DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – Many hoped that Guinea’s landmark elections in 2010 would finally provide the West African country with a democratic leader after decades of corrupt dictatorship.
Instead, President Alpha Condé decided to stay for a third term, amending the constitution so that term limits no longer apply to him.
His plan to extend his rule sparked violent street protests in the capital, Conakry, last year – and ultimately sealed Condé’s fate as vulnerable to a military coup.
Now soldiers in fatigues have gathered around a table again this week to release a statement – as others have done so many times before in West Africa – denouncing a corrupt president who they say , would not have left office otherwise. Here’s a look at how the region has faced military coups like this in the past and scenarios that could unfold in the weeks ahead.
HOW HAS HISTORY REPEATED IN GUINEA?
It all started with an explosion of gunfire near the Guinean presidential palace, just like previous coups. Guineans who had lived through two more takeovers and as many assassination attempts remained inside and waited to see who really controlled the country. After hours of uncertainty, a group of little-known soldiers appeared on state television giving themselves a French acronym. They spoke of reconciliation but made no promises on how long it would take them to return power to civilians. And then came the video of the deposed Condé, disheveled in a half-buttoned shirt and blue jeans in the custody of mutinous soldiers.
If this sounds too familiar to you, it’s because a similar regime change happened in neighboring Mali just over a year ago. There too, the junta decided that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had passed his welcome even though his term was not yet over. They finally promised to hold elections in 18 months to bring the country back to civilian rule, but it increasingly appears that this target will be missed.
WILL PEOPLE ACCEPT THIS COUP D’ETATE?
State television – now under the control of the junta – broadcast images of jubilant Guineans taking to the streets to greet the military convoy. But the real test might be whether forces loyal to the ousted president ultimately accept the coup or, instead, potentially stage a counter-coup.
The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS has previously condemned the takeover, and everyone from the United States to Russia has expressed concern to varying degrees about the direction this all might take. .
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO RETURN GUINEA TO DEMOCRATIC SETTLEMENT?
The African Union usually suspends a country’s membership after a coup. And in West Africa, the former colonizing France still has a lot of economic clout and can also impose targeted sanctions.
But in the case of Mali, it ultimately took the regional threat of economic sanctions to get the coup plotters to accept transitional governments in 2012 and 2020.
The West African regional bloc, however, has its own credibility issues. It allowed not only Condé but also Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara to run for a third term last year despite the necessary constitutional wrangling.
And despite initial threats, ECOWAS finally gave in to the Malian junta’s calendar for new elections, accepting an 18-month delay after earlier declaring that democracy must be restored within a year.
WILL THIS BADLY END FOR GUINEA AND WEST AFRICA?
The Guinean mining industry has already been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about political stability could cause foreign companies to reconsider their presence. The leaders of the Guinean junta went to great lengths on Monday to reassure the international community that they would honor all existing agreements, a gesture aimed at maintaining the country’s essential mining revenues.
The junta claims to act on behalf of the Guinean people, but there are already concerns about whether the military regime could lead to human rights violations.
The Guinean security forces have a deeply tarnished record: in 2009, they opened fire on a group of demonstrators protesting against coup leader Moussa “Dadis” Camara’s plans to run for president and stay in power. More than 150 people have died and at least 100 women have been raped in a football stadium, crimes which, more than a decade later, have yet to be tried in court.
The biggest concern could be the message this week’s coup will send to other West African leaders seeking to stay in power, analysts say. There are fears that the recent coups d’état in Mali and Guinea may lead to further political instability in the region.
Even if the ruling juntas in both countries end up holding elections, will military leaders simply turn into civilian candidates? For now, there is a more immediate concern in Guinea: Do other servicemen think they should rule the country’s fate?