‘The General’ becomes president in Guinea-Bissau

Umaro Sissoco Embalo, who on Wednesday was declared victor in Guinea-Bissau’s presidential elections, portrays himself as a unifier in a country with a long history of political turmoil.
Embalo, 47, likes to wear a red-and-white Arab keffiyeh headress, stresses his marriage as a Muslim man to a Christian woman and makes his political pitches in Portuguese Creole, Guinea-Bissau’s grassroots language.
He is also a former prime minister, serving under outgoing president Jose Mario Vaz between 2016 and 2018.
He teamed up with Madem, a party formed by rebels of the country’s historic ruling party, PAIGC. Embalo, a reserve brigadier general, trailed Pereira in the first round of voting on November 24 with just under 28 per cent. But “The General” was able to reverse his deficit by securing the backing of eliminated candidates and with the help of a feisty performance in a TV election debate.
He rounded on Pereira for accusing him of illegally financing his campaign and lashed the PAIGC for its management of the economy.
Born in the capital city Bissau, Embalo is a member of the Fulani ethnic group, and he studied social and political science in Spain and Portugal. The father of three is a football fan, and supports Belgian team Standard Liege.
He sought early retirement from the army in the 1990s, and got involved in business, including an investment fund set up by the regime of ousted Libyan dictator Moammer Gaddafi.
In October, Prime Minister Aristide Gomes of the PAIGC, accused him of plotting a coup, charges Embalo denied.
“I’m not a bandit and I never get involved in subversive actions. Those who know me know that I am not violent,” he said at the time.
The two competed in Sunday’s run-off to replace incumbent President Jose Mario Vaz, who was eliminated in the first round.
Vaz’s five-year term was marred by regular political sackings, an ill-functioning parliament and high-level corruption, and voters said they hoped the next president would restore calm to the West African nation.
As a candidate, Embalo vowed to modernise the country of 1.6 million people, which has suffered nine coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.
Embalo and Pereira both served as prime ministers under Vaz, who had a total of seven premiers amid a protracted feud with the PAIGC.
The political instability hurt Guinea-Bissau’s economy, which depends heavily on volatile prices for cashew nuts, the main income source for over two-thirds of households.