.

Several Bissau residents IRIN spoke to welcomed the notion of foreign intervention. Deolinda Tavares, a 65-year-old market-seller, told IRIN: “We have tarnished our image and our credibility is forever lost to the world.”

Alimatou Touré, a 50-year-old housewife is outraged and fed up. "This is not a normal situation in which we live... Democracy is the only way that people can follow to be free and sovereign.”

However, Guinea-Bissau expert Vincent Foucher of the International Crisis Group fears an international intervention against the junta, which has no consent from the army, could lead to bloodshed in a situation which has thus far been death-free; and could radicalize, criminalize, and factionalize the military junta leaders. “In this case, while it is essential to have it in the toolkit to demonstrate that the international community means business, it is far too early to use it - negotiation is what is needed now,” he told IRIN.

Climate of fear

Even with no deaths, a climate of fear and uncertainty pervades the capital, Bissau, with repressive measures being employed by the military, according to observers and rights groups. Road-blocks have been set up throughout the capital, with cars routinely stopped and searched.

In some areas MPs and other officials of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) - the party of President Gomes Jr - have reportedly been targeted and arrested.

Many Bissau-Guineans have reportedly travelled to the countryside or to neighbouring Gambia and nearby Senegal to ride out the instability.

The coup has disrupted life in the capital with schools still closed as of 13 April; market sellers report vastly reduced trade; unions associated with PAIGC went on strike on 16 April, leading major banks to close down.

Many Bissau residents say they are running out of money. “My husband has not worked for a week and all the banks are closed, so all we have left is 1,000 CFA francs (US$2) and we’re down to eating one meal a day,” Alimatou Touré, a 50-year-old housewife, told IRIN.

Development stalled

''This is not a normal situation in which we live... Democracy is the only way that people can follow to be free and sovereign''

The economic progress achieved under Gomes Jr’s rule - including economic growth rates of 5.3 percent; increased revenue from the cashew crop due to a restructuring of its marketing; a major re-organization of state expenditure; improved electricity supply and rehabilitation of major roads - will be stalled, say observers. Guinea-Bissau has been suspended by the African Union, while the World Bank and African Development Bank have stopped development aid.

“One thing is certain: our level of development is already very low, and things are going to get worse,” said a Guinean academic in Bissau.

If sanctions go through, the government (the country’s biggest employer), will not be able to pay salaries next month, a civil servant told IRIN.

Context of coup

The self-declared military command, which emerged as the moving force behind the coup, declared in a 13 April communiqué that they had taken action because of an alleged secret agreement between Carlos Gomes Jr and the Angolan government to “annihilate Guinea-Bissau's armed forces”. To back their claims, the junta published a letter sent on 9 April by the prime minister to the UN Secretary-General asking for UN military intervention.

The 200-strong Angolan technical-military mission in Guinea Bissau (MISSANG) - in place since March 2011 to train and support Guinea-Bissau’s military - has been of concern to many army chiefs, say analysts, as the foreign troops were seen by them to side with the prime minister and act as his private security force.

Other factors that may have contributed to the coup include unconfirmed rumours at the end of March 2012 about the entry of heavy weapons sent by Angola to reinforce MISSANG, and poor relations with Guinea-Bissau’s military heads and the Angolan ambassador, according to Vincent Foucher, Guinea-Bissau specialist with the International Crisis Group in Dakar.

Faced with growing opposition from the Guinea army, Angola announced on the 10 April that it would withdraw its mission.

The Angolans have just become the latest scapegoat, a Bissau-Guinean scholar in the capital told IRIN. “Maybe because of our history, it is often the case in Guinea-Bissau that political contradictions are transformed and resolved into the fight for national sovereignty against one common enemy. Now the enemy is Angola.”

Tensions had also built between the military and the prime minister because of Carlos Gomes's official support for a long-overdue reform of the security sector, which would involve reducing the size of the armed forces; retiring older soldiers; and building up the civilian police force, say many observers.

Some international officials say certain military leaders do not wish to be retired, fearing they will no longer benefit from their privileged position in the drug trafficking economy, which continues to flourish in the country.

“Divisive figure”

The coup put an end to the electoral process that many believe would have led to the election of Carlos Gomes Jr as president. On 18 March he won the first round with 49 percent of the votes. His opponents contested the fairness of the process and refused to run in a second round.

Gomes Jr is seen as a “divisive figure”, according to Foucher, as he lacks the diplomacy and tact required to impose civilian rule on distrustful military heads.

The prime minister’s “overwhelming hegemony fed opponents’ frustrations”, warned Foucher in an editorial two weeks before the coup. “This frustration is dangerous because it is shared by part of the army and is leading to the possibility of yet more military intervention in political life,” he wrote.

Several high-profile murders, including those of ex-president Joao Bernardo Vieira in 2009, a chief of staff of the armed forces, and a candidate at the 2009 presidential elections, occurred under Carlos Gomes’ rule and have yet to be clarified.


Some say opposition politicians pushed the military into taking action before Gomes Jr’s anticipated victory. A Guinean academic called a declaration (that there would be no campaign) by opposition leader Kumba Yala just before the coup, a “troubling coincidence”.

As a member of the Balante, a strong ethnic group which dominates the army, and a long-time supporter of the military, Kumba Yala is a prime suspect. Despite having condemned the military’s actions, he signed the 18 April declaration of opposition leaders and military commanders calling for the dissolution of government institutions and the implementation of the two-year transitional rule proposal.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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