The president of Guinea-Bissau has been hospitalized for past week in Paris, a spokesman confirmed Saturday, fueling fears of a power vacuum in the small coup-prone African nation known to be a transit point for drug smugglers.
President Malam Bacai Sanha checked into a Parisian hospital on Nov. 26, said government spokesman Aniceto Alves. He denied rumors that Sanha is seriously ill.
Sanha left Guinea-Bissau on Nov. 23 for a medical checkup in Senegal, before continuing three days later to a hospital in Paris, he said.
"Yes that is correct. He went to Paris for a medical control that he needs to do. Every six months he needs to do a checkup in Paris," Alves said. "He was in Dakar, where he did a preliminary checkup and then he continued on to Paris."
Sanha's health has been the subject of intense speculation. He is known to suffer from diabetes and he has been hospitalized for long stretches in Senegal and France with the government always describing the visits as routine.
In August, he left Guinea-Bissau without warning, forcing his aides to cancel the swearing-in ceremony of members of his government as well as a tete-a-tete with the new U.S. ambassador. The diplomat covers Guinea-Bissau from his office in Senegal and had flown to Guinea-Bissau on a special trip to meet Sanha. The ailing president stayed in a Dakar hospital for nearly three weeks before returning.
At the time of his hospitalization this summer, 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 Senegal's capital, Dakar, where hospitals are better equipped than in tiny Guinea-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.
First elected in 2009, Sanha came to power in a peaceful election that marked a rare bright spot in a country which was mourning the death of its last leader, who was assassinated in his villa by unidentified gunmen.
In 37 years since independence from Portugal, the nation has experienced numerous coups, countercoups and a civil war.
Recently, Guinea-Bissau has earned international notoriety for being one of the main transit points in West Africa for Europe-bound cocaine shipped from Latin America. The traffickers are believed to be working in concert with members of the military and the navy in order to bring in the illegal cargo via landing strips on islands and in the unpopulated interior.
A resident of Guinea-Bissau who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter said he had spoken to the president's son who is at the leader's side in Paris. The son said that Sanha was feeling better Friday and that the condition appeared to not be immediately life-threatening.