Malam Bacai Sanha: President of the troubled state of Guinea-Bissau

 

Malam Bacai Sanha was president of the tiny, impoverished West African state of Guinea-Bissau, who came to power following the assassination of the country's previous leader. Although he took over promising to clean up the troubled country's drug trafficking, crime and corruption, little was done.

He became known for his frequent visits to hospitals in Senegal and France, which were always described as "routine check-ups," but it was an open secret that he suffered from severe diabetes and a haemoglobin problem. He was admitted to the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris in mid-December for an unspecified ailment, and before he died Sanha was in a coma. The head of the National Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, is expected to take over until new elections can be organised.

In a country with a long history of internal conflict, Sanha's death has caused many to fear for Guinea-Bissau as it now faces a power vacuum with pretenders to the presidency jostling for position. However, peaceful transitions are rare and there was a suspected coup attempt two weeks ago in which more than 100 military personnel, many high-ranking, were arrested.

Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, with Cuban assistance, after a long struggle spearheaded by the left-wing African Party for theIndependence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), the country has been plagued by corruption, coups and assassinations. Sanha won the 2009 elections with two-thirds of the votes after his predecessor, Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, was killed in his home hours after the head of the army died in a bomb explosion. Sanha's victory, in a peaceful transition of power, marked a rare bright spot for Guinea-Bissau. Less than a year after Vieira's murder, mutinous soldiers seized the head of the armed forces and placed the prime minister under house arrest in another apparent coup attempt.

Though it was once considered a potential model for African development, Guinea-Bissau's fortunes have declined. Violence and instability have taken their toll on the country's economic development, and it sits at the bottom of most economic and health indices. Two-thirds of its 1.6 million population live below the poverty line on less than $1.50 per day. It has huge debts and relies heavily on foreign aid.

Born in Dar Salam in the Quinara region in the west of the country, Malam Bacai Sanha, a long-time member of the PAIGC, was a guerrilla in the Marxist-led war of independence against Portugal. He served as regional governor to Gabu and Biombo and held several cabinet positions before becoming President of the National People's Assembly in 1994. The same year saw the country's first free elections with Joao Vieira becoming president, supported by General Mane.

Four years later, with Mane not receiving his reward for supporting Vieira, a crippling civil war ensued in which thousands were killed, wounded and displaced. Vieira was deposed in 1999 and Sanha was appointed acting President by the military junta. The war ended after foreign mediation led to a truce, policed by West African peacekeepers, and free elections followed in 2000. Promising peace and an end to political persecution, Sanha stood, but lost to the Mane-backed Kumba Yala. Yala was ousted in a bloodless military coup in September 2003. In the 2005 elections, Sanha lost again to Vieira, but his rule was brought to a bloody end in March 2009.

In such a lawless country, with many high-ranking officials believed to be involved in trafficking narcotics, it is perhaps not surprising that Guinea-Bissau, with its archipelago of islands that sprinkle its coastline, has become a hub for drug-smuggling from Latin America to Europe. This has prompted fears that the drugs trade could further destabilise an already volatile country; Sanha had pledged to combat the flow of narcotics. According to the UN drugs agency, some 27 per cent of the cocaine consumed annually in Europe passes through West Africa, and Guinea-Bissau is the worst culprit.

The former justice minister and analyst Carlos Vamain called Sanha's presidency "difficult and complex. Difficult in the context of narco-trafficking and also the unchanging socio-economic problems of the country. His presidency did not bring the results people had hoped."

Malam Bacai Sanha, politician: born Dar Salam, Guinea-Bissau 5 May 1947; married Mariam (one child); died Paris 9 January 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests