- As Senegal is forwarding its candidacy to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, it is making a new attempt to increase its regional power base. Again, according to the Portuguese speaking press, Senegal is trying to "transform Guinea-Bissau into some sort of subsidiary country" in competition with Guinea-Conakry.
Already while Guinea-Bissau was fighting for its independence from Portugal, in 1972, Senegal's founding President Leopold Sédar Senghor wanted to control the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGCV) and its legendary leader Amílcar Cabral, according to Jorge Heitor, the correspondent of Cape Verde's independent newspaper 'A Semana' in Bissau.
The same situation repeated in 1998, as Senegal's second President, Abdou Diouf, had the intention of making Bissau-Guinean President João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira his "Vice-King" in the southern neighbour state. President Vieira resisted and shortly after was toppled in a military coup, which since that has left Guinea-Bissau in a political and economic chaos.
Now, according to analyst Heitor, Senegal's current President Abdoulaye Wade is trying to use Bissau-Guinean presidential candidate Kumba Yala in the same way. Mr Yala, who held the Bissau-Guinean presidency from 2000 until he was toppled in September 2003, was considered a firm ally to the Dakar government and Senegal is now one of very the few countries positive about his possible return to power in the upcoming elections.
- Senegal personalises the dream of a French speaking West Africa and is the African backyard of Paris, writes Mr Heitor. "Therefore, it does not want to accept the equilibrated debate between 17 candidates in Guinea-Bissau on whom is to fill the presidency of the republic," he adds.
In the small ex-colony of Portugal, where the illiteracy rate still is very high - not even 47 percent of the population knows how to read or write a minimum of the official language, Portuguese - Dakar reckons it can continue to exert its influence.
The same, according to Mr Heitor, happens in Senegal's poor southern Casamance province, a region that strongly desires autonomy from Dakar. Important sectors of Guinea-Bissau's political and military leadership during the last decades are known to have supported the armed struggle for independence or autonomy of the Casamance region. During Mr Yala's presidency, however, this support was limited.
According to Mr Heitor, the day that the two neighbours Senegal and Guinea (Conakry) "stop interfering in events in Bissau, the Bissau-Guinean population would be happier and stop living at such high tension."
In particular Senegal's strong support for Mr Yala's presidential candidacy has caused frustrations in Guinea-Bissau and its sister nation, Cape Verde. Mr Yala is seen as a dangerous promoter of tribalism and is generally held responsible for Guinea-Bissau's failed attempts to stabilise its political and economic environment, causing potential donors to shy away from the extremely poor country.
The current government of Guinea-Bissau - which enjoys international support for its transition process towards democracy - also is sceptical about the Senegalese President's role, who is also the African Union's mediator for Guinea-Bissau. State officials have denounced President Wade's "complicity" with Mr Yala, saying it is destabilising the country's democratisation process.
What is necessary for today's Guinea-Bissau, holds Mr Heitor, is exactly what freedom fighter Amílcar Cabral prescribed 33 years ago; that Bissau-Guineans should not divide according to ethnic lines. Mr Yala's attempt to secure votes among the majority Balanta people with Senegalese support therefore was a dangerous development.
The solution, according to the Cape Verdean analyst, lies in allied Portuguese speaking countries. "Portugal and Brazil should make an effort to teach the Portuguese language to much more than 50 percent of the Bissau-Guinean population," writes Mr Heitor. In that way, he adds, the country would be "free from the influence sought by internal strongmen and opportunistic neighbours."
Guinea-Bissau will elect its new President on 19 June, with the likely possibility of a second round in July. Among the favourites to win the poll are the two ex-President Yala and "Nino" Vieira. During his presidency, Mr Vieira kept a larger distance to Senegal than Mr Yala and the Casamance independence movement enjoyed an easier access to Bissau-Guinean territory.
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