- Ex-President Kumba Yala of Guinea-Bissau, a highly intelligent philosopher and demagogue, is leading the poor country from one political disaster to the other. His proclamation this week of being the country's rightful President has caused outrage in Guinea-Bissau and the international society, fearing the country could miss out on a unique possibility to secure peace and stability.
Kumba Yala, the man currently doing more than anyone else to upset political stability in Guinea-Bissau, was born 15 March 1953 in Bula, in the Cacheu region, to a Balanta farming family. The Balanta people today represents some 25 percent of the country's 690,000 voters. In his youth he was a militant member of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which on 24 September 1973 proclaimed Guinea Bissau's independence, which was only recognised by Portugal the following year after its 25 April revolution.
Mr Yala, who speaks Portuguese, Crioulo, Spanish, French and English and can read Latin, Greek and Hebrew, studied theology at Lisbon's Catholic University and philosophy at the city's Classical University, as well as law at the school established in Bissau. Following his education, he worked as a philosophy teacher.
The head of a PAIGC delegation to Moscow in honour of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Mr Yala later came to support the idea of political pluralism in Guinea-Bissau, and began to have disagreements with the party of which he had been a member since his teenage years. In March 1991, alongside Rafael Barbosa, Mr Yala helped found the Social Democratic Front.
Ambition, however, led him elsewhere. On 14 January 1992, he created the Social Renovation Party (PRS), which he imbibed with a major populist streak and which served as a haven for those disillusioned with then-president Nino Vieira. On 3 July 1994, he ran in the first multi-party presidential elections in the country's history, but was defeated by Nino Vieira by a 4 percent margin.
In 1999, however, he managed to beat interim president Malan Bacai Sanhá, of the PAIGC, garnering 72 percent of the vote, against President Sanhá's 28 percent. Only months later, however, the people of Guinea-Bissau began to realise the mess they had gotten themselves into by taking as a sort of saviour this profoundly divisive individual without even the slightest posture of a statesman.
A veritable disaster
His term in Guinea-Bissau's highest political office proved to be a veritable disaster, utterly frustrating the hopes of a population that is among the poorest on Earth and whose public employees have on occasion been paid over a year late.
General Ansumane Mané, the commander of the military junta that deposed Nino Vieira in 1999, was apparently executed after entering into conflict with President Yala. The second-in-command of this same junta, Veríssimo Correia Seabra, eventually deposed President Yala on 14 September 2003, justifying the coup with the "incapacity" of the organs of sovereignty then in office.
The succession of Prime Ministers and the arbitrary firing of judges had given the worst possible image of President Yala's administration, and, not surprisingly, the Portuguese-speaking community declined to condemn the coup, as opposed to the United Nations, which was only satisfied after Mr Yala signed a declaration renouncing his claim to the presidency.
President Yala's successive delay of elections, which were supposed to have occurred in the first half of 2003, and the suspicions that he intended to manipulate the law to guarantee that he would remain in power, were just two of the motives the military officials who ousted him voiced.
Even so, Mr Yala promised revenge on those who had kept him from serving his term in office, and in October 2004, General Seabra, who was at the time Armed Forces Chief of Staff, was murdered during a military uprising. According to statements made to Portuguese newspaper 'Público' by Bissau-Guinean political sources, Mr Yala and his former adversary Nino Vieira allegedly came together to help plan the uprising, with the support of two neighboring countries, the Republic of Guinea (Conakry) and Senegal.
According to PAIGC sources, the interest demonstrated by the two countries in Guinea-Bissau can be explained in large part by the fact that US-based company Premier Oil is currently prospecting for petroleum in the region of Bolama and the Bijagós islands.
If in the past, Guinea-Bissau relied only upon the petroleum in the waters off the coast of its northern border with Senegal, the apparent presence of reserves farther south has led to negotiations with national petroleum company Petroguin, the control of which could prove to be one of the main interests of the 14 candidates who intend to run in the 19 June presidential elections in the country.
In his attempt to re-take the office of President of Guinea-Bissau, Kumba Yala has used various schemes, including an appeal to the solidarity of Balanta military personnel and a rapprochement with a series of politicians with whom he had previously been at odds, such as Nino Vieira, Caetano N'Tchama, Artur Sanhá and Francisco Fadul.
His demagoguery is such that he has even gone so far as to suggest the construction of a new capital in the city of Buba, in southern Guinea-Bissau, while the city of Bissau would be converted into a commercial center that would provide provisions for all of West Africa.
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