PERSPECTIVE – Guinea: Africa is still wedded to coups

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By Owei Lakemfa

THE so-called Special Forces in Guinea established to fight terrorism and piracy, rolled out their trucks and tanks on Sunday, September 5, 2021 on the streets of the capital, Conakry. Within hours, they had captured President Alpha Conde, dissolved parliament, consigned the constitution to the dustbin and made Western democracy history in that section of the world.

It was the eighth successful coup in Africa in eight years. Two of the coups by the same soldier, Assimi Goita, took place in Mali within nine months. In the August 18, 2020 coup, he was rewarded with the post of Vice President; while in the May 24, 2021 coup, his reward was the ultimate prize of the President.

This new circle of coups began from March 23-24, 2013 with the coup in the Central Africa Republic which unseated President Michel Djotodia, an admitted sectional leader with a clear ethnocentric agenda. Then in July 2013, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, removed President Muhammed Morsi. He was and remains a brutal man with no respect either for the courts or human lives. The only people who can hold him to the leash are his bosses in Washington.

I was at the African Union, AU Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa where angry African presidents insisted that Egypt be suspended from the body so long as the military remains in power and President Morsi and political prisoners are in jail. But el-Sisi had the backing of powerful countries and soon, the AU buckled.

The General strolled arrogantly through the halls of the AU as the Lord of Egypt who with the bayonet of the gun, had absolute control of executive, parliamentary, judicial and media powers. Meanwhile, President Morsi was kept in solitary confinement in a squalid cell.

Sick and diabetic, he complained the times he was brought to court for the laughable charge of espionage that he was not allowed basic medical treatment and drugs. Six years later, Morsi on June 17, 2019, collapsed in court and died. Even in death, his family was not allowed to bury him or receive mourners.

General el-Sisi with an estimated 100,000 political prisoners was in February, 2019, made AU Chair. In a sick joke, when Sudan’s President Hussein el-Bashir was overthrown in June 2019, the AU, presided over by General el-Sisi suspended that country on the basis that the AU does not condone coups!

Then President Robert Mugabe was overthrown in a coup that dragged from November 14-21, 2017 and the AU accepted the coup. President Idriss Deby was killed by alleged rebels on April 19, 2021 and his son, General Mahamat Deby executed a coup and the AU did not even pretend to go through the motions of querying the coup plotters or suspending Chad from the body. Rather, powerful or big countries like France and Nigeria rationalised the coup on the basis that they do not want a ‘power vacuum’ in Chad.

Africa is coup-prone. It started with the January 13, 1963 overthrow of Sylvanus Olympio. Sudan holds the record of 15 coups with five being successful. Burundi has had eleven, mainly ethnocentric coups. Sierra Leone between 1967 and 1968 had three coups, another in 1971. The April 29, 1992 coup unseated General Joseph Saidu Momoh, while coup leader, 25-year old Captain Valentine Strasser,was unseated on January 16, 1996 by his Deputy, Julius Maada Bio.

Ghana had least six military coups in two decades, starting from the 1966 removal of President Kwame Nkrumah. Nigeria has had six successful coups and unknown number of attempted ones. It spent 28 of its first 39 years of post-independence under military regimes. Until today, 22 years after the last military regime, the country is run on a unitary-military system.

While coups, to quote the Nigerian government, are “out of fashion”, they are accepted, provided they are successful, have powerful backers and the plotters like el-Sisi peel of their uniforms for civilian clothes or promise some nebulous transition period.

Doubtlessly, President Conde, whose parents are from Bourkina Faso and incidentally is a past Chairman of the AU, is a dubious man with dubious democratic credentials. In 2008, he unsuccessfully lobbied the military junta to disqualify his political opponents from contesting future elections.

Actually, his ‘election’ in 2010 could only be explained as a miracle; he scored only 18 per-cent of the votes in the first round while his rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, secured 40 per-cent; but in the second round, he scored 52.5 per-cent and was re-elected in 2015 for a final term. But Conde, amid widespread protests and massacres, changed the constitution to give himself a third term in office. He was subsequently awarded 59.59 per-cent of the votes in the October, 2020 election.

It is, therefore, not surprising that many Guineans took to the streets to welcome the Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya coup, but it is a Catch-22 situation for the hapless populace. In almost all cases, running from a dictatorial President into the embrace of a neo-colonial dictatorial institution like the army, is like running from a snake into the embrace of an hungry lion.

As a young Pan Africanist, I had always looked forward to visiting Guinea. It was a land of great promise. The land of proud Africans who in 1958, when the rest of French-Speaking West Africans voted to remain colonial subjects of France, voted resoundingly to be independent. The famous African cultural champion, Ahmed Sekou Toure, a trade unionist and founder of the Post and Telecommunications Workers’ Union, led that historic movement that made Black people proud of themselves and their ability to build a country after their own image. At that referendum, Sekou Toure had declared: “Guinea prefers poverty in freedom to riches in slavery.”

When President Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown by the American Central Intelligence Agency, CIA in 1966, Guinea under Toure, took the unprecedented step of making Nkrumah co-President of Guinea. By 2009 when I eventually made it to Guinea, Sekou Toure had died 35 years earlier and military misrule with three military rulers, Generals Lansana Conte, Dadis Camara and Sekouba Konate, had left the country in ruins and near anarchy. Ordinarily, the populace should be tired of the military, but the greedy and dictatorial Conte with a documented history of corruption and serial election rigging, made parts of the populace welcome the very military officers Conte had used to repress them.

It is not true that Africa has divorced itself from coups; they remain very much in matrimony. So, it is left to us, the African people to end this unholy wedlock by mobilising the populace to assert our independence and resist dictatorship whether by civilian or military politicians and their masters outside Africa.

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