Guinea-Bissau has launched a major investigation into a foiled attempt to overthrow President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, who survived a gun attack on Tuesday in the uprising that claimed 11 lives, according to the government.
“The government mourns … the loss of 11 valiant men during the attack. Eleven victims – soldiers and paramilitaries, four civilians including a top agriculture ministry official and his driver,” government spokesman Fernando Vaz said on Wednesday, who is also the West African country’s tourism minister.
Heavily armed men on Tuesday afternoon surrounded government buildings in the capital Bissau where Embalo and his prime minister were believed to be attending a cabinet meeting.
Embalo, 49, later told reporters that he had been unharmed during a five-hour gun battle, which he described as a plot to wipe out the government in Guinea-Bissau, one of Africa’s most unstable countries.
Guinea-Bissau’s capital appeared calm on Wednesday the day after Embalo survived the attack, as France joined condemnation for what has been called an attempted coup.
Life was slowly returning to the streets of Bissau as shops and banks reopened, according to AFP correspondents.
Soldiers were patrolling the streets, however, and also blocked access to the Palace of Government complex where the attack took place.
‘Kill the president’
Guinea-Bissau, an impoverished coastal state of approximately two million people lying south of Senegal, has suffered four military coups since independence from Portugal in 1974, its most recent military coup in 2012.
In 2014, the country pledged to return to democracy, but it has enjoyed little stability since and the armed forces wield substantial clout.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Embalo said that assailants had tried to “kill the president of the republic and the entire cabinet”.
“The attackers could have spoken to me before these bloody events that have seriously injured many and claimed lives,” he added, appearing calm.
The exact death toll from the attack and the identity and motives of the assailants remain unclear.
But Embalo said the attack was linked to decisions he had taken “to fight drug trafficking and corruption”.
Guinea-Bissau suffers from endemic corruption, and is known as a hub for cocaine trafficking between Latin America and Europe.
Wave of coups
Both the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which Guinea-Bissau is a member, condemned on Tuesday what they termed an “attempted coup”.
When France added its voice on Wednesday, it criticised “the coup attempt” in Bissau and said it supported “respect for the constitutional order and … support for the democratic institutions”.
The events sparked fear that the country would join the ranks of other West African governments that have fallen to military coups recently.
In Mali, the army seized power in 2020. Guinea’s military followed suit in September last year, removing elected president Alpha Conde.
Then on January 24, Burkina Faso’s army also announced it had deposed President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and taken control of the country.