João Bernardo Vieira

João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira (27 April 1939 – 2 March 2009) was the President of Guinea-Bissau from 1980 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2009. After seizing power in 1980, Vieira ruled for 19 years, and he won a multiparty presidential election in 1994. He was ousted at the end of the 1998–1999 civil war and went into exile. He made a political comeback in 2005, winning that year's presidential election. Vieira was killed by soldiers on 2 March 2009, apparently in retaliation for a bomb blast that killed Guinea-Bissau's military chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie. The military officially denied these allegations after Army officials claimed responsibility for Vieira's death.

Vieira described himself as "God's gift" to Guinea-Bissau during his tenure in office.

He was the only president of Guinea-Bissau to be assassinated.

Early life

Vieira was born in Bissau, then a city of Portuguese Guinea. Originally trained as an electrician, he joined the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) of Amílcar Cabral in 1960 and soon became a key player in the territory's guerrilla war against Portuguese colonial rule.

Vieira was a member of the Papel ethnic group, which comprises approximately 5% of Guinea-Bissau's population. By contrast, most of Guinea-Bissau's army officers, with whom Vieira had a tense relationship throughout his career, are members of the Balanta ethnicity, which dominates the country.

Career

Early career

As the war in Portuguese Guinea intensified, Vieira demonstrated a great deal of skill as a military leader and rapidly rose through its ranks. Vieira was known to his comrades as "Nino" and this remained his nom de guerre for the duration of the struggle.

Following regional council elections held in late 1972 in areas under PAIGC control, which led to the formation of a constituent assembly, Vieira was appointed president of the National People's Assembly. The guerrilla war began to turn against the Portuguese as expenditure, damages and loss of human lives remained a burden for Portugal. Following the coup d'état in Portugal in 1974, the new Portuguese revolutionary government which overthrew Lisbon's Estado Novo regime began to negotiate with the PAIGC. As his brother Amílcar had been assassinated in 1973, Luís Cabral became the first president of independent Guinea-Bissau after independence was granted on 10 September 1974.

On 28 September 1978, Vieira was appointed as Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau.

By 1980, economic conditions had deteriorated significantly, which led to general dissatisfaction with the government. On 14 November 1980, Vieira toppled the government of Luís Cabral in a bloodless military coup, which led to the PAIGC in Cape Verde splitting away and forming a separate party. The constitution was suspended and a nine-member military Council of the Revolution, chaired by Vieira, was set up. In 1984, a new constitution was approved that returned the country to civilian rule.

Guinea-Bissau, like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, moved toward multiparty democracy in the early 1990s. Through pressure from groups like the Democratic Front (FD) led by Aristide Menezes, the ban on political parties was lifted in 1991 and elections were held in 1994. In the first round of the presidential election, held on 3 July 1994, Vieira received 46.20% of the vote against seven other candidates. He finished first, but failed to win the required majority, which led to a second round of voting on 7 August. He received 52.02% of the vote against 47.98% for Kumba Yalá, a former philosophy lecturer and candidate of the Social Renewal Party (PRS). International election observers considered both rounds generally free and fair. Vieira was sworn in as the first democratically elected President of Guinea-Bissau on 29 September 1994.

Civil war

Vieira was re-elected for another four-year term as President of PAIGC in mid-May 1998 at a party congress, with 438 votes in favor, eight opposed, and four abstaining.

Vieira dismissed military chief of staff Ansumane Mané on 6 June 1998. Mané and his supporters in the military promptly rebelled, and the country descended into a civil war between forces loyal to Vieira and rebels loyal to Mané. A peace agreement was signed in November 1998, and a transitional government was formed in preparation for new elections in 1999. On 27 November 1998, the National People's Assembly passed a motion demanding Vieira's resignation, with 69 deputies supporting the motion and none opposing it.

A renewed outbreak of fighting occurred in Bissau on 6 May 1999, and Vieira's forces surrendered on 7 May. He sought refuge in the Portuguese embassy and went into exile in Portugal in June. On 12 May, former Prime Minister Manuel Saturnino da Costa was named acting President of PAIGC, replacing Vieira. Vieira was expelled from PAIGC at a party congress in September 1999 for "treasonable offences, support and incitement to warfare, and practices incompatible with the statutes of the party".

Return

After President Kumba Yalá was overthrown in September 2003 military coup, Vieira returned to Bissau from Portugal on 7 April 2005. Arriving in the city's main football stadium by helicopter, he was met by over 5,000 cheering supporters. Although Vieira's supporters had collected 30,000 signatures for a petition urging him to run for president, he did not immediately confirm his intention to do so, saying that he was returning "to re-establish [his] civic rights and to register to vote in the coming elections" and that he wanted to contribute to peace and stability. He also said that he had forgiven his enemies and that he hoped others would forgive him for any harm he had caused. On 16 April, it was announced that he intended to stand as a candidate in the June 2005 presidential election. Although many considered Vieira to be ineligible because he had been living in exile and because of legal charges against him pertaining to the 1985 killings of suspected coup plotters, he was cleared to stand in the election by the Supreme Court in May 2005, along with Yalá. The Court unanimously ruled in favor of his candidacy on the grounds that he had already ended his exile by returning in April and that no court records of the murder charges could be found. His old party, the PAIGC, backed former interim president Malam Bacai Sanhá as its candidate.

