Is Dissent an Act of Faith in Democracy?

On August 19, 2020, I questioned whether the coup in Mali was a sign, “Is Africa returning to its bad old ways? (Sierra Leone Telegraph. Com, It took one year to fulfil that prophesy, no arrogance intended, but we told you so; thanks to events in Guinea. As usual, the custodians and connoisseurs of democracy are queuing up to condemn this “dastardly” acts by the military. The US Department of State says that” violence and any extra-constitutional measures will only erode Guinea’s prospects for peace, stability and prosperity”. It emphasised the need for a process of national dialogue to “sustainably and transparently” address any concerns in order to find a peaceful and democratic solution.

The expected perennial mantra from the West African economic bloc, ECOWAS condemned the “coup attempt and affirmed” its disapproval of any unconstitutional political change”. The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and the African Union have also condemned the coup and demanded the immediate release of President Conde. No shocks there. They saw nothing wrong with Conde’s tinkering with the Constitution then.

Last month, in his attempt to balance the budget, Conde announced tax hikes while slashing costs on the police and the military, but increased funding for the office of the President and National Assembly. But the recent “dismissal of a senior commander in special forces, provoked some of its highly trained members to rebel and occupy the presidential palace”. The accusation that France’s fingerprints are all over this coup is not surprising. Let’s look at some of the plausible “facts” for the “conspiracy theorists”. Mamady Doumbouya’s military CV makes for an interesting reading. 

Mamady Doumbouya, the boss of the Group of Special Forces of the Guinean army is married to a European woman with three children. His wife is a French gendarme in active service. A graduate from the School of War, he had military training in Israel, Cyprus, UK and served on UN military missions in Afghanistan, Djibouti, CAR and Ivory Coast. With a Master 2, and as Commando instructor, instructor at the foreign legion in France on risk assessment and rapid decision making from the Paris War school, he has a litany of experiences for his new job description.

 It is so interesting to note that the man who joined the Guinean army in the wake of Conde’s first election as president in 2010, was the same man Alpha Conde called to head the Special Force to the President, a critical segment of the state apparatus that eventually made the curtain call on his presidency.  While some would say “et tu brute”, others would think that “the gods are not to blame”. Was it written in the stars? Either way, it sounds like a Greek mythology dipped in Shakespearean flavour. The King of Macedonia Antigone II who once said over 2000 years ago, “My God, keep me from my friends! As for my enemies, I’ll take care of them!”, comes to mind. Conde entrusted the security of his regime to Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya. Looks like he handed his regime on a plate, to a franc-Guinean military man.

It’s worth making it clear that military coups are not the way forward. Military juntas are “notoriously fickle”, and you can never guarantee that they will deliver on their mantra, well just like the ones they profess to replace. Democracy against democracy. They are political chameleons whose first aim upon seizing power is to ditch the camouflage and put on garments of legitimacy. In demonstration of  their democratic credentials, Doumbouya justified the coup that the  “Committee of Reconciliation and Development (CNRD), [was forced] to take its responsibility” after “dire political-situation of our country, the instrumentalization of the judiciary, the non-respect of democratic principles, the extreme politicization of public administration, as well as poverty and corruption.” He even quoted the late Jerry Rawlings who said, “if the people are crushed by their elites, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom”, as further justification.

He said that the duty of a soldier is to save the country, and that “we will no longer entrust the politics to one man. We will entrust it to the people”.  But already, they plan to replace the Governors with regional commanders. This comes with a hazard warning, that “any refusal to appear will be considered rebellion against the country’s new military leaders”. What happened to “we entrust it to the people?”. Unverified sources already claim that Conde’s Defence Minister, Mohamed Diane, had died after being hit in the skull by a bullet. George Orwell’s Napoleon in “Animal Farm” is ever so contemporary.

Without doubt, it is a worrying trend that Africa has witnessed four attempted coups in just over a year. Interestingly, all these attempted coups were preceded and triggered by the brazen audacity of the leaders to tinkle with the constitutions; in order to extend their grips on power. Since Conde ramraided the constitution, Guinea had been asphyxiated with riots, protests and demonstrations throughout. With precedents in Mali, Niger and other countries in Africa, many could see that the writing was on the wall.

The irony lies in the hypocritical mantra not coming until now, from these so-called High Priests of democracy and democratic principles. Where were they when these leaders changed their job descriptions to become constitutional wordsmiths? The precursors to these attempted coups were already scripted. But did these High Priests read the scripts? No. Did they ever tell these guys that fidgeting with the constitutions was wrong? No. They are societies for self-preservation.

Of course, no one expects these foxes to vote for the welfare of chickens, or turkeys to vote for Christmas. I don’t support military takeovers, but these interventions should serve as indictments of these regional bodies. Their selective amnesia, blindness and sermons on democracy is questionable to many. When was the last time the AU, ECOWAS or any of these mightier than thou condemn these leaders for their constitutional gymnastics? At 82, they could have warned Conde, if not for anything but health reasons to quit. But that would be too easy for them. They sat on their hands and watched hundreds lose their lives, just to protect one man’s hubris.

Knowing full well that Alpha Conde shared similar gymnastics with other leaders like Quattara in Cote D’Ivoire, who is reportedly seriously sick and not being seen in public recently, many are asking where next. The hope for Africa and Africans is that military coups will remain a thing of the past, as no one wants to see an “African Spring”. But should the regional bodies like ECOWAS, the AU and others do more to prevent such spectacles? Should they intervene sooner, and especially when recalcitrant leaders attempt to circumvent their constitutions to tighten their grips on power? If recent political upheavals are anything to go by, it stands to reason that those who make peaceful evolutions impossible make violent revolutions impossible. And that would be too high a price to pay for the long-suffering masses. These bodies should get off their high horses and stop acting as echo chambers or talking shops.

So where next for Guinea? There is no doubt that the situation is fragile. Alpha Conde and his counterpart Cellou Diallo played to the gallery during the last elections. They whipped up incendiary rhetoric along tribal lines. Unfortunately, it appears to have driven a wedge between the legendary “sananku” relationship between the Mandingoes and Fulanis. It is not surprising that the Fulanis have been in triumphalist mood since the takeover. Understandably, they may see the back of Conde as a window of opportunity for Cellou to finally get to the Promised Land. How long would those jubilations last is anyone’s guess. We hope that whosoever takes the reigns will restore those “Sanaku” relations again. My Fulani brethren have always treated me as their “Mande Mansa”, and I wouldn’t want to lose the privilege. Jankeh Wali, Alpha Yaya, Alpha Moyo and Mansaba Wali etc who fought in the battle at kansala in 1774, will not forgive us.

Don’t forget to get the Marklate.

Abdulai Mansaray.

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