Guinea-Bissau: Military Coup Threatens Democratic Process

Guinea-Bissau is once again in the throes of an attempted coup to depose its leadership. The military took over key parts of the capital of Guinea-Bissau yesterday, reportedly taking over the national radio station and the ruling party headquarters. The country’s interim president, Raimundo Pereira, and the outgoing prime minister and presidential hopeful Carlos Gomes Jr. (also known as Cadogo), are reportedly detained by the miliary. While the situation is still evolving,  what we know is that the coup – which is taking place between the two rounds of a presidential election to replace the late Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January – was precipitated by discontent with Cadogo. Coup leaders – who have not yet clearly identified themselves or their intentions – said in a statement on state radio: “The events of yesterday (Thursday) occurred because we discovered the existence of a secret military accord signed by Prime Minister Carlos Gomes, interim president Raimundo Pereira, the government of Guinea-Bissau and Angola.” Other news outlets report that, just days ago, the Angolan government announced its intention to wind down its mission in Guinea-Bissau.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau’s balance of power ebbs and flows depending on the whims of its top civilian and military leadership.  The latest coup attempt prior to this one took place in late 2011, but was foiled by the head of the army, General Indjai. Indjai himself had led a coup against Cadogo in 2010, proclaiming “If the people continue to go out into the streets to show their support for Carlos Gomes Jr., then I will kill Carlos Gomes Jr. […] or I will send someone to kill him.” Guinea-Bissau is no stranger to coup d’etats, or attempted coups: the head of state was murdered by mutinous soldiers in 2009, following a failed attempt to kill him in 2008; the head of the army suffered the same fate in 2004. A successful coup in 2003 deposed Kumba Yala, who happens to be the other presidential contender in the current election. And this is just looking at the last nine years.

Since the first round of elections last month, opposition candidate and presidential contender Kumba Yala had harshly criticized the vote, citing fraud and rigging, and had said he would boycott the second round. Hours before the coup began yesterday, Yala had warned of “consequences” if campaigning for the second round went ahead. While Cadogo had been doing a decent job of restoring relations with the international community, his tight grip on the apparatus of power and control of state media made the opposition particularly bitter and disenchanted. Cadogo’s perceived ties with the Angolan military – all the while calling for the downsizing of the Guinean military – amplify feelings of distrust.

It’s hard to imagine how the second round can go ahead in a mere couple of weeks. At this stage, though, we’re still trying to understand who exactly the coup leaders are, and what their intentions are. On Twitter, @eliaws notes that a popular political blogger has been arrested. For now, tensions run high in the small West African state – we’ll wait and see what the next few days and weeks bring.