That a democratically elected government is the only form of legitimate authority over people has become an incontrovertible mantra for political leaders throughout the developing world, at least in the last 20 years, is not in doubt. It is written in gold in national legal texts, in constitutions, the United Nations, and Regional Charters. Echoes of it reverberate in National Assemblies and in military barracks across the continent and beyond. Coup is no longer fashionable, or so it is thought. It has become such an aberration that it is swiftly condemned wherever it occurs. And, so it was that the military coup led by Col. Mamady Doumbouya, that ousted the civilian government of President Alpha Conde of the Republic of Guinea, last week, September 5, 2021, has been roundly condemned by governments and world bodies. The Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement declaring: “The Government of Nigeria strongly condemns and rejects any unconstitutional change of government and therefore calls on those behind this coup to restore constitutional order without delay and protect all lives and property”. That sounds good in so far as it goes. It is noteworthy, however, that Nigeria is treating this as a “foreign affairs” matter, not worthy of a direct presidential intervention, and not minding the fact that one third of the Guinean population is Fulani, and two thirds of the West African regional population are Nigerians. And, it is also where Nigeria has toiled day and night for a unified regional bloc since 1975.
Furthermore, that the statement came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs instead of it coming directly from the Presidency shows how little faith Nigeria still has in the West African regional integration project as a worthy cause. More importantly, it is an indictment of Nigeria’s claim to leadership in the sub-region. Where is the ‘giant of Africa’ at such a critical moment when it was needed? Yes, Nigeria has mobilised other nations in ECOWAS to suspend Guinea from its membership, but, if this is all the energy Nigeria could muster in the face of a brutal attack on constitutional order in its backyard, then, that alone speaks volumes. Nigeria has no claim to the leadership of one inch of land outside its shores. All the other nations in the sub-region will have watched in dismay how the Nigerian Army (the largest, and supposedly best equipped in the region) has, for years, glaringly failed to tame the ragtag Boko Haram group of ‘bandits’ and others. They even mounted a dawn raid on the most elite, heavily guarded, heavily fortified Nigerian Defence Academy with such ease, a couple of weeks ago. Now, is Doumbouya having sleepless nights over a possible reaction from Nigeria? You guessed right. Nigeria has no moral standing at any level vis-à-vis its neighbours. All the country can do in a crisis situation like this is huff and puff, throw up its diplomatic hands in horror, then go back to sleep.
Nigeria’s low-key reaction to the coup in Guinea also betrays a greater fear that it could happen here too. Democracy is neither a fait accompli, nor a done deal for anyone on the continent of Africa. The spectre of a ‘corrective coup’ looms large on the African psyche. It permeates both the military and civilian landscapes. The era of forcible change of government will never be over until the era of mass poverty is over. There is not a single country on the continent immune to this societal malaise. For emphasis, it is not a military problem; it is one of society. Let us not forget, whilst the rest of the world mouths righteous condemnation, the coup has been warmly embraced by the opposition and the general population inside Guinea itself. The ousted President is a textbook example of an elected leader gone rogue; a familiar trait in politicians of all hues in Africa. Conde is a French Ivy League-educated ‘pro-democracy activist’ with a strong record of fighting for the fundamental rights of Guineans. Lest anyone be confused, there are three countries in Africa sharing the name Guinea; Equatorial Guinea (1.5 million), Guinea-Bissau (two million), and the Republic of Guinea (12.5million), the object of this write-up. Conde entered the arena of partisan politics, contested and lost, first, in 1993, and subsequently in 1998, was sent to jail on trumped-up charges, before finally winning a democratic mandate in 2010. With that solid pedigree, one would expect Conde to know, and do better.
No sooner had Conde assumed power than he began to build his own cult of personality, and scheming for tenure elongation; another familiar trait in political leaders in Africa. He was re-elected for a second term in 2015 amidst accusation of voter fraud, suppression, ballot stuffing, intimidation, manipulation, nepotism, registration of minors on the voter list etc. Again, sounds familiar? Being such patient people, the Guineans accepted their fate with forbearance and stoicism, knowing that the end of Conde’s repressive regime would soon be over. The constitution as it stood, forbade him from running again at the end of his second term in 2020. But, the 83-year-old’s lust for power and the international financiers backing him cooked up the scheme to truncate the country’s constitutional safeguard, by securing a yes vote in a dubious ‘referendum’ organised to “reset” his term in office. He won the October 2020 election for what most people in Guinea considered an illegal and downright fraudulent third term in office with “59.5%” of the vote. The French news organisation, FRANCE 24, released an audio recording of a bribery scandal for mining licence involving the Anglo-Australian Corporation, Rio Tinto, in the wake of the third term scheming operation by the government. Several of Conde’s family and friends were implicated in the sordid affair. Guinea is home to half of the world’s production of bauxite, among other mineral resources, including oil, gold, diamonds, etc, the bulk of which is frittered away by its pilfering elite.
In a desperate situation like this, and when all other legitimate democratic avenues have been exhausted, a ‘corrective coup’ may not only be viable, it may be the only option. The African National Congress in South Africa took up arms against the apartheid regime in their country from the 1970s through to the very early 1990s. Thomas Sankara did likewise against the sit-tight elite in Burkina Faso in 1983. The most prominent of the ‘corrective coup’ scenarios was the Ghanaian experience under the late Flt Lt John Jerry Rawlings (1981-2001). He cleansed the Augean Stable by severing the heads of the country’s corrupt top politicians. Ghana, with help from international financial institutions, unwound the clock, and started again from scratch. Today, the country is held up as a model of good governance and democracy ahead of most other countries in Africa, certainly ahead of Nigeria in the sub-region. The US President, Barack Obama (2008-2016), underlined this by finding time to visit Ghana, but never came to Nigeria.
The purist would insist that opposition to military intervention of any kind must remain implacable. Let the Guineans rise up and fight, and fight some more until victory is achieved. Just look up the figures; Guinea has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, only 41% of the population is literate. Primary school attendance is 40%, there is chronic malnutrition in the wider population, as more than 80% earn a living from subsistence farming. Where is the civic education to empower the people? Who speaks for the downtrodden when the political elite connive to keep them in perpetual servitude? Let us answer these questions clearly and succinctly before condemnation of Doumbouya is allowed to grow any louder.