Born in 1954, Koumba Kobde Yala is the son of a peasant and a graduate in philosophy and law from Lisbon's Classic University. He speaks several languages. He is a member of the Balante ethnic group, which is the predominate group in the southwest, and was opposed to Vieira. A former teacher, he joined the PAIGC and then broke with it to challenge President Vieira in the country's first multi-party elections in 1994. Indeed, his courage as leader of the Partido da Renovacão Social (PRS—Social Renewal Party) brought him wide public notice. His red wooly stocking hat has become his trademark and also serves as a sign of elder leadership status in the Balanta ethnic group.