Coups d’etat on the African continent have been a constant phenomenon since the decolonization process. The Sept. 5 coup in Conakry, capital of the Republic of Guinea, intervenes in a country that has only known three presidents since its independence in 1958: Ahmed Sekou Touré, Lansana Conté and Alpha Condé.
The former French colony suffers from a politically troubled history and has lived through long dictatorial periods. The country’s first democratically elected president, in 2010, Alpha Condé, leader of the Guinean People’s Assembly (Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée – RPG) party, suffered a coup d’état after constitutional maneuvers to be re-elected for the third consecutive time. The first civilian in the presidency had his term interrupted by a coup carried out by the military junta National Committee of Rally and Development, led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya. Shortly after his capture, an announcement was made across the country, in addition to closing the borders and invalidating the constitution.
:: Coup in the Republic of Guinea: military detain president and dissolve government ::
As in other ghostly democracies in Africa, the military is acting as regulators and forcibly unlocking stalled political situations. The challenge is to organize a peaceful transition and hand over power to civilians as quickly as possible.
Several African nations have enacted constitutions that prohibit any use of force to gain power. The African Union (AU) seems to be following this line: during coup attempts in its member countries, it often demands a return to constitutional order or faces sanctions. In June, the organization suspended Mali after a second military coup in the country in nine months. In Guinea, the September 5 coup was immediately denounced by Congolese Félix Tshisekedi, current AU president, and the AU announced its suspension from all its activities and decision-making bodies, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) . In addition, the pan-African organization, based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, asked the UN Security Council to “approve the final ECOWAS communiqué”. Still, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya does not appear to have been affected as he dissolved the government and institutions. It also abolished the Constitution adopted by Condé in 2020.
Some analysts believe that, under certain circumstances, a coup d’etat can be ethically justified, whether it is to end a dictatorial regime, overthrow an undemocratic government that does not guarantee the well-being of its citizens, or expel leaders who change national laws . They are based on the “utilitarian ethics”, developed in the 18th century by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, according to which an illicit act can be legitimate if it maximizes the collective well-being. African coupists have always argued that they acted for the good of the people. Do recent coups d’etat in Guinea or Mali meet these criteria?
The statements by coup colonel Mamady Doumbouya indicate the use of various pretexts to justify the assault on power. One of them is the personality cult of former resident Alpha Condé, endemic poverty and corruption, in addition to “the instrumentalization of justice and the trampling of citizens’ rights.” These factors have increasingly driven the despair of young Africans, to the point of accepting coup-makers who promise radical changes, as witnessed in the streets of Guinea after the seizure of power, with some exultant Guineans kissing the soldiers.
But what will be the implications of this wave of return to militarism in Africa? Everything indicates that Colonel Doumbouya will use the same coup manual perfected by Goïta (Mali) and Déby (Chad), repeating the 18-month transition timetable and promising to rewrite the constitution to appease the international community. If Guinea’s neighbors and external partners accept, it will serve as a signal to ambitious soldiers in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Niger — citing just a few potential candidates — that there are limited consequences for taking power. Although it is difficult to prove a contagion effect, the hits in the region tend to occur in waves.
To avert this scenario, Africa’s regional bodies and international partners need to act more decisively to anticipate and respond to this alarming trend of evolving coups in West and sub-Saharan Africa. So far, the international community has been docile, as it was in responding to the problematic elections in Benin, ambivalent in fighting corruption in Mali, and unequal over A. Condé’s term limits in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
The reason for this lack of firmness is linked to the tendency of Western powers (US and Europe) to prioritize counterterrorism or strategic competition with China and Russia, rather than promoting democracy and political rights and civil liberties. It does not seem that this bet will bring benefits, in the short and medium term, to Africans. Military experiences have shown its ineffectiveness in solving the problems of millions of young people, an element that is used by criminal and terrorist groups in the Sahel region. The ambivalences of the West and the African Union’s effective inability to impose rules for the respect of the rule of law and democratic processes will only contribute to the return of military interference in political power and all the consequences that this entails.
the Republic of Guinea
The Republic of Guinea became independent in 1958, freeing itself from French rule in the country since the 16th century. Independence was achieved through a referendum, held by French President Charles de Gaulle.
Ahmed Sékou Touré’s government lasted 26 years, from his inauguration in 1958 until his death in 1984, when an uprising by the military, led by Lansana Conté, led to the creation of a military junta to command the country, with Conté in the position of president.
The country’s first elections were held in 1993, and Conté was elected president with 51.7% of the vote. Even with the return of civil power and the constitution of a multi-party government, Conté used the government in an authoritarian way. In 1998, he won the elections again, guaranteeing another 5 years of power. There was, however, opposition from the opposition regarding the legality of the elections, alleging fraud. In 2003, Conté again won the elections.
After his death in 2008, Guinea went through an interim period marked by a coup by Moussa Dadis Camara, which brought even more instability and violence and protests for elections and democracy. In 2010, elections brought to power Alpha Condé, leader of the opposition People’s Assembly of Guinea party (Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée – RPG), which initiated a series of reforms to bring political and economic stability to the nation. Despite the hope of change through democratic channels, their mandates have been challenged by electoral fraud, inability to reduce poverty levels and, recently, dubious means to remain in power, which have led to their downfall.
The authoritarian tendencies pointed out by opponents of Condé’s government and the constitutional maneuvers for his third re-election accentuate the persistent weakness of the country’s institutions. With a political past of struggle for democracy, the former Guinean president did not hesitate to manipulate the constitution of his country to perpetuate himself in power.
Even with Guinea having very rich mineral reserves (the largest bauxite reserve in the world) and great capacity for commercial agriculture, the macroeconomic reforms that promoted about 2% to 4% of annual GDP growth were not enough to improve living conditions of the population. The economy’s growth was marked by the withdrawal of subsidies from the population, which led to a worsening in poverty levels.
*Mohammed Nadir, Flávio Thales, Enrique Lima, Kethelyn Santos and Pedro Lagosta are researchers at the Brazilian Foreign Policy and Insertion Observatory (Opeb) at UFABC.
**This is an opinion piece. The author’s vision does not necessarily express the newspaper’s editorial line Brazil in fact.
Edition: Vivian Virissimo