An elite unit of the Guinean military stormed the presidential palace, arrested the president and declared a takeover on Sunday, September 5, 2021. The coup caught many people by surprise. But a cheering crowd of citizens ran in the streets greeting the soldiers. "Bravo! Bravo!" they cried. President Alpha Conde was taken to an undisclosed location. He was seen barefoot wearing jeans and a casual shirt sitting on a sofa. The country constitution has been suspended and all borders of Guinea have been closed. Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, head of the elite unit, led the takeover. His group has established a National Committee of Reconciliation and Development to govern the affairs of the state.
In Doumbouya's national broadcast address, he told the people of Guinea that the takeover is not a coup. "Our action is not a coup d'etat". "It only reflects the legitimate aspiration of people to want to live in an environment where basic human needs can be met." He appeared to be cognizant of the negative image of coup d'etats and therefore painted the overthrow as a people mission, "a just cause". He listed "the trampling of citizens' rights, the disrespect for democratic principles, the outrageous politicization of public administration, financial mismanagement, poverty, and endemic corruption" are major factors that prompted the coup.
While the above factors may be the reasons for the overthrow, economic realities before the takeover could have been the main causes. By January 2021, Guinea was facing serious financial conditions. The prices of major commodities, such as bread and gasoline, increased nationally. In response, in July this year, the government announced tax hikes, reduced spending on the military and the police. But at the same time, it increased the budget of the presidential office and raised the salary of the legislature. This resulted in an extreme hardship on the common people and thus enhanced poverty.
Our source in Guinea informed us that things are calmed and the majority of the people supported the coup, and they considered the takeover to bring meaningful changes in Guinea. The opposition in Guinea viewed the coup as an opportunity to change things around and that it would bring new hope for the betterment of the people and country. However, foreign countries and organizations have condemned the coup and called for an immediate release of Conde. The United States, France, and Russia are among the nations expressing opposition. The seizure of power said Ned Price of the US State Department, "undermines Guinea's path to a brighter future". UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have added their strong condemnations for the coup. ECOWAS has threatened sanctions and called for the restoration of constitutional rule in Guinea. It planned to send a delegation to Guinea to meet with the leaders of the military. Liberia has tightened its borders with Guinea. President George Weah has called borders security to be vigilant.
Who is Mamadi Doumbouya?
Doumbouya was born on March 4, 1980, in Guinea. Little is known about his education and upbringing. He is said to have served in the French Legionnaire and in several foreign military operations, including Afghanistan, Djibouti, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, UK, and Cyprus. He returned to Guinea in 2018. Conde promoted him and made him head of the elite unit created by Conde. He is said to be married to a French lady who is in the French Legionnaire. He has three children.
In his national address, he wrapped over his shoulders the Guinean flag and quoted Ghanaian Former President Jerry Rawling saying that "if the people are crushed by their elite, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom". Rawling, as a flight lieutenant, seized power in Ghana in 1979 and later became a national hero.
Views in Liberia of the overthrow have been mixed. Some supported the change while others differ. For instance, a Guinean national residing in Liberia felt that the coup was unnecessary. A Liberian advocate blamed the problem on Conde's desire for a third term. Some critics of Weah appear to be happy for the overthrow to indicate that he is vulnerable, that it can happen to him. This seemed to be wishful thinking. However, the president in 2020 seriously supported a referendum calling also for a change of the constitutional term for the presidency. The Liberian people feared that the change would make the president stay longer in office. The electorates, in the 2020 special election, overwhelmingly rejected the referendum, including the provision for dual citizenship. Paradoxically, Senator Abraham Dillon, an opposition candidate who had campaigned against the referendum, upon winning the election called for a legislative amendment for dual citizenship because the enactment would also benefit his son who is an American citizen. This was a clever but deceptive attempt to change the constitution and arrest the will of the people for a selfish reason. A Liberian nationalist stated that Weah would encounter serious opposition in the 2023 election if he signs any statute into law for dual citizenship. Many Liberians share this view. Regarding possible military takeover, Liberians appeared not to hope for an unconstitutional means of regime change. The country had experienced horrible years of political instability and is not inclined to go through another civil unrest.
Despite the international opposition to the overthrow, some experts, including Alcoune Tine, fault the US, France, and other world bodies, for being silent to the abuse of the Guinean Constitution by Conde. A professor at the Kofi Annan Institute in Ghana predicted that if such abuse continues, there would be two additional coups in West Africa soon. Ivory Coast is pointed out as a possible target. As in Guinea, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara was accused of twisting the constitution for a third-term presidency. He won the third term but at the price of street protestation and violence. But to do justice to France, she did show dissatisfaction with Conde's move. China, Russia, Egypt, and Turkey meanwhile reportedly supported Conde. China supported the president because of her interest in the Guinean bauxite industry.