According to official results, Vieira placed second in the 19 June election with 28.87% of the vote, behind Malam Bacai Sanhá, and thus participated in the second round run-off. He officially defeated Sanhá in the run-off on 24 July with 52.45% of the vote and was sworn in as President on 1 October.

On 28 October 2005, Vieira announced the dissolution of the government headed by his rival Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, citing the need to maintain stability; on 2 November he appointed his political ally Aristides Gomes to the position.

In March 2007, PAIGC formed a three-party alliance with the Party for Social Renewal (PRS) and the United Social Democratic Party (PUSD), and the three parties sought to form a new government. This led to a successful no-confidence vote against Aristides Gomes and his resignation late in the month; on 9 April, the choice of the three parties for the position of Prime Minister, Martinho Ndafa Kabi, was appointed as Prime Minister by Vieira. In Kabi's three-party government, Interior Minister Baciro Dabo was considered to be the only close ally of Vieira who was included. Later, after PAIGC withdrew from the three-party alliance to protest Kabi's actions, Vieira dissolved the National People's Assembly and appointed Carlos Correia to replace Kabi as Prime Minister on 5 August 2008.

Attacks and death

November 2008 attack

Rebellious soldiers attacked Vieira's home in the early hours of 23 November 2008, shortly after the November 2008 parliamentary election, in which PAIGC won a majority of seats. The soldiers fired artillery at the house and were able to enter it during a three-hour battle with Vieira's guards, but they were repelled before they could reach Vieira, who was unharmed. At least one of Vieira's guards was killed, and others were injured. Vieira held a press conference later in the day, in which he said that the attack had "a single objective – to physically liquidate me", while also asserting that "the situation is under control".

March 2009 attack

Army Chief of Staff Batista Tagme Na Waie, a key rival of Vieira, was killed by a bomb blast on 1 March 2009. Shortly afterwards, Vieira was shot dead by a group of soldiers while fleeing from his private residence in the early hours of 2 March 2009. Diplomats from Angola attempted to take Vieira and his wife to the Angolan Embassy prior to his death, yet Vieira refused to leave while his wife was taken to safety. Bissau was described as "tense but calm" following his death. According to army spokesman Zamora Induta, Vieira was involved in the assassination of Tagme Na Waie, and Induta stated that "President Vieira was killed by the army as he tried to flee his house which was being attacked by a group of soldiers close to the chief of staff Tagme Na Waie, early this morning". The army denied that Vieira's killing marked a coup d'état and said that the constitutional order would be followed, meaning that the President of the National People's Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, would succeed Vieira.

A doctor who was involved in Vieira's autopsy was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that Vieira was "savagely beaten before being finished off with several bullets". British author Frederick Forsyth, who was in Bissau at the time of the attack, alleged a more detailed account of the president's assassination. He claimed that during a meal with the forensic pathologist investigating the case, he was informed that Vieira was in fact hacked to death by soldiers wielding machetes at his mother-in-law's house. According to this account, Vieira survived an explosion and the collapse of the presidential villa's roof and was then shot when he emerged, injured, from the damaged building; nevertheless he remained alive until being taken to his mother-in-law's house and hacked to death. Forsyth attributed the bloody events to mutual hatred between Vieira and Tagme Na Waie, and he characterized both of them as violent people.

The council of ministers created a commission of inquiry in an emergency meeting to investigate the two assassinations.

A state funeral for Vieira, attended by thousands of people, was held in Bissau on 10 March 2009. No foreign leaders were present. At the funeral service held at the National People's Assembly, his daughter Elisa urged an end to the violence. The eulogy for Vieira stressed his importance in the war for independence and his adoption of multiparty politics and liberal economic reforms in the early 1990s.

International reaction

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of ECOWAS, declared "The death of a president, of a chief of staff, is very grave news," adding "It's not only the assassination of a president or a chief of staff, it's the assassination of democracy".

The African Union called the killing a criminal act and the European Union and United States also condemned Vieira's murder.

Socialist International, which Vieira's party is a member of, stated "The International has followed with great concern the recent political difficulties in Guinea-Bissau and reiterates its firm view that there never can be any justification for the use of force to resolve political disputes and that political assassination is a completely heinous and criminal act."[http://www.socialistinternational.org/viewArticle.cfm?ArticleID=1978&Search=bissau]

Career list

Political Commissioner & Military Chief for the Catió Region (1961)
Military Commander of the Southern Front (1964)
Member of the PAIGC Political Bureau (1964 – 1965)
Vice-President of the PAIGC War Council (1965 – 1967)
Southern Front Political Bureau Delegate (1967 – 1970)
Member of the PAIGC War Council Executive Committee (1970 – 1971)
Member of the PAIGC Permanent Secretariat (1973 – ????)
Named PAIGC Deputy Secretary-general in 1973
President of the People's National Assembly (1973 – 1978)
Prime Minister (28 September 1978 – 14 November 1980)
Chairman of the Council of the Revolution (14 November 1980 – 14 May 1984)
Chairman of the Council of State (16 May 1984 – 29 September 1994)
President of Guinea-Bissau (29 September 1994 – 7 May 1999)
President of Guinea-Bissau (1 October 2005 – 2 March 2009)1


Sources and References

1. Wikipedia



ALSO IN THE ENCYCLOPEDIA: