It is barely a week since images surfaced online of a distraught and visibly disoriented Guinean President Alpha Condé awkwardly seated on a couch in a half-buttoned shirt and blue jeans surrounded by armed soldiers from his Special Forces unit.
The commandos stormed his presidential palace and overthrew him from power on accusations he had failed to satisfactorily run the affairs of Guinea.
The 83- year old Conde and other top politicians are currently detained by the army and are barred from travelling.
This is the second coup Africa has witnessed this year and a failed attempt in Niger. There are growing fears that the recent coups in Mali and the one in Guinea could lead to more political volatility in the region.
Conakry now appears to be calm as the military consolidates its power and has installed its officers to
be in charge of Guinea’s eight regions and various administrative districts.
Officials loyal to Conde, including those from the defence ministry, now seem willing to cooperate with the junta and have given their full backing to the coup leader, colonel Mamady Doumbouya.
With diminishing prospects that forces loyal to the ousted president can potentially stage a counter-coup, all indications are that the coup leaders are now firmly in charge and will now determine the course of this natural resources-rich but impoverished West African country.
The coup is also raising concerns that countries that had made advances towards sustainable democracy are now descending back to military rule which blighted west African countries in past decades. Colonel Doumbouya has however, quickly moved in to calm the nerves – telling a hastily assembled group of politicians, largely comprising ministers who served in the ousted government, he will form a new “broad” administration “in weeks”.
Meanwhile, calls to quickly return Guinea to civilian rule are reaching a crescendo.
The United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the United States, Russia and other countries have all condemned the military takeover.
“I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun and call for the immediate release of President Alpha Condé,” UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres tweeted on Monday.
But colonel Doumbouya and his men have ignored the pleas, saying they acted in the best interests of the citizens.
The colonel knows the denunciations from the UN, AU and Ecowas are routine.
He saw nothing done after soldiers deposed a civilian transition government in Mali last year. This apparent absence of consequences is now fueling worries that military power grabs are enjoying impunity in Africa.
Professor Kwesi Aning, the Director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra, Ghana, is predicting “two more coups” in Africa before year end.
“What has happened in Guinea is painful. It is something that could have been prevented.
It is unnecessary, however not surprising that it has taken place. What we are witnessing is a failure of leadership across our continent,” Professor Aning said.
“If we don’t step in and correct the whip and ensure that member states indeed comply with what they have signed on to, by December, you and I would be having this conversation with respect to two more coup d’etats,” he warned.
Alarmingly, a BBC report says between 1960 and 2000, the overall number of coup attempts in Africa averaged four a year.
In recent years the continent has witnessed more and more incidents of men in uniform wresting control from civilian leaders.
But in most of these instances, the military takeovers were justified and encouraged by people-led uprisings against entrenched dictatorship.
People appear to have now developed the propensity of endorsing the military whenever it overthrows despotic but maladroit leaders on the basis that they would not have left office any other way.
The 30-year old totalitarian rule of Sudan’s Omar al Bashir crumbled in April 2019 following a four-month street revolt sparked by the soaring price of bread. The army moved in and arrested the strongman.
In Burkina Faso, less than a year after the fall of President Blaise Compaore following another popular revolt, Michel Kafando was overthrown as president in a coup led by his own presidential guard in 2015.
He later bounced after the coup leaders failed to gather support.
Another example is Guinea Bissau which also experienced a coup after an army general ousted the country’s interim president, Raimundo Pereira, and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior in 2012.
In Egypt the military was also central in the ousting of that country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013 following massive demonstrations. Coup leader General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took over and is still running the show in Cairo.
Back home, Zimbabwe had its own version of a military induced intervention in November 2017 that ushered in a new leadership.
While Africa must now ensure that there are effective mechanisms to safeguard civilian rule from the men in uniform, dictatorship, corruption and human rights abuses have provided justification for soldiers to storm into presidential palaces and seize state power.
The coup in Guinea did not come as a surprise. An independent human rights expert for the United Nations, Alioune Tine, believes Conde’s refusal to relinquish power after serving the mandatory two terms had made either a popular uprising or a coup inevitable.
“He put people in prison.
He killed and he completely refused any political dialogue with the opposition,” Tine said.
In an apparent desecration of the people’s aspirations, Conde amended the constitution to allow him to run for a third term, arguing he had not yet completed his vision of “modernising” Guinea.
Tine’s argument is reinforced by findings of a survey conducted before the last presidential election in 2020 that indicated widespread dissatisfaction of the performance of Conde’s government.
The survey by the Centre for Democratic Development, Afrobarometer, and Stat View International had also shown that the majority of the people wanted the president’s tenure to be limited to two terms.
The findings were also clear that Guineans believed that their country was heading in the wrong direction, that the level of corruption had increased, and that the government was doing a poor job in fighting corruption.
Some of the key findings of the survey revealed that eight in 10 Guineans (82%) endorsed free, fair, and honest elections as the best way to choose leaders.
Almost two-thirds of Guineans (64%) said their country was heading in the wrong direction and that the perception that “most” or “all” officials at the Presidency were corrupt had increased from 26% in 2013 to 47%.
Again, almost two-thirds (63%) of the population in Guinea said the level of corruption in their country had increased during the year preceding the survey, a 25-percentage-point increase compared to 2015 (38%).
Given this background, it is therefore not surprising that barely a year after claiming a controversial third term in office amid widespread accusation of vote-rigging, Conde has been unseated.
In justifying the military takeover, colonel Doumbouya cited poverty poor governance, and corruption as reasons for the intervention.
Colonel Doumbouya could be right because multitudes of people celebrated on the streets of Conakry.
When Conde first came to power in 2010, he promised a stable democracy and economic progress, but once in command he did the opposite.
He used violence to silence opponents, failed to reduce poverty, and his record in fighting corruption was appalling.
For a man who was routinely arrested by previous autocratic regimes as he worked tirelessly over 40 years for democracy in Guinea, and whose election in 2010 was received with hopefulness by a population that had endured decades of dictatorship and corruption, Conde’s departure from office is disgraceful.
“I will try in my small way to be Guinea’s [Nelson] Mandela and unite every son of Guinea,” Conde said in his inaugural address back then.
“The restoration of social cohesion and national unity requires a collective look at our painful past.”
Sadly, Conde did not live up to his promises and his fate now lies in the hands of an unpredictable junta.