Reflections on Guinea’s Military Coup

Guinea President Condé surrounded by his captors from the Guinean military.

The military coup in neighboring Guinea undoubtedly took many Liberians by surprise. There was no hint of any such thing happening in that country, although there had been simmering tension between President Alpha Condé and the political opposition. And then suddenly, BANG!!! President Alpha Condé had been deposed by the Guinean military.

The raison d’etre given by the coup makers was rampant corruption and personalization of political power. President Condéwas seen seated on a sofa without shoes and surrounded by a phalanx of soldiers and in another scene, the leader of the coup Lieutenant Colonel Mamadi Doumbuya is seen draped in the Guinean flag making an announcement/broadcast.

Within hours after the coup makers announced their takeover of power, the ripple effects were already being felt here. The Guinean borders were shut leaving many stranded on both sides of the border. Most of those affected were ordinary people on both sides who commute daily for business, family visits, etc. 

In Monrovia, there was a visible presence of beefed-up security around the Paynesville home of President Weah as if in ready stance to ward off an imminent attack. He was quick to condemn the coup and called for a return to constitutional rule. Other West African leaders followed in similar stead, condemning the coup and calling for a return to democratic rule.

In the wake of the coup in Guinea and the subsequent reaction by ECOWAS condemning the coup while calling for the reinstatement of President Conde, questions are indeed being asked just what happened to the ECOWAS Early Warning System. ECOWAS leaders were no doubt aware that President Condéwas stoking fire when he opted to run for a third term which was against the Constitution.

For a country that had experienced several military takeovers, prior to this latest one, it should have been clear to the leaders of ECOWAS that given widespread public protests in that country against the change in the constitution to allow for a third-term run was a risky adventure whose inglorious end was virtually deja vu. Just why ECOWAS leaders did not bring pressure to bear on the colleague remains unclear.

Recalling our own situation here during the 2017 elections, it was President Alpha Condéas head of the ECOWAS mediation team who chided President Sirleaf and openly called on her to “stay above the fray”. This was against expressed concerns of the opposition against what they perceived as meddling and interference in the process to ensure her desired outcomes. But “who says she listened anyway”? 

Similarly, chances are that the military will not heed the call to reinstate Alpha Condéto the presidency but will rather lay out a plan with a timetable for a return to democratic. And as the situation in Mali suggests, aside from condemnation, there may be very little that ECOWAS can actually do to reverse the situation.

But the coup makers, citing rampant corruption and abuse of human rights as justification for their action, rang bells and struck a strong note reverberating to the past -- the 1980 military coup that brought Samuel Doe to power citing rampant corruption and the abuse of human rights as raison d’etre for overthrowing President Tolbert and the subsequent public execution by firing squad of 13 former officials.   

But it appears as though no lessons were ever learnt from those tumultuous events in Liberia’s history for, shortly after, the coup makers found themselves facing a barrage of public criticism against their excesses including corruption and abuse of human rights.

Such corruption and abuse of human rights were some of the key precipitating factors that propelled  the country into civil war. When a wounded and trussed-up President Doe found himself facing his captors in 1990, the first question put to him was: “what did you do with the Liberian people's money?”, suggesting or clearly indicating that he was facing corruption charges.

Fast forward 13-years later, President Charles Taylor was forced to abdicate under pressure from besieging rebel forces. Again, human rights abuse and corruption were reasons proffered for his overthrow. His successor, Gyude Bryant, chosen by the rebel factions to head an interim government, at the end of his tenure found himself and some of his officials facing trial on charges of corruption.

Under his successor President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, corruption thrived although she had declared it public enemy Number One. Later she was to admit to being overwhelmed by corruption, calling it a vampire. The elections for her successor were characterized by corruption and fraud. 

But the Supreme Court in its ruling declared that the alleged fraud was not on a scale massive enough to affect the outcome of the election. Had it not been for the sobriety and restraint displayed by opposition leader Charles Brumskine the nation amidst very tension, would have most likely gone up in flames. 

Resultantly, George Weah was elected President who at his inauguration pledged an uncompromising fight against corruption. But 4 years into his 6-year tenure, it appears, from all indications, that corruption has grown to a massive scale. Public officials, in the face of extreme economic difficulties are living large, flaunting their sudden wealth and ostentatious lifestyle before a suffering populace.

Under President Weah, public complaints about the spate of corruption including corruption in the electoral process have been treated with benign concern. Mysterious killings and disappearances have been linked to his government while public complaints of Police brutality against civilians continue to mount. 

Put together and put squarely these are all elements constituting a volatile mix which could trigger public protests that could turn violent and morph into free for all violence creating an ideal situation for military intervention.

As the nation edges towards elections in 2023, there are public apprehensions that fraudulent elections could very well be marred by violence judging from experience in recent senatorial and representative by-elections.

The coup in Guinea should constitute a wake-up call for President Weah to get his act right and discontinue the personalization of political power and, lest he forgets, the boys in khaki are waiting.