BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau – 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 hospitalization.
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.
The head of the National Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, is again expected to take over until new elections can be organized. He already had 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 Mr. Sanha was ill.
Mr. 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.
Mr. Sanha began his political career as the head of the youth wing of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, or PAIGC – the body that fought for the country’s independence from Portugal in 1974. He went on to become a member of its executive committee, and then served as a governor of a province.
Mr. Sanha was thrown to the fore after Vieira’s March 2009 assassination, when the president was gunned down inside his home.
In recent years, Guinea-Bissau has become a hub for drug smuggling. Cocaine is flown in from South America to the archipelago of islands that dot the country’s coastline. The drugs are then moved to Europe by boats and by mules who ingest the drugs and attempt to carry them north on commercial flights. Mr. Sanha had pledged to combat the flow of narcotics.
Carlos Vamain, a political analyst and former justice minister, called Mr. Sanha’s presidency difficult and complex.
“Difficult in the context of narco-trafficking and also the unchanging socio-economic problems of the country,” Vamain said. “His presidency did not bring the results people had hoped.”