On 5 September 2021, the military of the Republic of Guinea took over the country. The President, Alpha Condé, was taken prisoner, and Special forces Commander Colonel Mamady Doumbouya announced the dissolution of the constitution and the government. The deposed President Condé is sometimes called Guinea’s first democratically elected President of Guinea, though his rule has been characterized by undemocratic rule and corrupt dealings.
In a region marked by high levels of political instability and violence, Guinea has been remarkably stable and peaceful. Though most of the country is poor, Guinea has sometimes been called the Aluminium Coast for its rich Bauxite reserves supplying nearly a quarter of the world’s Aluminium.
In the 1960s, Guinea was a center of anti-imperialist movements. Though it was never part of the Communist bloc, Guinea had some socialist tendencies, which were lost in the 1970s. Today, Guinea is a very poor country, survived by being exploited for its mineral wealth, through foreign aid and loans. Despite the unrest, it appears that Guinea will not change its foreign relations. Doumbouya has promised not to disrupt trade relations.
Guinea has shifted from military rule to civilian rule before, and the relationship between the military and the civilian governments is porous. Because of its unique history, the military has a more people-oriented ethos than most other countries, and the civilian governments can be more military-minded. The origins of this can be traced to the founding President of Guinea.
Touré and the Army of Guinea
Ahmed Sékou Touré was a trade union leader, who as a student, joined the Guinean labor movement, and rose the ranks, becoming very influential in Guinean politics. When France changed its constitution in 1958, he campaigned for Guinea to reject the new constitution, leading to the country’s independence.
Touré supported African independence movements. His political ideology was a mix of Socialism and Pan-Africanism. He believed in a strong public sector and in building alliances with other African leaders. When Kwame Nrukumbah, aka the Lenin of Africa, was ousted in a coup détat from Ghana, Touré offered him asylum and co-presidency in Guinea. However, like many former colonies, Touré had to deal with an army that could easily destabilize the country. The army was designed by the French to control the local population and battle neighbouring powers. Unchecked, the army could lead to instability as it had in other African countries. However, Touré’s had a unique and effective approach to ensure cooperation by the army in nation-building.
First, he enlisted the army in development projects. The army began developing an ethos of caring for the country and were in part engineers and overseers of development projects. Second, Touré enlisted the educated youth in the National Militia, who worked with the army in building the new nation. As a result, the military in Guinea had a convivial relationship with the civilian government.
In this way, Touré charted a path for Guinea that mixed his Pan-Africanism, Socialism, and the post-colonial reality of Guinea. By recruiting the army into his socialist vision for Guinea, Touré set the stage for a stable and peaceful country in a region that was marked by military coups and violent conflict. Even though Guinea sits at the head of many river systems and is rich in mineral deposits, it has not been the target of a violent takeover, though it did actively support armed struggles against colonial powers, and helped build alliances between former colonies. Touré was famous as a black world leader.
In Guinea, he won seven elections for Presidency unopposed. This was in part due to suppression of the opposition forces, leaving his party, the Democratic Party of Guinea-African Democratic Rally, as the only viable political option in the country. Guinea was a non-Aligned country, though Guinea’s distance from France, tendencies towards of single-party state, and the economic policy of nationalization associated Guinea with the Soviet bloc. Still, they did not have any official alliance. Internationally, Touré advocated for the dignity of African countries and anti-imperialism.
The Decline of Touré
In 1970, Guinea supported the independence movement of what was to be called Guinea Bissau from the Portuguese, leading to Operation Green Sea, where the Portuguese invaded the capital city of Conakry. Though Portugal was condemned internationally, this began a period of political instability, where Touré’s government began to follow a rightward shift beginning in the 1970s.
The invasion of Conakry led to the revelation of prisons dedicated to political prisoners in Guinea. After the invasion, dissent within the country confronted an antagonistic government, with purges estimated to be nearly 1 percent of the country. Leadership under Touré began to support pro-French and market-oriented policies, leading the state to begin adopting pro-western policies.
By Touré’s death in 1984, Guinea had lost its socialist character and was very poor. Shortly after his death, the military instituted a bloodless coup. Lansana Conté, a military colonel, became President, and continued to be President after elections in 1992, and won elections until he died in 2008. Shortly after his death, General Diarra Camara seized power in another bloodless coup and kept power until 2010, when elections were held and opposition leader, Alpha Condé became the new President.
Condé’s Presidency has been marred by many corruption scandals, with reports of Condé offering deals to large corporations to use Guinea’s mineral resources. He ran in opposition to the leaders of the military regime. In 2020, Condé led an amendment to the constitution to allow him to run beyond the two-term limit, leading to large-scale protests in Guinea.
In 2021, there crop failures in Canada and Russia. They were both an important source of wheat for Guinea. This led to a rise in bread prices. 2019 and 2020 were marked by large-scale protests. On top of rising food and petrol prices, the economic strife caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, led to fear of political instability in the country.
Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, leader of a special force created by Condé, led the coup and declared himself the leader. Doumbouya has promised that he would steer Guinea through a crisis period of 18 months and promised to represent the interests of the people of Guinea.
While sticking to the broad ethos set for the Guinean army by Ahmed Sékou Touré, Doumbouya appears to be from an elite wing of the army and may subvert the army’s pro-people rhetoric in favor of foreign trade. The stability that this coup will bring might be against the seemingly chaotic nature of Guinea’s civilian rule. Guinea has a long history of cracking down on dissent. The coup might not have many repercussions on Guinea internationally, as Doumbouya would like to continue with business as usual.
Author is a Bangalore based Mathematician and a political observer.