THERE was an attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau on February 1, according to the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS). Gunfire was reported as a cabinet meeting took place at the presidential mansion, but President Embalo Sissoco later confirmed his own wellbeing. This unrest has occurred after a divisive cabinet reshuffle that Embalo made last week in a turf war with Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam. However, recent coup trends in the region also provide a backdrop. Continued tensions may trigger shocks that could disrupt the electoral roadmap and further limit government effectiveness.
Significance – Embalo and coalition
Embalo was forewarned when he replaced four ministers on 26 January without conferring with his party MADEM-G15 and its coalition partners APU-PDGB to which Prime Minister Nabiam belongs. The APU-PDGB said it would hold the president responsible for ‘future consequences’ of his decision.
Similar decisions have stoked political tension and weakened government cohesion since Embalo assumed office in February 2020. For example, he appeared to sideline Nabiam last August by appointing an unpopular deputy prime minister whose appointment not only strained the ruling coalition but also splintered the president’s own party MADEM-G15. However, he was unable to remove Nabiam because of the army’s support for the prime minister.
Now, the latest unrest signifies more political instability ahead of legislative elections in 2023 when Embalo and his fractured coalition will face the opposition PAIGC. This party is the largest in the country and presently has the most seats in parliament. Embalo has already drawn a battle line by (a) trying to amend the constitution to strengthen the president’s powers in relation to the prime minister’s and by (b) proclaiming that he will not name the PAIGC leader Domingos Pereira as prime minister if the PAIGC wins the elections. The constitution requires the president to appoint a prime minister based on the outcome of legislative elections.
Outlook – Fragility
The IMF projects that Guinea Bissau’s GDP will grow by 4 percent this year from an estimated 1.5 percent in 2020 as the government rationalises its wage bill and broadens the tax base. However, political instability continues to be a major source of risk driven by divisions among key stakeholders, and this week’s coup attempt demonstrates uncertainties on the electoral roadmap for the 2023 legislative elections and the 2024 presidential election.
Embalo’s leadership will be increasingly challenged from within the ruling coalition this year, and the constituents will struggle to regroup without adequate conciliatory measures. These tensions will continue to stymie government effectiveness in a fragile democratic system where only one president has completed a full term since independence.
Adedayo Ademuwagun, is a Consultant at Songhai Advisory, an African-owned and managed firm delivering local knowledge supporting transformative and sustainable strategic decision-making