Malam Bacai Sanha, the president of Guinea-Bissau, died Monday in a Paris hospital. The West African nation has a long history of internal conflict and now faces a troubling power vacuum just two weeks after a suspected coup attempt.
Guinea-Bissau's national radio announced that President Sanha had died in a Paris from a protracted and undisclosed illness, though it is thought to be related to diabetes. The 64-year-old was was ill for much of his term and spent much of it on hospital visits to Europe and neighboring Senegal.
Since achieving independence from Portugal in 1974, the country has been plagued by corruption, coups and assassinations. Sanha was voted into power in 2009 after his predecessor, Joao Bernardo Vieira, was assassinated. His death comes only two weeks after a suspected coup attempt for which more than 100 military personnel, including high-ranking officials, have been arrested.
Alex Vines is a researcher with Chatham House, an policy institute for international affairs. He said the suspected coup attempt illustrates the fragility of the country and its government.
“The country remains one of the more unstable in sub-Saharan Africa and the death of the president hasn't helped this at all. Although he's been ill, it just adds more uncertainty to an already-unpredictable, uncertain country,” said Vines.
Vines said there probably will be no further coup attempts in the short term. Instead, he expects political posturing on the part of hopeful successors looking to grab power legitimately and peacefully. But in a place like Guinea-Bissau, a peaceful transition of power is rare and, according to Vines, was one of Sanha's greatest achievements.
“It's a shame that President Sanha's health was what it was. It think Sanha's winning the presidential election and the peacefulness that followed it was important. We'll have to see now if a successor can continue that legacy,” said Vines.
The head of the National Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, is expected to take control of the interim government until new elections can be organized - which the constitution says should take place within 90 days.