"No one has the right to massacre the people of Guinea-Bissau in order to steal power by means of the gun” was the word from President Vieira on November 23rd, 2008 (less than a week after parliamentary elections) in response to a recent attempt on his life. The statement rang especially hollow, in part because Vieira himself came to power in a military uprising in 1980; The truth of the matter is that in Guinea-Bissau no one may have the right to a coup d’etat, but their history of effectiveness means that they will continue to be used as a mechanism for social change, especially by minority groups with little faith in the electoral system.
The most recent attempted coup was perpetrated by disgruntled members of the armed forces allegedly led by Guinea Bissau Navy Sergeant Alexandre Ntchama Yala – nephew of former President Kumba Yala. Kumba Yala has recently accused Vieira of being “the country's top drug trafficker” – no small charge considering the sheer scope of the drug trafficking problem in Guinea-Bissau, which borders on being a narco-state. Before the attempted assassination police attempting to take Yala into custody for questioning relating to his recent drug allegations against the President were fought off by supporters. Yala’s party, the Social Renewal Party (PRS) received only 28 of the 100 seats in the November 16th parliamentary elections, causing him to denounce the elections as rigged, despite assurances from the African Union as well as United Nations observers that the elections were “free and fair”- or at least free and fair enough that the international observers weren’t going to raise any fuss about it. Whether or not these parliamentary elections were free or fair is perhaps not the most pressing concern when the President is attempting arrest his political rivals.
After successful coups both in 1980 and 1999 (the former putting now-President Vieira in power and the latter ousting him) as well as attempted coups in 1985 and this past August, violence seems like a viable option to dissenting parties – especially on the eve of elections which they see as illegitimate. While the most recent coup against President Vieira was unsuccessful due to his prior knowledge of the attack, given the historical inclination to and success of violent uprising in post-colonial Guinea-Bissau one can assume that it will be by far the last attempt in the poverty-stricken former Portuguese colony. Coup d’états occur when there is unrest in a country, and when they believe that the coups could succeed. The rampaging cholera epidemic and rampant narcotic trafficking in Guinea-Bissau create a strong case for unrest, and there historical examples of successful coup d’états in both the country and the region. The perpetrators of the coup certainly believed both of these criteria were met, and that does not bode well for the future stability in Guinea-Bissau - regardless of the praise international organization may heap upon the recent parliamentary elections.