On Sunday, September 5, 2021, President Alpha Conde, 83, of Guinea Conakry was deposed by a team of former elite military forces led by Lt. Col. Mamady Doumbouya. Conde does not deserve anyone’s sympathy and that does not necessarily amount to an endorsement of the military coup in that unfortunate country. Indeed, Conde is the architect of his own misfortune, a greedy African leader who thought he was invincible, untouchable and supreme. The photos that were released on Sunday showing him in a humiliating position, surrounded by the same soldiers who used to protect him was a loud reminder of the ephemerality of power and the unpredictability of human circumstances. The once great Alpha Conde looked very sober. The leader of the coup used to be his bodyguard. He used to hold an umbrella over his head. Today, Conde is at the mercy of Lt. Col. Dambouya. One wrong move, he, Conde could lose his life. He wanted to remain in office for life. He denied the people of Guinea Conakry the opportunity to make their own choice. What the people of Guinea could not do, the military have done it for them. Except that the unconstitutional take-over of power in Guinea is completely unjustifiable. The people of Guinea may have trooped out unto the streets of Conakry and other parts of the country to celebrate the downfall of a man who held them down, but that is no justification for a return to military rule. Many of them removed their shirts and screamed: “Doumbouya! Freedom.” But what next for Guinea?
In the 70s, African political scientists pushed the idea of the strong man as leader and messiah, and hence accommodated militarism as a vehicle of development. But by the 80s, the wave of democratisation led by the ideological politics of the United States created a new momentum. By the 90s, democracy was the new sing-song in most African states. The challenge however has been how to consolidate the gains of democracy and its value chain. It is most unfortunate that in recent times, rather than have a consolidation, Africa is beginning to experience a backward trajectory. The coup in Guinea fits into this pattern.
Before now, since 2010, there have been coup attempts in Niger (2010, 2011), Guinea Bissau (2010, 2011) Madagascar (2010), DR Congo (2011, 2013), Sudan (2012, 2019), Benin (2013), Libya (2013), Egypt (2013), Gambia (2014), Gabon (2019), Ethiopia (2019) Central African Republic (2021) and successful coup attempts in Niger (2010), Mali (2012, 2020, 2021), Sudan (2019), Burkina Faso (2015), Egypt (2013) and now Guinea-Conakry (2021). Military interventions in African politics constitute a major setback for democracy. The coup in Guinea Conakry can only add to the instability in the Sahel region of West Africa and provide further stimulus for the agents of destabilization – the Jihadists and the terrorists operating in the Sahel. ECOWAS Presidents Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana and Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, and the UN Secretary General, Antonio Gueterres have condemned the coup but the international community must go a step further and ask Doumbouya and his gangsters to hand over power immediately to civilian authorities. They have suspended the Constitution and all institutions as part of an attempt to launch a transitional government.
It should be made clear to them that their rebellion violates the ECOWAS protocols on Democracy and Good Governance and the Constitutive Acts of the African Union. ECOWAS and AU need not worry too much about what France thinks. The relationship between France and its former colonies in Africa is at best opportunistic. The direct victims are the long-suffering people of Guinea.
Guinea is one of the most blessed countries in the world in terms of natural resources: the biggest iron ore deposit in the world, gold, diamond, bauxite but in typical African fashion, this has not translated into prosperity for the people. Guinea is effectively one of the poorest countries in the world. And the problems are not far to seek: corruption, nepotism and bad leadership. Alpha Conde spent his early career as a radical, progressive, opposition politician. He challenged the government of Lansana Conte in 1993 and again in 1998. In 2010, Conde led the RPG to victory and was thus elected President of Guinea for a first term of five years. He was re-elected for a second, final term of another 5 years in 2015. In 2020, when he was supposed to step down from office, Conde chose to amend the Constitution to enable him extend his stay in office.
Despite spirited opposition to this gamble, Conde imposed himself on the people. He was 82 at the time. He even increased the Presidential term from five years to six. In October and November 2020, there were protests on the streets of Conakry. Still, he held the election, which he won of course, and began a six-year term in office, illegally and unconstitutionally. That gamble came to an end on Sunday with the coup in Guinea-Conakry. It would have been better if he was removed by the people themselves in a democratic process. He promised to be Guinea’s Mandela. He was Guinea’s Caligula. Nonetheless, the cowboys looking like they don’t know their left from their right must not be encouraged to remain in power and office. The creeping collapse of the democratic ethos as seen in Chad, Mali and Guinea-Conakry is an ugly burden for the whole of Africa. Other African leaders who are tempted to sit-tight in office should learn from the disgrace of Alpha Conde.