Military Coup in Guinea and its Implications for Democratic Governance in Africa
Samir Bhattacharya, Senior Research Associate, VIF

In the early morning of Sunday, heavy gunfire was heard near Guinea’s presidential palace, in capital Conakry, prompting fear of instability. This was followed by social media updates, where people of Guinea saw their President Mr. Condé being held in custody by some men in military attire. And then the leader of the group, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, the head of Guinea’s Special Forces, appeared on television to announce that he has staged a coup and urged the armed forces to back him. Thereupon, the constitution, government and all institutions were dissolved with an announcement that a new "union" government would be formed in weeks1.

However, Guinea isn’t the first African country to witness a military coup in the recent days. Latest examples of military coups in Africa include Chad in April 2021, Mali in August 2020, Sudan in April 2019, Zimbabwe in 2017, and Egypt in February 2011 and July 2013. All the above coups resulted in establishment of transitional military councils which would oversee smooth and peaceful democratic transitions.

Ergo, for the people of Africa, the story of a deposed President is adequately familiar. To put this recent coup in perspective, this is the fourth attempted coup in West Africa since August 2020. If the present takeover proves successful, Guinea will become the third West African country to experience a violent transfer of power in the last five months as there have been two military takeovers in Mali and a failed attempt in Niger.

Early this year, in March 2021, just two days before the newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum was to be sworn into office, Niger witnessed an attempted coup by a few members of the army which was thwarted by the Presidential Guards2. Two months later, in May, Mali’s Vice President arrested the President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister in the country’s second coup within nine months3.

Meanwhile, in April 2021, Idriss Deby, the President of Chad for three decades, got killed on the battlefield. Soon after his death, military took over power and instead of letting the President of the National Assembly take charge of the provisional government as per the constitution, military dissolved the Parliament and the government, and installed president’s son Mahamat as the head of an 18-month Transitional Military Council. In this fashion, military effectively managed an unconstitutional change of government. Despite their tall claims of commitment towards peace and democracy, this has been termed by oppositions as an “institutional coup.”4

This series of military coups has large implications for democracy in Africa and might not augur well for its democratic governance in the long run. Although they all have transition as principal objective, past experiences show that military is hardly a credible partner towards democratic transition. In addition, military intervention could also lead towards a stagnant form of democracy where the country can slide back to authoritarianism at any time5.

The recent case of Mali is an apt example of this democratic stagnation. Just a decade ago, Mali was a shining example of democracy for other African countries. Since August 2020, it has witnessed two back-to-back coups by strongman Colonel Assini Goita, and not long ago he has positioned himself as the head of transitional government, shattering any concocted premise of democracy. Though he has promised to hold free elections in February next year, experts doubt the sincerity of his claim6.

As a matter of fact, Sunday’s coup in Guinea comes barely a year after the President Alpha Condé won a contentious third term after changing the Constitution, allowing him to stay in power beyond the two-term limit. And this whole event has an uncanny similarity with what happened in Niger, back in 2009.

In 2009, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja despite being in power for ten years was deposed by his country’s army. Similar to Condé, he tried to keep his position by force and pushed through a new constitution by referendum in order to extend his presidential mandate. When the referendum was boycotted by the opposition parties, he simply dissolved the country’s resistant parliament and constitutional court. Palpably, a few months later, when a group of military officers arrested the president-turned-strongman, there was little dismay among Nigeriens. In fact, more than 10,000 people took the streets of the capital Niamey in pro-coup demonstrations.

Similarly in Guinea, even when the defense ministry was still disproving the attempted takeover, it has been reported that the opposition supporters and activists had already came out in the streets of Conakry to celebrate this ousting, alluding to the considerable popular support for the military. Is it going to get the label of another “good coup d’état7”? Only time will tell.

However, uncertainty remains over the possible unrest over the next few days. In effect, Guinea had already witnessed two military take-overs, in 1984 and 2008, before Mr. Condé became the first democratically elected leader in 2010. And both the times, drug trafficking and the embezzlement of public funds flourished under the rule of the two respective coup plotters Lansana Conté and Moussa Dadis Camara8.

