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Guinea-Bissau: President Passes Away Amidst Political Upheaval

After being hospitalized for almost three months, the President of Guinea-Bissau, Malam Bacai Sanhá, passed away in Paris on Monday, January 9, 2012. He was 64 years and died of diabetes, leaving the small Portuguese-speaking African country in a delicate political situation.

Malam Bacai Sanhá, deceased president of Guinea-Bissau. Photo from António Aly Silva (used with permission).

Malam Bacai Sanhá, deceased president of Guinea-Bissau. Photo from António Aly Silva (used with permission).

A familiar political figure in the country, Bacai Sanhá was a member of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). He had served as acting president of Guinea-Bissau from 1999 to 2000. He then tried for the presidency twice before winning the presidential elections in 2009.

The government decreed seven days of national mourning during which, the flag will be flown at half-mast. The repatriation of Sanhá's body for burial, is also underway.

The constitution stipulates that an election must take place within 90 days. Meanwhile, the President of the National People's Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, has begun serving as the pre-election, interim president.

Recent upheaval and political tension

On December 26, 2011, the capital city Bissau was the stage of an intense political turmoil. A dissenting section of the military conducted an upheaval, considered a preamble to a coup d'état, as this group had the support of a number of politicians.

Antônio Aly Silva, the most visible face of the Guinea-Bissauan blogosphere, had followed these activities closely on his blog [pt], as they had unfolded throughout the day:

Bissau acordou soalheira, mas estranha. E sobretudo confusa.

Bissau woke up sunny but strange. And above all, confusing.
"Military moving around in Bissau". Photos by Aly Silva, used with permission.

"Military moving around in Bissau". Photos by Aly Silva, used with permission.

The word “confusing” gives a good idea of the perception of the events that followed the alleged attempt of coup d’état. Military personnel on the streets, sounds of gunshot and the cut on public lighting, built the scene of instability – together with rumors, accusations and arrest warrants.

The population even followed the chase of Major Iaia Dabó, who was said to have willingly turned himself over to the police and was later announced dead [pt]. Dabó was shot in cold blood inside the car [pt] of Deputy Conduto de Pina by the Police of Rapid Intervention. Iaia Dabó's brother, Baciro Dabó, was killed in similar conditions in 2006, involved in another attempt of coup d'état.

Rear Admiral Bubo Na Tchuto was accused of leading the upheavel and was arrested [pt] on December 26, by orders of the Army Chief, Antonio Indjai. They were both involved in recent political events in the country. In August 2008, Bubo Na Tchuto tried to organize a coup, but was pre-empted and arrested. He escaped and later returned to Guinea-Bissau under the protection of the UN.

In 2010 however, military unrest was responsible for the arrest of Bubo Na Tchuto (from inside the UN building) and of the Prime Minister Carlos Gomes. The Army Chief Antonio Indjai conducted the unrest, and said that he would kill the prime minister if his supporters kept on with the demonstrations for his release. President Bacai Sanhá intervened and put an end to the unrest, calling it a confusion between soldiers.

Aly Silva reported the general feeling [pt] that remained in Bissau, after what he called a day of '96 hours':

Quase quatro dias depois de uma suposta sublevacao nas casernas, Bissau ainda guarda o medo. O medo desta noite, da noite de amanha e de outra noites. Ha avenidas que ainda sao cortadas a noite, ruas ainda mais escuras. No entanto, as declaracoes parecem unanimes, quer falemos do Governo, quer da classe castrense, quer ainda das organizacoes internacionais: “a situacao esta controlada”. Mas nao, nao esta.

Nearly four days after an alleged uprising in the barracks, Bissau still has fear. The fear of tonight, tomorrow night and other nights. There are still closed avenues at night, even darker streets. However, the statements seem unanimous whether from the Government, the military class or even international organizations: “The situation is controlled.” But no, it isn't.
"Calm returns to Bissau". Photo shared by Léo Diouf (@dioufleo) on Twitter (December 26, 2011).

"Calm returns to Bissau". Photo shared by Léo Diouf (@dioufleo) on Twitter (December 26, 2011).

Providing an outlook [pt] of the aftermath of the upheaval, Aly added:

55 pessoas estao detidas, repartidas por 3 unidades militares e uma civil: Marinha de guerra (29 detidos), base aerea (24 detidos), quartel de Mansoa (1 detido – Bubo Na Tchuto) e Policia Judiciaria (Marcelino Cabral – Djoi). Por este andar, o fim-de-ano sera…una mierda!

55 people are detained, across three military and one civilian units: Navy (29 detainees), air base (24 detainees), barracks Mansoa (1 arrested – Bubo Na Tchuto) and Judicial Police (Marcelino Cabral – Djoi). At this rate, the year-end will be … una mierda (shit)!

He later announced that three soldiers who had been detained in the prison of Marinha da Guerra were released on January 6.

Finally, Aly Silva expressed his worries [pt] with “Bissau under siege”, with many of the avenues and roads closed by the military at night:

O País não está bem, nota-se, ainda que os que mandam tentem mostrar alguma serenidade, e normalidade, no meio do caos que se instalou a 26 de dezembro. Percebe-se. Eu entendo-os. Num País onde a oportunidade tende a ser a mãe de todas as batalhas – desgraças – um descuido, um limpar de espingarda pode ser a morte do artista…

The country is not well, you can tell; even if the ones who rule try to show some composure and normality amid the chaos that was installed on December 26, it can be sensed. I understand them. In a country where the opportunity is likely to be the mother of all battles – misfortunes – an oversight, cleaning the shotgun can be the death of an artist…
Sara Moreira collaborated on this post.

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