Conflict Alerts # 435, 8 September 2021
In the news
On 5 September, an elite unit of soldiers ousted and arrested President Alpha Condé, followed by the suspension of the constitution, sealing of national borders, dissolution of the government and parliament, and replacement of regional governors with military commanders. Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, who led the coup, justified the move citing "poverty and endemic corruption" under Condé's governance. Al Jazeera quoted Doumbouya: "The personalization of political life is over. We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people." Meanwhile BBC quoted the opposition coalition's founder: "I will say that I'm sadly happy with what happened. We don't want to be happy with a coup, but in certain circumstances like [the ones] in Guinea now, we will say we are really happy with what is happening because without that, the country will be stuck in [the] endless power of one person who wants to stay in power forever."
On the same day, the UN Secretary-General tweeted: "I am personally following the situation in Guinea very closely. I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun and call for the immediate release of President Alpha Conde." Similarly, the African Union, European Union, United States, Russia, France condemned the move. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened sanctions in the absence of constitutional order.
On 6 September, the military leaders met with Condé's cabinet; according to news reports, government officials have been asked to surrender their passports and return their official vehicles. Hundreds of Guineans were shown celebrating along with soldiers.
Issues at large
First, the political landscape in Guinea. Guinea gained independence from France in 1958. From 1958 to 1984, Ahmed Sekou Toure served as the president of the country. Following Toure's death, Lansana Conté took over the leadership through a military coup, and introduced a multiparty system in the 1990s but restrained from giving up his power. Following Conté's death in 2008, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power through a coup. In 2010, the military government however agreed to a democratic transition.
Second, Condé's controversial third term as President. Condé was the first leader in Guinea to be elected to power in a democratic transition in 2010 after serving as an opposition figure for decades. His election, on the promise of promoting and protecting human rights, was seen as a new beginning for the country, and he was re-elected in 2015. However, in 2020, Condé moved a referendum amending the two-term limit, thereby allowing him to run for a third term. The move sparked protests and violence in Guinea, and also resulted in nearly 30 casualties. Following this, several opposition leaders were arrested for their alleged role in the electoral violence that ensued.
Third, the military intervention. The coup was led by the Groupement des Forces Speciales (GPS). Condé had formed the GPS for his own protection. Doumbouya maintained that the coup was carried out in the interest of 12.7 million people. He said that in light of the lack of development, it was "time to wake up," adding, "The duty of a soldier is to save the country."
Fourth, the popular sentiments. People were seen celebrating the coup on 5 September draped in the national flag and enjoying themselves with soldiers. Dissatisfaction with Condé reached new heights with the referendum. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic unravelled inefficient governance and gaps within the healthcare system which has aggravated the general public's grievances. Other concerns include corruption, unemployment, and shrinking space for dissent.
Given the history of coups and the history of the leadership in Guinea, it is unlikely that there will be a democratic transition in the near future. The coup was the aftermath of the slow burn within Guinea, fuelled by the above-mentioned reasons. Further, the opposition leader's happiness over the coup also indicates a flawed democratic system.
Guinea has now entered the list of countries undergoing political instability in Africa. Several African leaders have previously bypassed the two-term limit through measures like those adopted by Condé; for example, in 2020, Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast won his third term through similar amendments. Likewise, leaders from Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have also attempted to amend the constitution or have continued to hold on to power despite the two-term limits. Similarly, political instabilities have also become frequent in Africa, the Guinean coup being the third in just a year, after Mali witnessed two coups in August 2020 and May 2021.