Before dawn on September 5, Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, commander of the Guinea-Conakry Special Forces, led about 500 men from his base in Forecariah, in the interior of the country. In just a couple of hours, the military column made up of trucks and armored vehicles was planted in the capital and reached the Presidential Palace of Sékhoutouréya. There, they overpowered the guards who tried to confront him after an intense shooting and captured the country’s president, Alpha Condé, 83. It was a swift blow that finished off an 11-year-old regime that was already showing signs of exhaustion, sclerotic by corruption, perpetuated by violence, and unable to improve the lives of its citizens. A week later, life takes its course.
“I was sleeping and one of my collaborators called me around eight in the morning”, recalls Cellou Dalein Diallo, leader of the opposition and great rival of Condé in all the elections held since 2010, “I was not surprised by the depth of the crisis political, economic and social in which we are immersed. A coup was the only possible alternative, there was no way to change an illegitimate regime in which everything was at its service, rigged elections and instrumentalized justice. Nobody within the country has condemned it, everyone is happy, ”says Diallo, who has asked regional organizations not to impose sanctions on the coup plotters.
At mid-morning on Sunday 5, the image of a Condé dejected in an armchair, barefoot, dressed in jeans and a poorly buttoned shirt and surrounded by soldiers began to circulate on mobile phones, social networks and WhatsApp groups. Before even going to public television, a classic in every military coup, the coup plotters recorded their first statement and sent it through their mobile phones to journalists and political and social actors. Aware of the importance of showing their victory as soon as possible, they relied on the fastest medium they had at hand, while Lieutenant Colonel Doumbouya spoke with the Army officers to ensure that there would be no resistance. The coup triumphed, first of all, on the Guineans’ mobiles. And soon lovers came out.
“The environment was conducive,” says a former Condé minister who, given the volatility of the moment, prefers to remain anonymous, “there was a fierce battle even within the party in power. The corruption was totally scandalous as was the mismanagement. Guinea-Conakry has experienced a boom miner multiplying by four its mineral exports. Nothing has reached the town, neither in social improvements nor in better infrastructures. While in those mining areas the misery was rampant, the robbers strutted arrogantly. Many of us told the president, but he was no longer listening ”.
Guinean farms, the second largest exporter of bauxite after Australia, but also a producer of gold and copper, are mainly in the hands of Russian and Chinese companies, while Turkish capital has landed in recent years in sectors such as ports, agriculture and the transport. As a result of these excellent relations, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Conakry in 2016. During a public ceremony and after flying over the city, Condé had to hear words from his new Turkish friend that he did not like. “Mr. President, this is not a capital,” he snapped, according to sources present at the meeting. If Conakry was wrong, the interior of the country is like a trip to the 19th century.
Yacouba Barry is 30 years old and has a degree in Public Law. He lives with his parents near La Cementera, a neighborhood at the entrance to the city. Every morning he gets up early, takes his motorcycle and goes down to the center to take clients from one place to another. It is their livelihood. “On a good day I can earn about 180,000 Guinean francs (about 15 euros) from which I have to deduct gasoline,” he assures as he dodges the innumerable puddles on the capital’s perforated roads and the constant traffic jams. It’s not the only one. Thousands of Guineans, some college students like Barry, surf as best they can in an economy as bogged down as the city. “The State does not push. In 2020, only 5% of the public spending foreseen in the budget was executed, ”says Diallo.
But the Rubicon of Condé was violence and repression. In the novel Waiting for the vote of the beasts from the Ivorian writer Ahmadou Kourouma, the dictator of an African republic walks with his guest Koyaga through the gardens of the presidential palace. Suddenly, they both stumble into walls topped by barbed wire and watchtowers at the corners. To the surprise of his guest, the satrap explains: “This is the Saoubas prison where I lock up my friends, my followers, my relatives and close friends.” With political adversaries things are simple, they are tortured, banished or murdered, the tyrant reasons. But, how to behave with yours? “It is a universally known rule that we cannot be betrayed except by a friend. This betrayal must be prevented ”.
As in the novel, Alpha Condé saw plots everywhere and filled the prisons with opponents, up to 400 according to human rights organizations. However, he let his guard down with the only ones who could overthrow him: his own Army. “After having made a reform of the Armed Forces, he believed that he had it under control,” says a diplomatic source. On October 2, 2018, during the military parade that celebrated 60 years of independence, the Special Forces even boasted to the heads of state who accompanied him, those tough soldiers who marched with a firm step and their faces covered with ski masks. In front of them, setting the pace, with his eternal sunglasses and chest bursting with medals, stood out the imposing figure of Mamady Doumbouya, to whom the Condé himself had entrusted the task of leading this elite unit.
On paper, they had to defend Guinea-Conakry from the external threat, but for Condé they were an ace up his sleeve. In 2020, the president promoted a reform of the Constitution that would allow him to stand in the elections again for a third term, which he did and won amid allegations of fraud last October. The flames of the insurrection began to spread. To prevent the demonstrations from reaching the Kaloum neighborhood, where the Presidential Palace, the port and the headquarters of the main banks and companies are located, Condé agreed that his protégé Doumbouya would transfer a part of his men to the heart of Conakry. He wanted to have his own close, but instead of building a prison, like the dictator in Kourouma’s novel, he chose to build a military base.
On September 5, whoever was his protégé and pride for Condé stepped into the role of Brutus, one of Julius Caesar’s assassins, and dealt the final blow. He did it, in the first place, out of survival instinct. “His name was on a list to be arrested,” says the former minister, “he had become someone dangerous for the regime.” The air had been charged with electricity for months, it was only a matter of time before the storm broke. For now, the deposed president chews his frustration locked in a barracks waiting for a decision to be made about his fate: exile or arrest and trial in the country, all the cards are on the table. The UN Special Representative for West Africa, Annadif Mahamat Saleh, visits Conakry on Monday with the task of securing his release.
Guineans, meanwhile, dream of a true democracy and, although suspicious and prudent, welcome the first gestures of the military junta, which begins this Tuesday meetings with politicians, religious leaders, civil society and mining companies to negotiate the creation of a government of national unity. Abdoulaye Oumou, blogger and prominent member of the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC) that supported the 2020 protests, organizes the return of exiled activists. “We welcome the coup, but we want the transition to a democratic country to be as fast as possible. Guinea-Conakry does not need more strong men, but strong institutions ”, he assures.
“We are going to participate in the agreement and in the government of national unity”, concludes Cellou Dalein Diallo, who already sees himself as president of the country after the next elections, “but it is not a blank check. The military have promised a return to constitutional order that was not broken by them, but by Alpha Condé when he violated the Magna Carta and ran for a third term. At the moment they have our support, but we will judge them for their actions ”.