At nightfall on Thursday, April 12, 2012, dozens of military personnel took the streets of the capital of Guinea-Bissau, the headquarters of the historic political party in power, PAIGC (Partido Africano para a Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde, or African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde), and the National Radio, starting yet another coup d'etat in a country that since independence in 1974 has never seen an elected president make it to the end of term.
In recent weeks, two events raised the tension levels in the military and political arenas: as Global Voices reported, there were allegations of “generalized fraud” by the opposition in the first round of presidential elections on March 18 (early elections due to the death of President Malam Bacai Sanhá in January 2012) and the announcement of the withdrawal of the Angolan Security Mission in the country, MISSANG.
The armed forces and the quest for arms
News of the military withdrawal [pt] at the beginning of the week had raised alarm about the possibility of a military coup being prepared. Guinean military personnel had taken what is considered a political stance in demanding the reinforcements of Angolan military equipment that MISSANG had received after the failed coup attempt of December 2011 – “if not, they should return it to Angola”.
The spokesman for the Guinean Armed Forces, Daba Na Walna, moreover told journalists [pt] that, two days after polls closed on March 20, the Angolan ambassador in Guinea-Bissau, General Feliciano dos Santos, had accused the General António Indjai, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, of intending to bring about a coup d'etat.
Portuguese journalist Helena Ferro de Gouveia wrote [pt] in her blog Domadora de Camalões about the “formal reasons behind the position the Guinean military men took”, and added:
[com] o afastamento dos militares angolanos, que apesar de inúmeras críticas que lhe podem ser feitas têm sido o garante de alguma estabilidade no país, a Guiné mergulharia numa nova espiral de incerteza.
On the beginning of the 12, the National Movement of Civil Society for Peace, Democracy and Development (MNSCPDD), had announced [pt] a peaceful march “with the goal of defending the values of democracy, Peace and democracy itself,” exalting “the Armed Forces to remain neutral and non-partisan in relation to the political dispute under way in the country”.
Meanwhile, a few hours later, the coup began.
Reactions on Twitter and blogs
A little before 8pm, journalist António Aly Silva, on his blog Ditadura do Consenso (Dictatorship of Consensus), announced [pt] that “dozens of military personnel have just descended on the residence of candidate Carlos Gomes Jr (out front and out back), and also on the delegation of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and that there were “many people fleeing, running, through the city of Bissau”. Then the first shots were heard.
On Twitter, the international community did not hesitate to respond. InDepth aggregated a series of tweets and various media sources on a Storify page. A number of people, like Mel Huang (@mel_huang), mentioned the wave of rebellions that have happened in countries near Guinea-Bissau.
George Ayittey (@ayittey), economics professor and author from Ghana, vented:
Look, we are FED UP with these military brutes, bandits, vagabonds and coconut-heads: http://bbc.in/IHyHUv
To which Majaliwa (@majaliwa68), from Tanzania, responded:
yes,in the same countries…it seems they occur repeatedly in same sample of countries NOT across Africa =stereotype!
Aly Silva left an appeal to the international community:
Mais de um milhão de guineenses estão reféns de militares…guineenses. Temos sido sacudidos e violentados, usurpam e tolhem-nos os nossos direitos, até o mais básico. Até quando mais a comunidade internacional vai tolerar que gente medíocre – alguma classe política, e militar faça refèm todo um povo? (…)
Nada justifica o levantar das armas, é intolerável o disparo de armas pesadas numa cidade com mais de quatrocentas mil pessoas. É criminoso, acima de tudo. Tiveram tudo para estancar a hemorragia e a orgia de violência. Sabem há muito que este é um país que nasceu, cresceu e vive sob laivos de militarismo.
(…) Não há tiros, nem feridos nas urgências e menos ainda corpos na morgue resultado de mais uma brutalidade da canalha. Não se sabe quem morreu – espero e desejo que ninguém tenha sido morto. Um país é o último, e único, refúgio seguro para o seu povo. Foi traumatizante ver mulheres e crianças a chorar; é triste ver homens e jovens a fugir de homens e jovens como eles.
More than a million Guineans are hostages of military men… Guinean ones. We have been shaken and assaulted, they have usurped and restricted our rights, even the most basic ones. How long will the international community continue to tolerate that mediocre people – some political and military class, keeps a whole people hostage? (…)
Nothing justifies taking up arms, and shooting of heavy weaponry is intolerable in a city of more than 400,000 people. It is criminal, above all else. They had all they needed to stop the bleeding and the orgy of violence. They've known for a long time that this country was born, grew up and lives in the context of militarism.
(…) There is no shooting, no wounded at the emergency room and much less victims at the morgue resulting from yet another rogue brutal act. It is not known who died – I hope and wish that nobody has been killed. The country is the last, and the only, secure refugee for its own people. It was traumatizing to see women and children crying; it is sad to see men and young people running away from men and young people just like them.
Friday 13 morning, the journalist reported that “there are more and more military on the streets, some circulating even in civilian cars. The situation has become tense again, sign that something is not right. Meanwhile, the self-named ‘Military Command’ made an (unsigned) statement saying that the revolt was caused by a hypothetical ‘secret agreement’ between Guinea-Bissau and Angola, by the interim President Raimundo Pereira and the Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr.”
The whereabouts of Carlos Gomes Júnior, winner of the first round of voting for President, and Prime Minister at the time of the death of the former president, are still unknown. The second round of elections is scheduled for April 29, to be disputed with ex-President Kumba Yalá, even though he refuses to participate, having asked for the elections to be annulled and demanded that the National Electoral Commission (CNE) withdraw his name and his photo from the second round ballot in protest against alleged irregularities in the first round.