While the fate of former Guinean President Alpha Condé remains uncertain after the September 5 military coup, the ongoing political turmoil is most likely the start of a repetitive cycle of semi-democratic military governance seen across the country. ‘West Africa.
Security defection: reactions from the national and international community
Guinea is, once again, facing political uncertainty after elite security forces overthrew the president in a coup. The coup was led by the head of Guinean special forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouyah, who reportedly served in the French legion and received military training from the United States, via US AFRICOM (US Africa Command). . After the coup, Colonel Doumbouyah appeared on Guinean state television with his armed soldiers. They announced that the president had been detained, the constitution dissolved and that a national curfew had been imposed.
The unfavorable political developments in this impoverished but resource-rich nation come as no surprise to many. This coup follows a year that saw numerous violent protests by the main opposition party, led by Cellou Dalein Diallo and his supporters, against a constitutional change and an election that was allegedly fraudulently won by the party. by Alpha Condé. It should be noted that despite holding the largest bauxite reserves in the world, Guinea remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with most of its population living on less than a dollar a day.
Meanwhile, the disappearance of President Condé sparked a wave of celebrations in the Guinean capital Conakry and other major cities. However, around the world, the event has been condemned by several regional actors and the international community at large, including the United States, the United Nations and the African Union. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has specifically expressed its disapproval of the violent takeover by the special forces. The bloc not only demanded the immediate release of the former president, but also imposed sanctions on the junta regime. In order to understand the serious implications of this coup for Guinea’s political development, it is important to give a brief overview of the complex history of Guinea’s military interventions.
Historical perspective: analysis of military coups in the political history of Guinea
In West Africa, a military coup is a preemptive strike against a largely fragile and immature democratic system. In fact, military coups have become endemic on the African continent. For example, since the years of independence, Africa has experienced more than 200 military coups, counting both successful and unsuccessful coup attempts. This is not only an injection for the democratic processes in the region, but also for the economic development of these nations.
In the case of Guinea, its first major military coup was organized by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara and his military colleagues from the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), six hours after the president’s death. Lansana Conté was announced on December 23, 2008. On September 28, 2008, 157 people were killed during one of the rallies at the Conakry stadium by the putschists, and this tragedy was one of the bloodiest moments in politics. Guinean.
With the intensification of the involvement of the international community in the process of investigating this tragedy, in order to bring the perpetrators to justice, an internal conflict broke out between the military, which intensified on December 3, 2009. With the assassination of Captain Camara in December 2009, President Alpha Condé became the first democratically elected president in the history of Guinea in 2010.
The popularity of President Alpha Condé, however, began to become problematic among ordinary Guineans and the international community when he announced a constitutional referendum in 2020 to allow him to run for his third term. Although the new constitution contains improvements for human rights, such as raising the age of marriage to 18, a total ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) of Guinean girls, slavery and child labor, and equal rights of spouses in marriage and divorce, the concept of a new constitution meant a new republic. It was a political manipulation of Mr. Alpha Condé to advance his political ambitions.
As a result, public discontent with President Condé quickly grew and metastasized, and also spread throughout Guinea in a short time due to various socio-political factors. Meanwhile, a week before the coup and the detention of President Alpha Condé, a new spending loophole has been proposed for the National Assembly and the President’s office. The move reportedly resulted in massive budget cuts for security forces, police and military officials, a change that not only caused an uproar among some key military generals, but ultimately led to the September 5 coup.
Constitutional and military coup d’etats: an increasing regional trend?
The coup d’état in Guinea is the result of an upward trend in military coups observed in West Africa in recent years. In fact, Guinea is the third West African country to undergo a violent transfer in six months. In April, Chadian President Idriss Deby was killed on his way to the front lines and was replaced by his son, and in May Mali saw its second coup in nine months, after the arrest of the president and the prime minister. In the same month, a failed military coup was crushed in Niger, days before the presidential inauguration.
While the number of coups d’etat increases in some parts of the region, others (eg Ghana and Senegal) continue to enjoy relative political stability and consolidated democracy. It is important to note that the unfavorable trend of military coups observed in Guinea and other parts of the West / Sahelian region is not a recent trend. However, two factors differentiate these new military coups from the older ones.
Democratic coup: a symptom of constitutional coups?
Many West African governments not only have failed to achieve sustainable economic development, but have gradually moved in recent years to undermine constitutional democracy. The so-called constitutional crisis, which has seen many outgoing African leaders, including Alpha Condé and Alassane Ouattara, change constitutions to allow them to remain in power, not only resulted in a lack of confidence in the general electoral system, but it has also given more leeway to the military segment and claimed its role in this political game.
To put it another way, the inability of the international community and regional actors to effectively deal with and hold the various African leaders accountable for abuse of power and manipulation of electoral procedures, combined with too close proximity to the army in power in the countries, means that transfers violence such as military coups against established democracies are not inevitable in this region. In many of these cases, as the case of Guinea demonstrated, these coups can even be classified in what academic Ozan Varol (2012) describes as a “democratic coup”. These are coups d’état which respond to “popular opposition against authoritarian or totalitarian regimes”, and by overthrowing these regimes thus claim to promote a more inclusive political approach and facilitate free and fair elections.
In hindsight, despite the expression of a certain sense of undemocratic characteristics, the military coup in Guinea had tendencies to promote democracy. Specifically, the mutinous junta, which swore not only to eradicate endemic corruption and restore democracy, but also economic progress (which the country has lacked since independence from France in 1958). The junta claims to act in the best interests of the 12.7 million inhabitants of the country. In the meantime, it is important to note that the role played by the international community in mitigating or increasing these trends will be crucial in the years to come.
What’s the next step for Guinea?
Many challenges seem to be ahead of the so-called interim government, which is ruled by the military and supposed to provide a period of transition. Although they see themselves as the vanguards of a better future, the lack of a coherent plan so far on how to achieve so-called democratic reform may lead to their promises being broken. a peaceful democratic transition, an inclusive political approach and the implementation of reforms to fight corruption. In addition, acts of selfish behavior, through the institutional and constitutional entrenchment of the military, can lead to abuse of power and public trust without any structural change being made. Therefore, while seeking public consent, legitimacy and stability, the political system can remain unchanged with power concentrated in the hands of the few, much like the old regime.
Another reasonable fear is that, in the event that an election is organized, this could be done only to give legitimacy to the interim military government and reassure the international community of its limited political role in this short period of time. Another factor that is probably not inevitable within the military, which is currently striving to unify various military branches under one leadership, is the struggle for internal power. This development could disrupt bauxite mining and send more shock waves to the international bauxite market. In turn, this may have economic implications for foreign powers such as China, which is currently Guinea’s largest importer of the ore that produces aluminum.
In the future, it will also be interesting to see the role played by the regional and international community in guiding the Guinean military regime towards democracy. In this process, it is important for regional blocs such as ECOWAS and the AU not to isolate the putschists and the rest of the Guinean security and political segments, but rather to include them in open dialogues to find an appropriate solution for the country. At the same time, these organizations should not neglect the use of various political instruments to ensure that the coup leaders are held accountable for potentially harmful behavior. What will happen in Guinea in the years to come will dictate the true image and intention of Colonel Mamady Doumbouya for the future of Guinea and its people. Until then, hope is what remains for the Guinean population.