Guinea Bissau: Elections derailed by another coup

The new military junta defies calls for a return to constitutional order and announces an interim governing council.

On April 12th, on the eve of the kickoff of the campaign for the April 29th presidential runoff, soldiers seized the headquarters of the ruling PAIGC party and the national radio station and arrested outgoing Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and Interim President Raimundo Pereira.

Gomes Junior is not popular with the military, which he had vowed to prune. He had won the first round of the election, while former President Kumba Yala was second. But Yala had called for a boycott of the second round, alleging that the first was rigged. Pereira was appointed as interim head of state following the death of President Malam Bacai Sanhá, who died in January following a long illness. The International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit Gomes Junior and Pereira on April 20th and said it had been able to give them medical supplies, clothes and toiletries, adding that both men have been allowed to send news to their families.


Guinea-Bissau has a long history of coups, misrule and political instability since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974. Since 1998, it has been through one war, four military coups and the murder of one president and four military chiefs-of-staff. No president has ever completed a full term in office.

This instability has allowed cocaine traffickers to exploit the struggling state as a transit point for cocaine being moved from Latin America into Europe. The drug trade is worth about double the country’s official GDP and senior army officials allegedly control the trade. Army officers have even re-claimed drugs seized by the  ill-equipped police.

The UN Special Representative for Guinea Bissau, Mr. Joseph Mutaboba, who is also the head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea Bissau (UNIOGBIS), which was set up in 2009 to promote stability in the country, told the UN Security Council that negotiations on a power deal between the junta and some other elements in the country have excluded the parliamentary majority party, the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC).

”I call attention to the fact that any solution that excludes the PAIGC and other parliamentary parties is a recipe for a future crisis and would be a negation of the will of the people through elections in 2008,” he said.

Chair of the Guinea Bissau Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, said the Security Council and the international community as a whole must act with resolve to assist Guinea Bissau in breaking away, once and for all, from the cycle of violence, coup d’états, impunity and instability that has plagued the country for so long.

”The solution to the current crisis requires the immediate release of all the authorities presently detained by the coup perpetrators, the return of the Armed Forces to the barracks and the resumption of the electoral process,” she said.

April: Ten Days in Bissau

12th: Army seizes hq of PAIGC and radio station.  Arrests PM and presidential frontrunner Carlos Gomes Junior and Interim President Raimundo Pereira.

13th: ECOWAS sends a delegation to Bissa. Coup leaders agree to allow the immediate restoration of normal constitutional rule.

14th: The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), currently headed by Angola, adopts a resolution at a meeting in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, calling for the creation of an “intervention force under the aegis of the United Nations.”

15th: The military authorities close the country’s maritime borders and airspace to preclude foreign intervention.

16th: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expresses grave concern over the fact that, despite calls by the international community, the coup leaders have continued to deepen the political crisis through their declared plans to establish a transitional government. The EU issues strong condemnation.

17th: The African Union suspends Guinea-Bissau from all AU activities with immediate effect, pending restoration of constitutional order. The African Development Bank and the World Bank suspend development programmes, with the exception of urgent assistance. South Africa deplores the coup former colonial power Portugal says it is sending navy ships and a plane for a possible evacuation of its nationals.

18th: The National Transitional Council (NTC) is formed to run the country for two years after an agreement between the junta and leaders of 20 opposition parties says Junta spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Daba Da Walna. Manuel Sherif Nhamadjo, who finished third in the first round of presidential elections on March 18th is named head but tells Al Jazeera he was not consulted.

19th: The PAIGC and eight other parties denounce the NTC as illegal and call for the electoral process to be completed.  ECOWAS calls the creation of the NTC an “usurpation of power”

21st: Raising the possibility of targeted sanctions, the UN Security Council demands the immediate restoration of constitutional order as well as the reinstatement of the legitimate government. The junta says its plan for a two-year transition was only a suggestion. Nhamadjo says he is turning down what he describes as an “illegal” appointment.

23rd: The EU joins other in saying it will not recognize the NTC. ECOWAS cancels an emergency trip to Bissau because of the junta’s intransigence.

The Angolan Angle

The military command has accused Angola of interfering in security matters.  Lieutenant Colonel Daba Nah Waina, one of the coup’s leaders, told IPS: “The crisis has been brewing since Angolan soldiers arrived in Guinea-Bissau with vehicles and weapons, but without notifying the chief of staff of the armed forces of the country.”

The Angolan government operates a bauxite mine in the east of Guinea-Bissau – the country is one of the world’s leading producers of this mineral – and also has an interest in a project to construct a new port in the south.

Since October 2011, some 300 Angolan troops have been present in Guinea-Bissau, drafted in to reform the army and police of the country in line with an agreement between the two governments. But the coup plotters accuse Angola of wanting to “destroy” the country’s army and have demanded that Angolan troops leave.

There are rumours that the coup was motivated by a desire to pre-empt an expected crackdown on corrupt army generals by Gomes Junior.  Such a move might have been aided by the elite troops from Angola.

Find out more with the following issues of the Africa Research Bulletin

Presidential election – first round   (Vol. 49 Number 3 Political series)

Leading presidential candidates (Vol. 49 Number 3 Political series)

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