First Mali, now Guinea-Bissau: For the second time in a few weeks, a West African country is thrown into chaos by a military coup.
History is repeating itself in Guinea-Bissau. Soldiers have stormed the national broadcaster and attacked the residence of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, who was favored to win the presidential poll in two weeks. Now, the country is in a state of emergency, and the head of the government is missing.
A spokesperson for the governing PAIGC party said the prime minister was "in a safe place." His wife, however, said her husband had been arrested by the rebel troops and had been brought to an undisclosed place. Interim President Raimundo Pereira is also believed to be held by soldiers.
"Officially there is no information as to their whereabouts," said Fernando Peixeiro, journalist with the Portuguese news agency LUSA in Guinea-Bissau. "Several sources suggest the interim president is being held in the fortress of Amura, but no one knows where Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior is. But he is said to be safe."
Chaos in the capital
Shortly after the public broadcaster went silent on Thursday night, gunshots where heard in the capital, Bissau. The prime minister's house was attacked by anti-tank missiles, and the military took control of the PAIGC party headquarters, as well as of other strategically important points of the capital. Eyewitness accounts suggest they went from foreign embassy to foreign embassy, preventing politicians from seeking refuge there.
"Many people fled, many tried to get away from the city center," said Peixeiro. "Between 8 and 9 p.m. there was the sound of machine guns and other weapons. The area around the prime minister's and the president's residences was sealed off." On Friday, the situation in Bissau seemed quiet, but the question of who was actually in power remained unclear.
Coup instead of election
The runoff vote for the presidency had been scheduled for April 29. Carlos Gomes Junior was due to run against his main political rival, Kumba Yala, to determine who would take over from the late President Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January.
After the first round of voting, Yala released a statement together with other politicians alleging election fraud. "There is evidence. Even if it's only in one constituency it is proof that the vote was not legitimate," he said.
But election observers from the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries have all described the vote to be free and fair. On Thursday, just ahead of the coup, Yala said "there will be no election campaign, I guarantee that." Observers have interpreted that statement to mean that Yala may be behind the coup.
A fragile state
Since the introduction of multi-party democracy in the 1990s, there has not been a single head of state to actually complete a full term in Guinea-Bissau. The country has experienced coups, political upheaval, politically motivated violence and murders. In 2009, then-President Joao Bernardo Vieira was assassinated after Military Chief of Staff Tagme Na Waie was killed in a bomb attack. The assassins were never caught.
The country's instability was shown by the recent murder of Samba Diallo, the former head of the military intelligence, during election night on March 18. In order to better control the troops and to reform the military, Carlos Gomes Junior had brought in a group of experts from Angola. Internationally, Gomes Junior has been held in high respect. His country, though, still has the reputation to be one of the least stable in Africa and a hub for drug trafficking between South America and Europe.
The relationship between the premier and army chief Antonio Indjai has long "been a horrible one," explained Paulo Gorjao, of the Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security.
"Already during the military coup of 2010, which brought down ex-military chief Zamora Induta, there had been threats against Carlos Gomes Junior's life," he said. This most recent coup has once again left Guinea-Bissau in a power vacuum.
Author: Helena De Gouveia / ai
Editor: Martin Kuebler