Soldiers have tried to overthrow the Guinea-Bissau government, according to the Ecowas regional bloc, a week after Burkina Faso’s president was ousted amid rising coups in West Africa.
Heavy fire erupted Tuesday in the capital, Bissau, near the government palace, where President Umaro Sissoko Embalo chaired a cabinet meeting, according to news agencies. The experience was followed by a coup in the region: troops in Mali, Guinea, Chad and Burkina Faso seized power amid growing insecurity and economic turmoil.
“The coup virus is now spreading through the air throughout the subregion,” said W. Gude Moore, a former Liberian public affairs minister and senior political associate at the Washington-based Center for Global Development. wrote on Twitter. Unconfirmed videos on social media show heavy fires in Bissau on Tuesday afternoon, but Embalo’s whereabouts are still unclear by evening.
The Economic Community of West African States has condemned what it calls “coup attempt“. In a statement, the 15-member regional bloc said: “Ecowas asks the military to return to their barracks and maintain a republican position.”
The group issued an almost identical statement last Sunday when a shooting broke out in Burkina Faso’s capital, Faso Ouagadougou. The next day, soldiers announced on state television that they had ousted President Roh Cabore, suspended the constitution and dissolved the government – this week’s coup leader, Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaago Damiba, was appointed interim president and head of the armed forces.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned by the news of heavy fighting in Bissau. He insisted on an immediate cessation of hostilities and full respect for the country’s democratic institutions.
The move follows a pattern set by Colonel Asimi Goita in Mali, who led the overthrow of the democratically elected government in August 2020 and took full power in May 2021, calling himself interim president.
Ecowas has repeatedly condemned coups among its members, temporarily suspending and sanctioning those countries where governments have fallen. But Moore said block was “congested”: “It does not have the bandwidth to deal with so many crises, in the midst of a pandemic, while each member is facing huge internal problems.”
The juntas that now rule Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali enjoy strong public support from citizens who are fed up with corrupt leadership, the lack of development and widespread insecurity that democratic elections have brought them.
“Public distrust of civilian governments is clearly growing, as evidenced by popular support for unconstitutional change of government,” said Eric Humfery-Smith, an African analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “This is a major test of reality for the rapidly shrinking list of democratic leaders in the region.
Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony that is sometimes called the first drug state in Africa because of its drug trafficking controls, suffered nine attempts or successful coups since its 1974 independence.