Guinean Coup Yet Another Normal in Turbulent Africa


Photo source: Foreign Policy

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Colonel Mamady Doumbouya became Guinea’s interim president in September 2021 after leading a coup against Alpha Conde. The ex-president had once put faith in the colonel to keep his grip on the turbulent nation-state. But, according to Doumbouya, who mostly keeps a low profile, Conde was a man with two faces. The former French legionnaire believed that the army had little choice but to seize power because of his rampant corruption, disregard for human rights and economic mismanagement. That’s why, he went out on TV, wearing a red beret, sunglasses, and an army fatigue, announcing a takeover. The junta had made plans for a transitional rule, but they did not specify how long will it take the transition to take form. They are also adamant to release Conde, only if he publicly resigns.

The military’s frustration in instigating the coup shows that the world had turned a blind eye to Conde’s abuses. That’s why after the coup, the colonel commented: “If the people are crushed by their elites, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom.” It led many euphoric Guineans to the streets in celebration.

What Conde did by making constitutional changes, was similar to what his predecessor had done: the dictator Lansana Conte had fought so hard not to depose, by staying in power for two decades. After his death in 2008, there was a coup, by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, which saw rapes of dozens of women, and over one hundred fifty people were killed, as a reaction. It eventually made Conde come into power. After becoming the president, Conde was seen as a relentless crusader, for democracy and human rights, and a foe of corruption. He made the right economic policies, by efficiently utilising the mining and bauxite resources, which set a certain social contract with the Guineans, who re-elected him in 2015. However, he then squandered it all, and his lust for power resulted in an axe on his toe.

Apart from Guinea, attempts at the third term had been done recently by President Alassane Ouattara in Ivory Coast in 2020, Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso in 2014, and Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja in 2010. There even have been recent other coups in Mali, Chad and Sudan.

Condé’s years also saw increasing ethnicisation of Guinean politics, notably between Diallo’s Fulani group and Condé’s Malinke, which together account for some seventy per cent of the population.

Rivalries within the military sections also did not help. Conde and his defence minister established a parallel elite force, clearly designed to crush the growing prominence of Doumbouya’s forces.

International organisations did not take the coup lightly though. They greeted the colonel with scorn: the African Union suspended Guinea, two days after the ECOWAS did the same. The United Nations, European Union, United States, and France have all condemned the coup and called for Conde’s release.

Commoners, however, had seen the colonel, who led the coup, as a man with a strong physique, and character, who charismatically led the parades. Many wanted to take photographs with him and cheered for him. Although, there is a section that believes that his credentials are dubious. Apart from that, military coups, almost every time, result in a more brutal system of governance, than the ones they replace. For the military, what would also become problematic is their isolation from international financial institutions and the international community, which may force the junta to form an interim civilian government.

When it comes to the political opposition, they, interestingly, celebrated the coup, too. Prominent civil society and opposition leaders, notably Cellou Dalein Diallo, who lost the 2020 presidential election to Conde called the coup as ‘a necessary evil’ to reverse the country’s descent into autocracy.

The coup leaders seem to be saying and doing all the right things so far. Political prisoners have been released, and the main opposition party has been allowed to access its headquarters, after it being blocked for months by Conde’s regime.

West African political analyst Paul Melly is of an opinion that Colonel Doumbouya has a certain advantage in ruling the country, post-coup, as he has done international assignments related to peacekeeping missions and some international interventions. Also, he has done military training in France and has experience in over eight countries.

After Conde toyed with the constitution, the military, post-coup, had insisted on a new charter as well, which claims to be ‘free, transparent and democratic.’

What has happened in Guinea, reflects that the days of coups are not yet over in Africa. They first happened during the post-independence era. It even involved counter coups and failed coups. African political history also shows that as its leaders banned opposition parties, the alteration of power became only possible through the barrel of the gun. Between 1960 and 2000, the overall number of coups and coup attempts stood at an average of four per year, according to a study by Jonathan Powell, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, and Clayton Thyne, a professor at the University of Kentucky.

Analysts believe that the recent surge in militarisation in politics is driven by external forces, including a large number of actors, who want to prioritise their interests in Africa, and internal factors such as public venting against corruption, insecurity and poor governance.

African Union and ECOWAS also largely lack credibility in Guinea, which supplies crucial aluminium stock to Russian and Chinese industries, reflecting massive industrial commitments. They are also seen as a ‘big men club’, protecting insiders, showing a need for a paradigm shift in their policy, which may involve wider discussions with several Guinean social and political groups, their leaders, recognition of ethnic lines, and respecting the mass sentiment. They have also not slapped any sanctions yet, or defined any invasions, hinting at a softer approach. At the same time, they seem to be in a difficult position right now to negotiate with the coup leaders.


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