What Does The Coup Mean To Guinean Relations to Liberia and Sierra Leone?
The drastic change of the order of things in Guinea could harm Guinean relations with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Guinea shares borders with the two nations. The Mandingo ethnic group resides in the three countries. The tribe in Liberia is an original native Liberian group. The closure of the borders would stop the movement of people from and to Guinea, but would also harm trade. Liberia would appear more affected since the country imports many of its foodstuffs such as bitter balls from Guinea. Even if the borders re-opened, there would be an influx of Guinean refugees into Liberia and Sierra Leone. This would create socio-economic difficulties in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberia already has about 12,940 Ivorian refugees, according to the Liberian Repatriate and Resettlement Commission. Under the Conte administration, Guinea accused Liberia and Sierra Leone of carrying out destabilizing activities in Guinea. This was during the Charles Taylor's war and the Sierra Leone civil crisis. The coming of Liberian and Sierra Leone refugees into Guinea during the war did cause economic hardship on Guinea. With the growth of the Mandingo population in Liberia, the military junta in Guinea may fear that Conde's supporters would enter Guinea to free him and liberate the country. Guinea also has a large population of Kissi, Kpelle, and Loma. They are major ethnic groups in Liberia. Kissi is in Lofa County, Liberia, which is near Guinea and Kpelle is the largest tribe in Liberia.
While the borders are closed for now, Liberia and Sierra Leone will continue their relations with Guinea. Their respective embassies will open. Moreover, the Mano River Union, a tripartite agreement with Guinea-Liberia-Sierra-Leone will operate. It regulates and manages the economic activities among the three nations.
What Are The Consequences Of The Takeover?
The greatest fear of the takeovers would be internal. Though coup leaders tend to give fine speeches at the beginning for change, history has shown that many times the talks did not match their actions. The coup leaders did not keep their promises; they hang onto power, exchanged their military uniforms for civilian clothes, repeated corruption, and abused power. Unlike in the past, coups, particularly in Africa, are not as popular as in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. Back then, foreign countries and interests supported coups. The US is said to have backed political instabilities. Guinea, Libya, and Ethiopia supported the 1980 Liberian coup after it was staged. Sekou Toure was considered the Godfather of the coup leaders. Interestingly, a year before the takeover, Guinea sent a troop to Liberia to stop the protest of peaceful citizens. The event, known as the Rice Riot Massacre, caused the deaths of innocent Liberians. Now coups do not get international support like before. This is why, as indicated earlier, Doumbouya tried to rebrand the takeover as not a coup. Sierra Leone has had its share of coups in 1992 and 1997.
Though there has been a decline in support for a military takeover, there have been more coups in Africa in the past 1 ½ years. Mali had two in August 2020 and May 2021 while Chad had one in April 2021.
Since the overthrow in Guinea, aluminum is scarce on the world market. The price of aluminum has been higher than in decades. Goods to Guinea will be at the minimum. This will increase prices and will make conditions harder and difficult in Guinea.
The international condemnation which the junta has received would put pressure on the regime. This would have political and economic impacts. International assistance may not be forthcoming. As the economy dries out together with the failure to meet expressed changes, public discontent may follow resulting in street protests for return to constitutional rule. This would most likely come about after the honeymoon, which sometimes runs two or three years. Moreover, the junta may not allow the opposition to function completely and freely. This could result in polarization or confrontation.
The CoVid 19 epidemic is another problem. Guinea, like other countries, is struggling to fight the virus, which has caused serious health and economic consequences in the country. A month or two ago, it was reported that Ebola was found in Guinea. The disease, which originated in Guinea in 2014, killed thousands of people and caused millions of dollars in the south region, particularly Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Nevertheless of the possible consequences, the coup could be a warning to African leaders who, for greed for power, want to abuse authority to stay in power. This coup would make them think twice. Alpha Conde could have, after serving the two terms, retired from politics and served as an honorable statesman. But he chose not. However, Conde was not the first Guinean leader to change the constitution for a third term. The late Lansana Conte ran for a third term after completing the required second term.
Who Is Alpha Conde?
Conde was born in 1938 in Guinea. He has been in political activities for over 50 years. He was a critic of Guinean first president Ahmed Sekou Toure and went into exile in France. Upon Toure's death in 1984, Lansana Conte and Diarra Traore seized power in a coup. Conte became head of state and defeated Conde in the 1993 and 1998 elections. Just before the 1998 election, Conde was accused of an assassination attempt and was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Conte died in 2008 but the country was plunged into another coup when Moussa Dadis Camara grabbed power after Conte's death. Conde got his break in the 2010 election when he defeated Cellou Dalein Diallo in an upset victory according to observers. Conde was the standard-bearer of the Rally of the Guinean People. Diallo is the political leader of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea. That election was the first democratic race since Toure won in 1958 becoming the country's first head of state upon independence.
