Last Tuesday afternoon, heavily armed men surrounded the Palace of Government complex in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau. Inside, President Umaro Sissoco Embaló was midway through a cabinet meeting. The meeting was abruptly halted when gunshots rang out.
For the next five hours, the gunmen, dressed in civilian clothes, fought a pitched battle with the presidential security team. According to the government, 11 people died, including seven soldiers, although it did not clarify whether they were attackers or defenders.
Unlike recent coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, this attempt to overthrow a civilian government did not succeed. Looking a bit shaken but otherwise unharmed, Embaló addressed the nation that evening. “Everything is under control,” he said.
So far, there are few details about who instigated the coup attempt, or why. Embaló said the attack was linked to his policies “to fight drug trafficking and corruption”, and that it was “an isolated coup attempt”.
Guinea-Bissau is a major hub in the drug trafficking network that links South America and Europe. It has experienced four successful coups d’etat since independence in 1974.
Analysts have pointed to other potential motives, including disputes within the ruling elite and tensions between the civilian government and the army.
The president has promised to launch a major investigation.