Joao Bernado Vieira, President of Guinea-Bissau, was shot dead today as he tried to flee his house. Earlier in the day the army chief of staff, Gen. Tagme na Waie, was killed by in explosion in his office at the army HQ. It is suspected that it is Tagme loyalists that killed the president. The two – the president and his chief of staff – had recently seen a deterioration in their relations. The Guinean (Bissau) army however claims that this is not a coup. It remains unclear whether the civilian government or the army is in charge right now.
The African Union has condemned both killings, stating that the latest turn of events is a setback to the peace building initiative in the poverty-stricken West African country (per capita nominal GDP is at a mere $213). Vieira himself came to power in a coup in 1980. He won the country’s first multiparty elections in 1994 before being ousted in a coup in 1999 and then being re-elected in 2005. In 1986 he executed his own vice president after a coup attempt.
This is the third coup in West Africa in the last one year. Mauritania and Guinea witnessed coups in August and December of last year respectively. It is a shame that in 2009 West African Generals still see coups as acceptable means of power transfer. The region has seen the most coups on the continent of Africa. Since 1955 there have been 49 successful military led coups among the 16 West African States. Unsuccessful plots approach 100. A lot of blame also goes to authoritarian governments in this region that have denied their citizens of any means of loyal opposition. To paraphrase that old saying, those that live by the gun eventually do die by the gun.