Guinea Bissau: Out With the Old, in With the New?

kumbayalaFor the first time in two decades, the divisive figure Kumba Yalá is not watching over Guinea-Bissau’s elections. But his legacy of corruption and unrest remains.

In a one-minute video uploaded in April 2012 and shot at the military fort, which sits like a giant cork atop the centre of Bissau, one watches former president Kumba Yalá standing next to Guinea-Bissau’s Army Chief, General António Injai.
Surrounded by a small group of onlookers, the former, wearing his trademark red bonnet, hands banknotes one by one to the army man. Afterwards, Yalá and Injai shoot each other wide grins and shake hands before doing the same to some of their associates around them.

As the local correspondent who showed me the video pointed out, this short clip – much of which remains a mystery – encapsulates all the problems with Bissau-Guinean politics: lack of transparency, unaccountability, corruption, and a dubious link between the military and politics.

These have been some of the main ingredients of the country’s politics since independence in 1974, and for much of this period, Kumba Yalá, who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and died on 4 April at the age of 61, was at its centre.

The former president’s recent death marks a symbolic break with the past, and Bissau-Guineans may be hoping to mark a more concrete break with the past soon, as they await the counting of their votes from this weekend’s general elections.

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Written by:  Bram Posthumus, 15 April 2014

Photography credit:  RFI /Former president Kumba Yala.

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