Guinea-Bissau’s president assassinated

Shocking news from Guinea-Bissau, where president Joao Bernardo Vieira and his army’s chief-of-staff have both been assassinated.  The two men were thought to be rivals, so the killing of Vieira may have been a revenge attack. There is no evidence yet that the killings were linked to the country’s lucrative drug trade (see my earlier posts here, here and here), but the battle for access to it appears to be intensifying. Coming just weeks after the successful coup in Guinea, this latest convulsion may be part of a worrying trend of increasing instability on the West African coast.

Update: The Times is fairly sure Vieira’s death was a revenge attack.  Interestingly, too, it quotes an expert analyst who thinks the bombing of the army chief-of-staff, General Tagme Na Waie, was a “drugs hit,” with his men killing Vieira in the erroneous belief that he had authorised the hit.

Another update: An army faction has admitted that it killed President Vieira, who was shot by soldiers loyal to General Tagme as he tried to flee from his house. They say this is not a coup, however, and that they will respect the constitution and allow the head of parliament to take over. A different army spokesman, on the other hand, promised that his bit of the army would pursue the killers.  Dangerous times indeed.

And another: Anyone wanting background on the wider issues behind the troubles in Guinea-Bissau might be interested in this talk I gave to the UK Home Office last month.

One more: Fear is gripping the people of Guinea-Bissau. According to one eyewitness, they are staying in their homes because radio stations have been closed down and nobody knows if it’s safe to venture out. The reporter expects mixed reactions to the assassination, however – he points out that 70% of Guineans voted against Vieira in the last elections. I expect the majority reaction will largely depend on whether or not the next leader can maintain peace. If another civil war breaks out, even those who voted against the late president might long for the relative stability he brought.