The president of Guinea-Bissau left the country for what the government said was a medical checkup, heightening speculation about the health of the leader who is a diabetic and who has frequently been hospitalized since his election two years ago.
Government spokesman Aniceto Alves said Thursday that President Malam Bacai Sanha had been taken Tuesday to Dakar, the capital of neighboring Senegal, for treatment. He called it a "routine medical exam" and confirmed that the 64-year-old is a diabetic.
He declined, however, to say whether the leader was seeking medical treatment for diabetes, or for another condition. "I confirm that he is in a hospital in Dakar. He is a diabetic but I am not saying that this is the problem that took him to Dakar," Alves told The Associated Press by telephone. "In any case we expect him back in a few days."
It was not possible to determine the severity of the president's illness, but his sudden departure has left many wondering. On Tuesday he missed the swearing-in ceremony of new members of his government, who chose to cancel the ceremony after the president's no-show. He was also scheduled to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, who is visiting the country this week.
A diplomat who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press said the president has become a regular visitor in Dakar, where hospitals there are better equipped than in tiny Bissau, a nation of just 1.6 million people. The diplomat said the hospitalizations were required each time his blood sugar was out of balance.
A veteran observer with close ties to the president's entourage described the illness as "advanced diabetes" combined with a hemoglobin problem. Since taking office in 2009, Sanha has been hospitalized in Paris, as well as in Dakar, and he has often left Bissau unannounced forcing his entourage to cancel important meetings or events.
Journalists that saw him earlier this week when he hosted South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said Sanha looked visibly frail and unwell. He also appeared to have lost weight.
Sanha won the 2009 presidential election in a peaceful transition of power that marked a rare bright spot for Guinea-Bissau.
He replaced President Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira who was assassinated in March 2009. Sanha is a career politician who started out 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. He is nicknamed "The Patriarch," due to his position as the leader of his party, as well as what insiders say is his evenhandedness and cool temperament.
Callimachi reported from Dakar, Senegal.