Heavy gunfire echoed around Conakry, capital of Guinea early on Sunday morning. Then pictures surfaced on social media of the country’s president being held in custody by men in military fatigues. Finally, the head of Guinea’s special forces announced on state television that the constitution, government and all institutions were dissolved. He had staged a coup.
And if the takeover proves successful, Guinea will become the third West African country to experience a violent transfer of power in the past five months.
In April, the president who had ruled Chad for three decades was killed on the battlefield and replaced by his son in what academics called a “covert coup.” In May, Mali’s vice president arrested the president, prime minister and defense minister in the country’s second coup within nine months.
Sunday’s coup in Guinea comes barely a year after the president, Alpha Condé, won a contentious third term after changing the Constitution, allowing him to stay in power beyond the two-term limit.
“We are no longer going to entrust politics to one man, we are going to entrust it to the people. We come only for that,” declared Col. Mamady Doumbouya, the special forces head, appearing on state television with Guinea’s national flag draped around his shoulders and members of the military surrounding him. He said it was “the duty of a soldier to save the country.”
Guinea is no stranger to coups.
Before Mr. Condé became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2010, there were two military takeovers, in 1984 and 2008.
After he assumed office, his government turned Guinea into a major exporter of bauxite, which is used to produce aluminum — but it came at a cost to some Guineans. Human rights groups say that mining companies have upended the lives and livelihoods of rural communities.
Colonel Doumbouya said he and his men had “seized” the president, and on Sunday, the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, calling for Mr. Condé’s release, said he was following the situation closely.
“I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun,” he said on Twitter.
The president of the Economic Community of West African States also released a statement condemning the coup attempt, and threatening sanctions if the constitutional order was not restored.
Colonel Doumbouya said he was acting in response to the people’s will, and to confront poverty and endemic corruption.
“Guinea is beautiful,” he said near the end of his televised announcement, offering a brutal analogy: “We no longer need to rape her. We need to make love to her, that’s all.”
Borders — both land and air — were closed. The government and all its institutions were dissolved, Colonel Doumbouya said, and the Constitution would be rewritten in consultation with all Guineans.
Credit: NY Times