EXPLAINER: Why is history repeating itself in Guinea’s coup?

International

In this image made from video, unidentified soldiers patrol in a vehicle near the office of the president in the capital Conakry, Guinea Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. Guinea’s new military leaders sought to tighten their grip on power after overthrowing President Alpha Conde, warning local officials that refusing to appear at a meeting convened Monday would be considered an act of rebellion against the junta. (AP Photo)

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Many hoped that Guinea’s landmark 2010 election would finally bring the West African country a democratic leader after decades of corrupt dictatorship.

Instead President Alpha Conde decided to stick around for a third term, modifying the constitution so that the term limits no longer applied to him.

His plan to extend his rule prompted violent street protests in the capital, Conakry, last year — and ultimately sealed Conde’s fate as vulnerable to a military coup.

Now soldiers in fatigues have once again crowded around a table this week to broadcast a statement — just as others have done so many times before in West Africa — decrying a corrupt president who they say wouldn’t have left office any other way. Here is a look at how the region has confronted military coups like this in the past, and what scenarios could unfold in the coming weeks.

HOW DID HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF IN GUINEA?

It started with an outburst of gunfire near Guinea’s presidential palace just like earlier coups. Guineans who had lived through two other takeovers and just as many assassination attempts stayed inside and waited to see who was really in control of the country. After hours of uncertainty and a group of little-known soldiers appeared on state television giving themselves a French acronym name. They spoke of reconciliation but made no promises on how long they would take to hand power back to civilians. And then came the video of the deposed Conde, disheveled in a half-buttoned shirt and blue jeans in the custody of mutinous soldiers.

If it feels all too familiar, it’s because a similar regime change unfolded in neighboring Mali just a little over a year ago. There too the junta decided President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had overstayed his welcome even though his elected term was not yet completed. They eventually promised to organize elections in 18 months’ time to return the country to civilian rule but it increasingly looks like that target will be missed.

ARE PEOPLE GOING TO ACCEPT THIS COUP D’ETAT?

State television — now under the control of the junta — has carried images of jubilant Guineans taking to the streets to greet the military convoy. But the real test could be whether forces loyal to the ousted president ultimately accept the coup or instead potentially stage a counter-coup.

The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS already has condemned the power grab, and everyone from the United States to Russia has expressed concern in varying degrees about where this all could head.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO RETURN GUINEA TO DEMOCRATIC RULE?

The African Union typically suspends the membership of a country after a coup d’etat. And in West Africa, former colonizer France still carries a lot of economic clout and can also impose targeted sanctions.

But in Mali’s case it ultimately took the regional threat of economic sanctions to get the coup leaders to agree to transitional governments in both 2012 and 2020.

The West African regional bloc, though, has its own credibility problems. It allowed not only Conde but also Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara to seek third terms last year despite the constitutional wrangling needed.

And despite early threats, ECOWAS ultimately gave in to the Mali junta’s timeline for holding new elections, accepting an 18-month delay after earlier saying that democracy had to be restored within a year.

WILL THIS END BADLY FOR GUINEA AND WEST AFRICA?

Guinea’s mining industry already has taken a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about political stability could cause foreign companies to reconsider their presence. Guinea’s junta leaders went to great lengths Monday to reassure the international community that they would honor all existing agreements, a gesture aimed at keeping the country’s essential mining revenues flowing.

The junta purports to be acting on behalf of the Guinean people, but already there are concerns about whether military rule could lead to human rights violations.

Security forces in Guinea come with a deeply tarnished record: In 2009 they opened fire on a group of demonstrators protesting then coup leader Moussa “Dadis” Camara’s plans to run for president and stay in power. More than 150 people died and at least 100 women were raped in a soccer stadium, crimes that more than a decade later have yet to be tried in court.

The bigger concern could be what message this week’s coup will send other West African leaders seeking to stay in power, analysts say. There are fears that the recent coups in Mali and Guinea could lead to more political instability in the region.

Even if the ruling juntas in both countries do eventually hold elections, will military leaders simply rebrand themselves as civilian candidates? For now, there’s a more immediate concern in Guinea: Do others in the military think they should be steering the country’s fate?

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