GUINEA-BISSAU: Instability returns to capital

DAKAR, 1 April 2010 (IRIN) – Bissau-Guineans have endured decades of coups and countercoups and many were hoping a peaceful presidential election in 2009 marked a step towards stability and development. But fear returned to the streets of the capital Bissau on 1 April, after the Prime Minister and Army Chief were detained by mutinous soldiers.

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Crowds gathered outside the official residence of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior to greet him after he was released by soldiers a few hours later. They waved photographs of the Prime Minister and chanted “Death to Dictatorship”.

“We have had enough of military intervention” said Carlos Luis, a Bissau-based shopkeeper.

Jaime Gomes, a civil servant told IRIN “The Prime Minister’s agenda has been interrupted. He was on a good path – salaries were beginning to be regularly paid, and he was against corruption. This event sadly puts everything into question again.”

The relentless political instability has blocked numerous governments from building up basic services and improving people’s living conditions. Maternal and infant mortality levels in Guinea-Bissau are among the world’s highest, and most people lack of access to clean water or sanitation, according to the UN human development index.

Though the Prime Minister was released, Army Chief Zamora Induta – an ally – was not. Zamora’s deputy, Antonio Indjai, told the crowds to leave the streets and go home. “The Prime Minister is responsible for terrible atrocities, why are you supporting him? If you stay here I will lose my mind and kill him,” he said, indicating the longstanding divisions between the two men.

The crowds dispersed but local radio stations continued to play songs by the Bissau-Guinean pro-democracy group Super Mama Djombo. In downtown Bissau, people chanted songs by Ze Manel, a musical activist.

Some roads were closed around the presidential palace and the Prime Minister’s office but many businesses operated as usual.

Joseph Mutabobam, UN head in Guinea-Bissau, recently told IRIN: “The problem in Guinea-Bissau is that many people in government and the military have their own agendas. If people would work together rather than for themselves the political situation could improve.”

Pedro Mendez, unemployed, told IRIN “All the problems in this country come from the military. The international community must help Guinea-Bissau speed up security sector reform. Otherwise we won’t see peace.”

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior does not have a strong support base within the army according to analysts.

Today’s events are believed to be related to Bubo Na Tchuto, the former head of the navy who was accused of planning a coup in 2008. He secretly returned to Guinea-Bissau in December 2009 and sought refuge at the local United Nations HQ there according to officials. According to the UN, the government demanded he be handed over but he remained at the United Nations building until Thursday morning, when soldiers loyal to deputy army chief Antonio Indjai stormed the building and left with him.

Tchuto told reporters he was not responsible for the 2008 coup attempt. “There are politicians with more blood on their hands than I,” he said. “I would never let down my men; I would never do that to my people.”


Residence of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior Photo: Kate Thomas IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]