In Guinea-Bissau heavy gunfire broke out in the capital on Friday morning. The incident happened after members of the National Guard attempted to free a detained Finance Minister, Souleiman Seidi, and Secretary of State for the Treasury, António Monteiro.
The detainees were being investigated for their alleged involvement in the withdrawal of $10 million from state funds.
Guinea-Bissau has faced coups and attempted coups over the years, with the recent one occurring in February last year.
The current political crisis began when Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi and Treasury Secretary António Monteiro were summoned for questioning by an anti-corruption inquiry regarding the reported withdrawal of $10 million from state coffers.
The investigation clarify payments made to 11 companies, and on Thursday afternoon, the two officials were detained to prevent any interference with the ongoing inquiry.
The situation escalated when National Guard soldiers heavily armed with AK-47 weapons and bazookas, invaded the police cells where Seidi and Monteiro were held.
Reports suggest that the soldiers extricated the detained officials and took them to an undisclosed location.
The National Guard refuge in barracks south of the capital after the operation. The attempt to negotiate a resolution failed, leading to an exchange of gunfire with special forces.
The leader of the group of soldiers involved in the rescue mission is now reportedly held by the army, and official statements claim that the situation is completely under control.
The detention of Seidi and Monteiro was linked to investigations into the alleged misuse of public funds. The finance minister and treasury secretary were questioned about the withdrawal of $10 million, and an anti-corruption inquiry was initiated to ask the payments made to 11 companies.
In a parliamentary session earlier, the leader of the main opposition party raised about the close ties between the owners of these companies and leaders of the governing coalition.
Seidi defended the payments during the questioning asserting their legality. However, local media reported that the officials were arrested after the questioning to ensure the integrity of the investigations. The events reveal the web of corruption allegations that have plagued Guinea-Bissau’s politics.
Regional stabilisation forces deployed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were seen patrolling the streets.
The world is closely monitoring the situation, particularly as President Umaro Sissoco Embalo is currently attending the UN’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai.
In February last year, President Embalo survived a coup attempt, during which heavy gunfire persisted for five hours. The president linked the attack to drug trafficking within the country.
However, doubts were raised about the official version of events, questioning the motives behind the attempt and the identities of those involved.
The region has experienced a wave of military takeovers in recent years, with countries like Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Gabon witnessing political upheavals.
The attempted coup in Sierra Leone over the weekend further highlights the trend of instability in West Africa.
The reports indicate that the Guinea-Bissau army claims to have the situation under control after the overnight clashes.
The leader of the security forces unit involved in the clashes has been apprehended, according to a spokesman for the army chief of staff. Colonel Victor Tchongo, who was reportedly leading the national guard soldiers, is now in custody.
The Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi and Treasury Secretary António Monteiro, who were allegedly extracted by the national guard, remain unknown.
The deployment of stabilisation forces and the continued presence of military vehicles on the streets suggest a state of alert in the capital.