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Guinea Coup: Can The Military Solve Africa’s Leadership Problems

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Colonel Mamady Doumbouya is the brain behind Guinea coup (Photo credit: BBC)

Colonel Mamady Doumbouya is the brain behind the Guinea coup (Photo credit: BBC)

Yet another democracy in Africa bites the dust, following the Guinea coup. On September 6, news broke online about the removal of Guinea’s President, Alpha Conde, after he had amended the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. Consequently, there has been an atmosphere of tension and calmness in the West African nation. As the Guinean people navigate what the future holds for them, we bring you all the major talking points.

What Caused the Guinea Coup?

The most recent presidential poll in Guinea in October 2020, saw widespread violence and accusations of electoral fraud. Conde won a controversial third term. However, it was possible through a new constitution in March 2020 that allowed him to sidestep the country’s two-term limit. Troops loyal to the government killed dozens of people during demonstrations against a third term for Conde. During demonstrations, security and paramilitary forces arrested hundreds more.

Conde began his third term as president on November 7 last year—despite his main challenger Cellou Dalein Diallo and other opposition figures denouncing the election as a sham. The government cracked down, arresting several prominent opposition members for their alleged role in abetting electoral violence in the country. Conde, a former opposition leader himself who was at one point imprisoned and sentenced to death, became Guinea’s first democratically elected leader in 2010, winning re-election in 2015.

Events Leading to the Guinea Coup

Guinea is a country on the West African coast with a population of 13 million people. Despite boasting a wide variety of mineral resources, Guinea remains one of the poorest countries on the planet and one of the most politically unstable too. Since the ’80s, these problems have made the Guinean people scurry from one politician to another in the search for solutions.

In this search, the people fell in love with the 2010 anti-corruption agenda of Alpha Conde. Being a key opposition leader for decades, voters felt they had entrusted their votes to their messiah. Alas, that was not meant to be, as Conde’s government was said to have grossly mismanaged the country’s resources, making him grow unpopular.

The final straw for the mutinous soldiers was the dismissal of a senior commander in the special forces. It provoked some of the country’s highly trained officers to rebel. Here is a timeline of events surrounding the Guinea Coup:

  • Sunday (September 5) — Republic of Guinea Armed Forces surround Sekhoutoureah Presidential Palace
  • Sunday (September 5) — After a shootout with pro-government forces, the mutineers capture President Conde
  • Monday (September 6) — Colonel Mamady Doumbouya announces a coup on state television, promising to “entrust politics to the people”
  • Monday (September 6) — Colonel Doumbouya calls a meeting of the soldiers with Alpha Conde and his ministers. He said the refusal to attend will constitute a rebellion.
  • Monday (September 6) — Colonel Doumbouya asks the ministers to hand over their international passports and not to leave the country

State of the Nation

Guinean soldiers image

Guinean soldiers have taken over the seat of power. [Photo Credit: Al Jazeera]

While addressing the nation following the Guinea coup, Colonel Doumbouya called for calm. He said,

“We are no longer going to entrust politics to one man, we are going to entrust politics to the people. Guinea is beautiful. We don’t need to rape Guinea anymore, we just need to make love to her. This is not a military coup. We are here to free the people.”

Although the Guinea coup plotters announced a curfew ’till further notice’, many are celebrating within their neighborhoods. In some parts of the capital, hundreds of people applauded the soldiers. “We are proud of the special forces,” said one demonstrator on the condition of anonymity, “Death to the torturers and to the murderers of our youth”. There is also a noticeable absence of military patrols on the streets.

At the moment, land and air borders are closed, meaning that expats cannot enter the country. Reports emerging from Guinea also suggest that some of Alpha Conde’s ministers attempted to flee the country, to no avail. State institutions like the broadcast stations, Central Bank, and the anti-corruption agencies are being heavily guarded by forces.

International Condemnation for the Guinea Coup Plotters

On Monday, Russia called for the immediate release of Conde. According to a statement by the foreign ministry,

“Moscow opposes any attempt at an unconstitutional change of leadership. We demand the release of Mr. Conde and a guarantee of his immunity. We consider it necessary to return the situation in Guinea to constitutional norms as soon as possible.”

The US State Department also swiftly denounced the Guinea coup d’état and warned it could “limit” Washington’s support for Guinea. The State Department said,

“The United States condemns today’s events in Conakry. These actions could limit the ability of the United States and Guinea’s other international partners to support the country as it navigates a path toward national unity and a brighter future for the Guinean people.”

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the takeover in a tweet and called for Conde’s immediate release. The chairman of the African Union, DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, and the head of its executive body, former Chadian Prime Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, also decried the move, calling for Conde to be freed. ECOWAS, through its acting president, Ghana’s leader Nana Akufo-Addo, threatened sanctions if the troops do not restore Guinea’s constitutional order.

Reactions to the Guinea Coup on Social Media

The Guinea coup continues to elicit reactions from several quarters. As events unfold, people give their opinions on the matter. Here are some reactions from social media.

Will Military Governments Be the Turning Point for Africa?

Over the past two years, Africa has seen military takeovers in Chad, Sudan, Mali, and now Guinea. Although it is still too early to comment on the performance of these soldiers in office, the failure of Africa’s democratic leaders is responsible for the coups. The million-dollar question then becomes, what hopes do the military governments hold for Africans? When weighed side-by-side with democracy, which is better?

Firstly, no matter how benevolent the military regime is, there is no guarantee for human rights. Military juntas across Africa have poor records regarding human rights. But will Africans care? It remains to be seen, as democratic governments—which are supposed to guarantee their human rights—have also failed to do so. For the average African, sustainable growth and development will do, regardless of the degree of disrespect for human rights. In other words, the end justifies the means.

On the other hand, the freedom of speech and association in democratic institutions is another key reason Africans prefer democratic governments. No matter how authoritarian a democratic administration is, citizens can still use various institutions especially the legislature to fight back. On the contrary (and as seen in Guinea), a military takeover of government also leads to military control of key institutions. Thus, citizens have nothing at their disposal to fight back.

Democracy and Military, Which is Better?

With respect to past records, there is no clear advantage for either of the systems. Military governments have failed to deliver (albeit in the 20th century), as much as civilian governments. As more military governments are rising, the result of the competencies (or otherwise) of these soldiers will be there for all to see. Until then, Malians, Sudanese, and Guineans can only hope that, like South Korea and Burkina Faso in the past, they are getting the right breed of military dictators.

Conclusion

Unfolding events will determine the future of the Guinean people, and whether they will look back to this period with joy or regret. While we condemn the Guinea coup like the rest of the world, we believe the African Union should not only act when the people revolt against their leaders but also when the leader is oppressing the people. What is your opinion of the Guinea coup? Was it a step in the right direction or a needless distraction? Let us know your thoughts.

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