This is a dramatic setback for Guinea, where many had hoped the country had turned the page on military power grabs.
On Sunday, the junta in Guinea arrested President Alpha Conde and seized power in a coup.
The junta also said Guinea’s provincial governors would be replaced by regional commanders. A nightly curfew was put in place, and the country’s constitution and National Assembly were both dissolved.
The military junta has refused to issue a timeline for releasing Conde, saying the 83-year-old deposed leader still had access to medical care and his doctors. The removal of Conde, the first freely-elected president in Guinea’s history, is a devastating blow that reverses the African nation’s slow crawl towards democracy.
It was a dramatic setback for Guinea, where many had hoped the country had turned the page on military power grabs.
But before we examine the country’s chequered history, let’s first familiarise ourselves with it:
Where is it located? Bordering Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, it is 80 percent Muslim but is made up of numerous ethnic groups, the main two being the Fulani and the Malinkes.
What should we know about it? Guinea is an impoverished west African country despite a wealth of natural resources.
Slightly bigger than Britain, it sits on a wealth of natural resources. It is notably one of the world’s top producers of bauxite, the chief mineral used in the production of aluminium but also a producer of iron, gold, diamonds and oil. Agriculture is the main source of employment.
GDP grew 5.6 percent in 2019 and 5.2 percent in 2020, according to the African Development Bank, which expects a rise topping five percent this year based on strong performance in mining and also the coming onstream of the flagship Souapiti hydropower station, northeast of capital Conakry.
Corruption is a major problem: Transparency International ranked Guinea 137th out of 180 on its index last year and social inequalities are stark with roughly half of the 13 million population living below the poverty line, according to the country’s national statistical institute. Many people also have no access to electricity and running water, according to the World Bank.
FGM rampant: Guinea has among the world’s highest incidences of female genital mutilation (FGM), UNICEF saying around 97 percent of girls and women undergo circumcision. The country was also hit by the worst outbreak to date of Ebola, which started in the country in December 2013 and lasted three years. The outbreak left 11,000 west Africans dead: 2,500 of them in Guinea.
Mandingo music: Guinea is, with Mali, the cradle of mandingo music played with traditional instruments including the harp-like kora and the balafon, a kind of xylophone. One of its most famous exponents, Mory Kante, who died in May last year, scored a global hit in 1987 with Yeke Yeke.
A long, bloody history
Guinea has been beset by political instability and spent decades under authoritarian or dictatorial regimes.
The former French colony is the only Francophone state on the continent to have rejected in 1958 the Franco-African community proposed by then French president Charles de Gaulle.
Instead, the country plumped for independence and installed a socialist regime which Ahmed Sekou Toure would go on to rule with an iron fist for a quarter of a century. Under his rule, some 50,000 people were killed or simply disappeared, according to human rights organisations.
In 1984, Lansana Conte took control of the country. He remained in power for a quarter-century until his death in 2008 and was accused of siphoning off State coffers to enrich his family and friends.
The country’s second coup soon followed, putting army Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara in charge. During his rule, on 28 September, 2009, security forces massacred 157 people at a rally gathering tens of thousands of Opposition supporters in Conakry protesting Camara’s expected participation in the next presidential election, while 109 women were raped, according to UN sources.
Camara later went into exile after surviving an assassination attempt, and a transitional government organised the landmark 2010 election won by Conde.
Democratic transition and reversal
On 7 November, 2010, long-time Opposition mainstay Alpha Conde became the first freely-elected president in Guinea’s history. He was re-elected in 2015 for a second term after a poll marred by violence and amid accusations of fraud.
Violent street demonstrations broke out last year after Conde organised a referendum to modify the constitution. Conde’s standing for a third term last October led to tensions as well as the arrest of dozens of opponents but he was proclaimed the winner on 7 November despite challenges to the result from main rival Cellou Dalein Diallo and three other candidates claiming ballot stuffing and other irregularities.
Then, on Sunday, army putschists said that they had “captured” President Alpha Conde and dissolved the government, in a video sent to AFP. But the situation on the ground remained unclear as Conde’s government also released a statement saying that an attack on the presidential palace by special forces had been “repulsed”.
Residents reached by telephone in Kaloum reported hearing sustained gunfire. Speaking on condition of anonymity for their safety, they reported seeing a number of soldiers on the streets who called on residents to return to their homes and stay there.
This as gunfire was heard in the centre of the Guinean capital Conakry and troops were seen on the streets, witnesses told AFP. There was no immediate explanation for the incidents in Conakry’s Kaloum peninsula, where the presidency, various institutions and offices are located. Authorities in the West African nation were not commenting on the situation.
That same day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, condemning the events, urged putschists to release Conde.
“I am personally following the situation in Guinea very closely. I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun and call for the immediate release of President Alpha Conde,” Guterres tweeted.
With inputs from agencies