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Guinea: Did Alpha Conde bite off more than he could chew?

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JOHN WESSELS/AFP or licensors


President Alpha Conde of Guinea spoke in an exclusive interview with Africanews Nathalie Wakam in January 2020. In that interview, Mr. Conde justified the need for a review of his country's constitution- the subsequent changes of which allowed him to run for a controversial third term later that year.

He was declared winner of the election in a landslide in October and was sworn in December. At his swearing-in ceremony, the 82-year-old appealed for unity as he called on Guineans to “forget the past” and turn towards “a united future”. But that call does not seem to have been heeded.

On Sunday September 5 after heavy gunfire around Conde's presidential palace, the Guinean leader was arrested by soldiers who announced a take over of power. Images of Conde looking confused, worn out and in company of stern-looking soldiers soon flooded social media.

Lieutenant-colonel Mamady Doumbouya, the high-ranking officer behind the military coup promised the following day (Monday) to set up a unity government to oversee a transition period and vowed there would be no "witch hunt" against the former government.

"A consultation will be launched to set down the broad parameters of the transition, and then a government of national union will be established to steer the transition," Doumbouya said in an address to a hurriedly assembled group of politicians and statesmen. But he did not clarify how long the consultation or the handover would last.

The coup has been condemned by regional groups Ecowas, AU and also the UN. But many Guineans took the streets after some calm on Sunday evening, to celebrate Alpha Conde's ouster from office.

Their reaction may not be surprising. The population had been largely frustrated by last year's constitutional change that allowed Conde to run for a third term. The resulting protests from the controversy led to at least 92 deaths and several arrests before Conde's third mandate, according to a leading opposition group - the anti-Conde coalition FNDC.

Colonel Mamady Dumbaya who staged Sunday's coup, heads Guinea's special forces unit. He said his soldiers had seized power because they want to "end rampant corruption and mismanagement".

But this is a dramatic setback for the west African nation where political analysts thought the page may have since been turned on military power take-overs.

Guinea now follows countries like Zimbabwe, Mali and Sudan where the military has in these 'unfashionable times for coups', directly participated in the sacking of their civiian-led democratic governments. In that of Zimbabwe and Sudan, it was the sacking of leaders who perpetuated themselves for decades in power. A coup was thwarted in March this year just days before the presidential inauguration in Niger.

Conde, a former historical opponent was elected in 2010, as the first democratic president of Guinea. Ten years later, his reputation as an uncompromising opponent and reformer, who was in exile for many years and then imprisoned under the military regime of Lansana Conté has been tarnished by accusations that he plunged his country into crisis so as to cling to power. Conde contests this claim. 

During the campaign for his re-election in October 2020, he reminded his supporters and detractors how he fought for 45 years. 

"I was an opponent, my opponents are civil servants who became prime ministers after having brought the country down. It is extraordinary that I am today considered an anti-democratic dictator!" he remarked.

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