President Malam Bacai Sanha, who was elected in this tiny, coup-prone nation on Africa’s western coast about two years ago after the previous leader was assassinated, died Monday in Paris after a lengthy hospitalisation.
No immediate cause was given but the 64-year-old president was known to have diabetes, and had undergone medical treatment in both France and neighboring Senegal during his time in office. National radio announced his death Monday afternoon.
An official at Guinea-Bissau’s embassy in Paris, Luis Mendes, said Sanha died Monday morning at the Val de Grace hospital after being hospitalised in France “for about a month” with an unspecified ailment, Mendes said. The head of the National Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, is again expected to take over until new elections can be organised. He already has served as interim head of state after the 2009 assassination of former President Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira.
Since independence from Portugal in 1974, the nation has been wracked by coups and has become one of the main transit points for drug traffickers ferrying cocaine to Europe. Just two weeks ago, the army said a top military official had attempted unsuccessfully to seize power while Sanha was ill.
Sanha won the 2009 presidential election held after Vieira’s death, a peaceful transition of power that marked a rare bright spot for Guinea-Bissau. He became less known for what he did as president than for his frequent hospitalizations abroad, which were always described by aides as routine checkups. In August 2009, he spent nearly three weeks hospitalised in Dakar, the capital of neighbouring Senegal, where medical facilities are better equipped than in Bissau.