Who did it?

Just a final word at the end of a turbulent day on the assassination of Guinea-Bissau’s two most powerful men, the President Joao Bernardo Vieira and the army chief of staff, General Tagme Na Waie.  It seems pretty likely that troops close to the General were responsible for killing the President, in revenge for what they thought was a Vieira-backed plot to do away with his rival.

But the more interesting question is who killed Tagme Na Waie? Vieira is obviously the prime suspect, as he hated the General, who had accused him of involvement in the cocaine trade (many diplomats thought Tagme was also involved). Vieira had not shrunk from murder to get rid of political opponents during his first spell in charge of the country in the 1980s, and Tagme Na Waie himself blamed the presidential guard for an attempt on his life in January.

But an analyst who spoke to the Times today said the killing of the General bore the hallmarks of a hit by drug cartels.  South Americans using other Guineans (including possibly Vieira) to smooth their path through the country could have wanted to remove Tagme as he was getting in their way. This would tally with similar killings in Colombia and Mexico over the years, with one gang eliminating another’s key contacts or leaders.

But would the inevitable chaos provoked by such an action benefit the cartels? If they’d wanted chaos, surely they’d have chosen Liberia or Cote d’Ivoire rather than Guinea-Bissau as their transit point. Both those countries were or had just been at war when the Colombians arrived. Guinea-Bissau was stable by comparison. It is hard to see how turmoil helps the cartels, who, as John Robb said when I interviewed him recently, “want the maximum level of corruption and to be left alone, with bureaucratic apparatus geared towards helping them do business.” The dealers are, in the end, businessmen, and doing business will be infinitely more difficult if civil war breaks out.

Perhaps Tagme’s killers miscalculated, and assumed that Vieira would quickly be able to put a lid on any unrest that ensued from the murder.  If so (and even if they had no hand in either killing), might they now shift their operations to somewhere more stable – Senegal, maybe, or even Ghana?

Joao Bernardo Vieira – a turbulent life in a turbulent country

The life of Joao Bernardo Vieira, the President of Guinea-Bissau who was assassinated this morning, was a microcosm of the post-independence history of his country.

Born in 1939 and an electrician by trade, “Nino” rose to prominence during Guinea-Bissau’s war of independence, when he was a trusted comrade of Amilcar Cabral, who as head of a well-organised band of guerrillas led the country to freedom in 1974.  The PAIGC party, which Cabral formed and which Vieira led until his death, began as a revolutionary group whose goal was to expel the Portuguese colonialists and set up a socialist state. The party was both idealistic and pragmatic, its ethos summed up in a famous speech by Cabral:

Always remember that the people are not fighting for ideas…they fight and accept the sacrifices demanded by the struggle in order to gain material advantages, to live better and in peace, to benefit from progress, and for the better future of their children. National liberation, the struggle against colonialism, the construction of peace, progress and independence are hollow words unless they can be translated into a real improvement of living conditions.

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