After the coup on Sunday, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, a 41-year-old former member of the French legionary, evoked bona fide patriotic sentiment when he announced that it is the duty of a soldier to save his country9 and promised a national consultation towards an inclusive and peaceful transition. Meanwhile, he gave his junta a new name the NCRD (National Committee of Rally and Development) which is probably a step towards rebranding himself as civilian candidate.

The West African country of Guinea is rich in natural resources but years of unrest and poor governance kept the country among world's poorest countries. Guinea is world's second-largest producer of bauxite, accounting for about 22% of the world's production10. The country also is a producer of gold, diamond and iron ore. Guinea is also China's biggest source for bauxite, accounting for 55% of China’s bauxite import and this coup appears likely to keep aluminum prices at historic highs for the foreseeable future11.

Relations between India and Republic of Guinea have been cordial and friendly. Two years ago, the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind became the first Head of State/Head of Government from India to visit Guinea, when he landed in Conakry on 1st August 2019. India also opened its Indian Embassy in Conakry in January, 2019. During his trip, India not only extended a new Line of Credit of US$ 170 million for Conakry Water Supply Project and US$ 35 million for construction of two regional hospitals but also signed several MoUs including on cooperation in the field of traditional system of medicine and homeopathy, e-Vidya Bharati Aarogya Bharati (e-VBAB) Network Project and renewable energy12. In addition, under the aegis of International Solar Alliance (ISA), India is supporting US$ 14.4 million worth of solar project for supply of electricity and drinking water for 7 Public 4 Universities and US$ 5.82 million solar project for electrification and refrigeration in 200 health infrastructures in Guinea respectively13. In fact, the currently deposed President, Mr. Conde, participated in the 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit, that was held in New Delhi, India from 26-30 October 2015.

These military interventions in Guinea and other countries of West Africa, a region that had been celebrated for a number of peaceful transitions of power in the nineties and early 2000s, appears to be regressing. And military interventions, even if they appear to be necessary in the short term to maintain peace and security, they are inherently unconstitutional. The future of Guinea is uncertain. This military intervention can subvert the democratic progress. Alternatively, he can follow the model of JK Rowling the former President of Ghana, who took power in a coup and ruled first as a military leader, then as a democratically elected president. What eventually happens will be significant not only for the Guinean democracy, but for what can propagate a severe ripple effect on the prospects of democratic governance in Africa.

  1. France 24, 6th September, 2021. Guinea’s coup leaders vow to form ‘union’ government, respect business deals.
  2. BBC, 31st March, 2021. Niger 'coup' thwarted days before inauguration.
  3. Al Jazeera, 24th May, 2021, Mali’s military detains president, prime minister.
  4. BBC, 21st April, 2021.Chad president's death: Rivals condemn 'dynastic coup'
  5. Laura Jakli, M. Steven Fish, and Jason Wittenberg, 2018. A Decade of Democratic Decline and Stagnation.
  6. Finacial Times, 3rd June, 2021. Mali coup: How the west African country fell from grace
  7. Al Jazeera, 6th September, 2021. Guinea coup: Military arrests president, dissolves government.
  8. Newyork Times, 5th September 2021, Special Forces Colonel Says He Has ‘Seized’ Guinea’s President.
  9. The Indian Express, 6th September 2021, Soldiers detain Guinea’s president, dissolve government.
  10. Reuters, 6th September 2021, Guinea's top minerals at risk after coup.
  11. Nikkei Asia, 8th September 2021, Guinea coup upends China strategy as aluminium prices soar,
  12. PIB. 2nd August 2019, President of India in Guinea; Witnesses Signing of MoUs and Leads Delegation Level Talks; says India is Committed to Strengthen Economic ties with Guinea in Support of Guinea’s National Development Plan.
  13. Idem.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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