The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to send a stabilisation force to Guinea Bissau on Thursday following a coup attempt in the country.
The statement came days after the president of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, was ambushed by gunmen armed with machine guns and assault rifles in the presidential palace.
Six people were killed in a five hour gunfight on Tuesday, according to local media – four assailants and two guards.
President Embaló said the attackers, who were linked to the burgeoning drug trade in the country, tried to kill him and his whole cabinet at the government palace.
In a statement released following emergency meetings on Thursday, West African leaders said:
“The Conference reaffirms its firm determination to protect democracy and freedom in the region and reiterates its commitment to the principle of zero tolerance for the accession to power by unconstitutional means, [inline with ECOWAS provisions on good governance]”.
ECOWAS did not refer to strength, duration or composition of the force in its statement.
President Embaló’s government, inaugurated in March 2020 ushered in a new era of political stability despite internal tensions and allegations of political interference in the judiciary, economists say.
Nestled between Senegal and Guinea, it is one of the most coup-prone and politically unstable countries in the world, according to the World Bank.
It’s 1.9 million population have seen just one democratically elected president, José Mário Vaz, complete a full term, and has undergone 10 coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.
It has also gained a reputation as Africa’s ‘narco-state’ for being a major transit hub for cocaine en route from Latin America to Europe.
Its economy contracted 1.4 % in 2020, down from real GDP growth of 4.5% in 2019, making it one of the poorest in the world, the World Bank says.
The downward spiral has been driven by the pandemic which caused supply chain disruptions, reduced demand and economic activity, the Bank says.
Inflation increased to 1.5 % from 0.3 % in 2019 while the fiscal deficit widened from 4 percent of GDP in 2019 to 9.5 percent in 2020.
Tax collection fell from 10.2 percent to 8.4 percent in 2020 while total government spending increased from 19.3 percent of GDP in 2019 to 25.8 percent in 2020 with public debt reaching 79.3 percent of GDP as a result, World Bank data found.
“Renewed political instability could cause fiscal slippages and exacerbate the already difficult business environment,” the Bank says.
Resolutions on Burkina Faso
West African leaders held an emergency summit in the Ghanaian capital Accra on Thursday after Burkina Faso became the third member of the 15-nation bloc to fall into the hands of the military on January 24.
ECOWAS confirmed Ouagadougou’s suspension from the bloc “until the restoration of constitutional order,” and called on military leaders to hasten to democratic elections.
“[ECOWAS] calls on the military authority to set up the organs of the Transition, to adopt an electoral calendar and promote the return to the constitutional order as quickly as possible.”
The statement also called for ECOWAS Commission to support the transition by maintaining contact with the new authorities through the establishment of monitoring mechanisms in coordination with the African Union and the United Nations.”