According to the AFP news agency: “Heavily armed men surrounded the Palace of Government, where President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and prime minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam were believed to have gone to attend a cabinet meeting.”
The soldiers around the government palace, located on the outskirts of the city not far from the airport, kept people at bay. An AFP correspondent reported that a man with a gun ordered him to move away at gunpoint. The area around the airport was filled with people fleeing the scene. Markets emptied and banks closed. Numerous military vehicles loaded with soldiers drove through the streets.
Tensions within the executive
While no information was yet available on the fate of President Embalo, an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) communiqué issued in the afternoon held “the military responsible for the physical integrity” of the head of state and asked them to “return to their barracks”.
This comes less than a week after a ministerial reshuffle on 24 January in which the secretary of state for public order, Albert Malu, was dismissed. He was at the forefront of the conflict between the government and the president over an A340 airliner that came from Banjul with presidential approval.
Prime minister Gomes had initially said that the plane was carrying suspicious cargo and had entered the country illegally, but later retracted his statement.
Guinea-Bissau is known as a ‘narco-state’ after the hollowing out and corruption of government functions by drug-runners who bring cocaine over from Latin America and up through the Sahara to the European market. The International Monetary Fund defines a narco-state as one in which “all legitimate institutions become penetrated by the power and wealth of traffickers.”
The most recent coup in the country dates back to 2012, with the previous decade marking an unprecedented period of peace, if not stability. The 2012 coup leader, Antonio Indjai, was eventually indicted by a New York grand jury on drug trafficking charges related to Colombian cocaine cartels.
Embalo’s tenure has not been smooth sailing. It took almost four months after the disputed presidential election results of 29 December 2019 for ECOWAS to announce on 22 April that it recognised Embalo’s election, while calling for the nomination of a new prime minister.
West Africa has experienced a rash of coups recently: in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Mali.
More details as they emerge…
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