The uncertainty that has engulfed Guinea Conakry, three weeks after the September 5, 2021 coup that overthrew the administration of Alpha Conde is evidence enough of the regression of the polity that unconstitutional termination of government has inflicted in Africa. Guinea’s coup was another rude awakening on the political instability in West Africa.
The region awoke to a military junta led by Mamady Doumbuya, an Army colonel, announcing the dissolution of Conde’s administration and the dissolution of the constitution. Irrespective of the circumstances that led to the coup, it is a stark and saddening disruption of constitutional democracy by which modern states are known. It is another chapter in the erasure of democratic ideals in Africa and must be condemned unequivocally.
Since the first coup in Togo on January 13, 1953, Africa has witnessed over 200 coup attempts with about half succeeding according to a research report. Incessant coup attempts are symptomatic of a continent in flux and a regress from the ideals of a modern society built on the tenets of democracy.
Not unexpectedly, Doumbouya and the other Special Forces soldiers behind the coup said they had ousted Conde because of concerns about poverty and endemic corruption. In his address to the nation, Doumbouya said Conde’s removal was necessary and went on to blame his leadership for Guinea’s poverty, corruption, misrule and a lack of development. Adding that a reform of the country’s ruling system and institutions was desperately needed.
It is heartening that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the coup and demanded a quick return to constitutional governance. ECOWAS has also followed up the demands with some sanctions against the junta and its collaborators. Rising from a recent meeting in Ghana, ECOWAS froze Guinea’s financial assets and imposed travel bans on the perpetrators of the coup in Guinea and their collaborators. The regional bloc also demanded elections be conducted within six months. Similar treatment was also extended to Mali were two coup d’états happened in a year.
An ECOWAS delegation visited Guinea’s ousted president Conde and members of the junta that overthrew him, hoping to steer the country back toward a civilian-led, constitutional regime. In Conakry, the new military rulers were quick to try and reassure political and economic actors of their good intentions. They promised to set up a government of national unity and to honour mining contracts, urging companies to continue operations.
Unconvinced by the promise, ECOWAS still went on to suspend Guinea from all its decision-making bodies. Two days later, the African Union-backed ECOWAS up by suspending Guinea from all AU activities and decision-making bodies.
Other African countries that had a taste of the coup broth in recent times are Niger and Chad. Thus, there is a palpable fear in the region over the resurgence of the coup culture after a long lull. Political analysts have, however, harped on the unsuitability of coup d’états as a solution to political instability, insisting rightly that the worst democratic government is better than the most benevolent military dictatorship.
Unfortunately, conditions for instability are mostly fueled by leaders of the African countries through poor performance and the sit-tight syndrome. In the case of Guinea Conakry, Conde in 2010 became Guinea’s first democratically elected leader, his victory seen as putting an end to decades of authoritarian rule by the country’s two first presidents, Sekou Toure and Lansana Conte, who were in office for 26 and 24 years respectively.
Conde was re-elected for a second term in 2015. But he became increasingly disliked when he pushed through a constitutional referendum, backed by Russia, that allowed him to seek a controversial third term in October 2020 polls, which he won, to the chagrin of opposition candidates and uneasiness in diplomatic circles.
In August 2021, Guinea announced tax hikes, slashed spending on the police and the military while in the same breath, increased funding for the office of the President and National Assembly. Belt-tightening in the face of economic adversities applies more to the hapless populace who watch helplessly as government officials engage in conspicuous consumption.
Constitutional democracy remains the best form of government in modern times and must be allowed to grow—warts and all. A change in government must go through the laid down constitutional processes of electioneering, universal adult suffrage and a smooth and unencumbered transfer of power from one administration to the other.
Coups and counter-coups have done incalculable damage to Africa’s political development. The usual promise of the junta to restore hope and grow the economy has been largely unmet. Worse still, it is a setback to nurturing a solid and enduring democratic culture. Each coup in Africa set the countries back by at least a decade of democratic consolidation.
Leaders of the coup in Guinea and in any other African country should swiftly restore constitutional democracy and respect the fundamental human rights of the populace to decide who their leaders would be at any point in time.
Mistakes and misgovernance, whether erroneously or mischievously, will continue to happen in the journey to an enduring democracy; the antidote is not a coup d’état but a democratic process of replacing an underperforming administration. As it is, the safest way for the junta to enjoy a modicum of accommodation is to organise a swift, free and fair process of restoring democracy to Guinea. The time for a swash-buckling junta in government is gone. The people of Guinea must be allowed to chart their democratic paths from time to time until democratic norms are consolidated.