Upon his election in 2010, Conde hoped to be Guinean Nelson Mandela. He was credited for bringing multi-party democracy to Guinea. Some analysts called him a hero and a champion of human rights. He was said to have brought development to the country. Under him, infrastructures and mineral resources improved, including the signing of a multi-billionaire dollars bauxite contract with China. He won reelection in 2015, which was his last term constitutionally. But at the end of the term, he called for a referendum that changed the constitution enabled him to seek a third term. The move brought in a public outcry, which led to street demonstrations and the deaths of over 30 people. Some opposition leaders and critics, i.e. Roger Bamba and Mamadou Oury Barry are said to die in prison. He was declared winner of the 2020 election defeating again Diallo with 59.5% of the votes. Conde's critics said that the election was rigged. Diallo meanwhile declared victory before the announcement of the official results. Violence followed after the election causing additional deaths.
Conde is of the Malinke ethnic group, which is 35% of the population. His rival Diallo is a Peul, which makes up 40% of the population. Other tribal groups include the Mandingo, Fulani, and the Susu. His foes and supporters acknowledged his charisma and strong will to not giving up. But Ryan Cummings and Scukou Yaya indicated that he capitalized on the country's ethnic division and he did not listen to nor dialogue with the opposition. He is described as a leader who usually acts alone.
What May Happen Diplomatically
Nations are guided by the principle of sovereignty, which sees all countries as equal. It also respects the territorial integrity of all nations and the non-interference in the domestic affairs of each country. But because nations are members of the community of nations and they do not want to be isolated, they must abide by specifically agreed norms, keys of which are the respect of human rights, the right to free movement, the right to fair and equal treatment of all citizens. It is this principle that all nations, including the leaders of the coup, must adhere to.
All treaties and agreements with Guinea will continue. ECOWAS will send a high-level delegation to the leaders of the junta as planned. The mission is to assess the situation and to request the release of Conde, particularly for medical attention in a foreign country. A demand for an immediate return to constitutional and civilian rule would be inappropriate and unwise because coup leaders do not easily yield to demands and would resist force. While they would appear to be tough, they could consider forming a transitional or a power sharing administration in view of their safety. Note that they have the support of the people as reports suggest. Thus with the guns and support, they have the power and the upper hand. But also they would want to be cooperative, different, and stay popular.
The ECOWAS' move might follow talks by the African Union. The UN would be the last result for mediation. Meanwhile, individual countries would evaluate the situations through consultation with their embassies and agents in Guinea. They may recall their ambassadors for a face-to-face discussion of the crisis for possible actions. America, for instance, will advise its citizens not to travel to Guinea for now and will protect US nationals in trouble in Guinea. The country mission team will remain in the embassy for daily updates. Guinean embassies in foreign countries will do the same to advise the junta of conditions.
Though a country's ambassador is the personal representative of the head of state, because the State is a continual entity, he or she must operate in the interest of the State and not for the president. But we have seen a situation in which the ambassador resigned in solidarity with the deposed president.
It would be helpful if Liberia and Sierra Leone send a presidential delegation to Guinea as a personal diplomatic effort since the two neighboring countries will be directly affected by the crisis.
Background Information on Guinea
Guinea is in West Africa near Sierra Leone and Liberia. The country has an estimated population of 10.5 million and a land area of 94,946 square miles. In 1891, Guinea became a French colony separated from Senegal. It was known as French Guinea. The country gained its independence from France in 1958 and made Sekou Toure, a trade unionist, her first president. Guinea got world attention when the people selected independence and forgo France's infrastructural materials. France was so mad at the decision that it removed from Guinea items such as phones and electrical poles. The Washington Post's observation states in detail the reaction. "They unscrewed light bulbs, removed plans for sewage pipelines in Conakry, the capital, and even burned medicines rather than leave them for the Guineans".
Guinea was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), an association of independent African states established in 1963. She was part of the Casablanca Group, which advocated a progressive and Pan African stance on African liberation. It called for the federalization of African states. Its counter group, called the Monrovia Group, took a conservative view to the issue, calling for a gradual approach to unity. Toure, Kwame Nkrumah, and Patrick Lumumba were of the former while William Tubman of Liberia and Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast were of the latter. OAU later became the African Union.
Guinea witnessed African first military coups in the 60s with the overthrow of Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria in 1966 and Nkrumah later that year. Toure reacted strongly to the removal of Nkrumah from power by making him Co-president of Guinea. The move was criticized, but supporters said that it was made in the spirit of African solidarity. As stated previously, Guinea has experienced several coups and has survived. The country is rich in natural resources, chiefly bauxite, and is the world's number two exporter of bauxite from which aluminum is made. Guinea is said to have 24 ethnic groups. The Peul and the Malinke are the largest. The Kpelle and the Kissi are said to constitute respectively 7.8% and 2% of the population.