LOS ANGELES — On Sept. 5, gunfire raged through the streets of Conakry, the capital of the West African nation of Guinea. These shots were the result of a military takeover by Guinea’s armed forces, commanded by Col. Mamady Doumbouya, that deposed President Alpha Condé.
In a televised broadcast that same day, Doumbouya announced that the country’s constitution and government were dissolved, and within a few hours the borders closed and a 24-hour curfew was imposed. Additionally, he said that political prisoners from Condé’s government would be freed and that under the newly created National Committee for Reconciliation, an 18-month transition period would begin. Doumbouya did not give specific details of who would be inpower at the end of the transition, nor if democratic elections would be called. Condé was taken into custody to an undisclosed location and no official updates have been given since.
“Our action is not a coup d’etat,” Doumbouya said in the Sunday broadcast. “It only reflects the legitimate aspiration of people to want to live in an environment where basic human needs can be met.”
Despite Doumbouya’s words, a military uprising against a democratically elected government does qualify as a coup. The takeover was a response to 11 years of Condé’s rule; since taking power in 2010, the Guinean politician had been implicated in several controversial events and deals. Most recently, a case that sparked nationwide outrage was Condé’s attempt to amend the constitution so that he could serve an additional third term. This incited several protests across the country in 2020 and added to Condé’s list of controversial actions.
The coup received mixed reactions throughout the world. Some Guineans believe this could be a new start for a country flooded with corruption and poverty.
“Alpha Condé was no longer managing this country,” said Alsény Kéita, a shopkeeper in Conakry, to The New York Times. “His entourage has grown rich on the backs of the people. The military taking power is salvation for us who live day by day. The high cost of living is suffocating people.”
Several Guinean institutions have also celebrated the takeover, with the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution stating that the situation seems to be under control and is being accepted by the population. Nonetheless, others, mostly within the international community, condemn the armed military takeover and claim it was undemocratic.
“I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun,” said António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General via Twitter. He also called for the “the immediate release of President Alpha Conde.”
Most of the international outrage came in response to the threat this takeover creates for major exporters of bauxite, a primary source of aluminum, since Guinea has larger reserves than any other country in the world. This mineral is key to the production of aluminum and by extension, the creation of several essential products such as cans and cars. This makes Guinea a very important country and producer for global economic stability; any disruptions to a supply chain still experiencing the fallout from COVID-19 could have compounding ripple effects throughout the world.
Condé’s mishandling of the country’s natural and mineral resources was also a strong motivator for the coup. When he gained power in 2010, Condé used Guinea’s reserves as a bargaining chip to strike a deal with China for extraction of Bauxite.. This deal gave Guinea 22% of the world’s Bauxite market, a huge increase as it had virtually no market share before Condé took power. The deal included a $20 billion loan from Beijing to the Guinean government in return for mining concessions.
Nowadays there are about two dozen mining companies operating within the country, including many from various other countries including the United States and France. As a result of these deals, mining accounts for 35% of Guinea’s economy, making it one of the most important and vital industries in the country. Nonetheless, this industry is highly controversial as the exploitation of the country’s Bauxite reserves has led many to believe that Condé’s policies favor international investment over people’s livelihood and the environment.
“They’ve expanded into our fields, the areas we depended on for food,” said a community leader from Boundou Waadé, a village surrounded by five mines owned by Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée, the largest mining company in the country and one owned by foreign firms. “Now much of our fertile land has been taken from us.”
After this coup, some expect that the new government will be able to create reforms and manage mining in a more sustainable and equitable way for the Guinean people, one that will spread the wealth of resources more evenly and create better standards of living. However, the international community fears that this government will destabilize international trade by making bauxite a scarce resource as well as threaten the already weak economy and standard of living in Guinea, a country of 13 million where more than half the population live in poverty.
The events in this story continue to unfold, and as of publication, the curfew has been partially lifted and activities seem to be returning to normal, with no casualties reported after Condé was taken into custody Sunday. The military and Doumbouya said that they would hold several hearings and meetings with civil society leaders to organize a peaceful transition of power.