His personal security chief, Alfredo Malu, said that he “had a malaise on Thursday night” and died in the early hours of the next morning. The government announced that Yala had died of a heart attack and that it would call a “special session of cabinet” to discuss his death. His body was taken to Bra military hospital. Malu added that the sudden illness late in the day had prevented Yala from meeting his PRS party candidates in preparation for the parliamentary election to be held on 13 April.
A former philosophy teacher, Mr Yala won presidential elections in 2000 following a bitter civil war in the late 1990s. He was ousted three years later in one of Guinea Bissau’s many military takeovers. His death at the age of 61 comes 10 days before elections intended to draw a line under the latest coup, in 2012.
Mr Yala, who headed the opposition Party for Social Renewal (PRS), had recently announced his intention to retire from politics. He had not given his backing to his party’s presidential candidate in the forthcoming polls, instead voicing support for an independent candidate.
Kumba Yala was known for his nationalism, trademark red woollen hat and fiery speeches. During one of his no lucid moments he threatened to pulverize The Gambia “within a matter of two minutes”. Many people in The Gambia blamed him for the ambush, killing and mutilation of the body of Guinea Bissau’s former ruler, Ansoumane Mane, who was born in Sukuta, Kombo North.
Born to a farming family in Bula, Cacheu Region on 15 March 1953, Kumba Yala became a militant member of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) during his teenage years. The PAIGC sought independence from Portuguese colonial rule.
He studied theology at the Catholic University in Lisbon, Portugal and later studied philosophy. In Bissau, Yala studied law. He speaks Portuguese, Crioulo, Spanish, French and English and can read Latin, Greek and Hebrew. After completing his education, he worked as a philosophy teacher in Bissau before entering politics. He belongs to the Balanta ethnic group and in 2008 after returning from exile in Morocco, converted to Islam in the city of Gabu and took the name Mohamed Yalá Embaló. He learned to speak Arabic.]]>