West Africa bloc ECOWAS has decided to suspend Guinea following a military coup in the country, the organisation said after an emergency summit on Wednesday, calling for “an immediate return to constitutional order.”
Special forces led by Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya seized power in the West African state on Sunday and arrested President Alpha Conde, sparking international condemnation.
Conde, 83, had come under increasing fire for perceived authoritarianism, with dozens of opposition activists arrested after a violently disputed election last year.
But the putsch in Guinea has sparked fears of democratic backsliding across West Africa — where military strongmen are an increasingly familiar sight.
It has drawn parallels with its neighbour Mali: the Sahel state has suffered two coups since August last year led by Colonel Assimi Goita, who was also a special forces commander.
Leaders from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held an extraordinary video summit to discuss the turmoil in Guinea on Wednesday.
After the meeting, ECOWAS said in a statement regional leaders decided “to suspend Guinea from all ECOWAS decision-making bodies with immediate effect.”
The bloc also demanded that Guinea’s military release Conde and held the coup plotters responsible for the ousted leader’s physical safety.
A high-level ECOWAS mission will be dispatched immediately, the statement said.
“The Authority will review the situation in light of developments in the Republic of Guinea and the Assessment mission report,” it said.
When faced with a similar predicament in Mali last year, ECOWAS imposed economic sanctions on the country, but lifted them after Mali’s ruling military committed to restoring civilian rule.
Doumbouya, hours after taking power in the capital Conakry, appeared on television and accused the Conde government of “endemic corruption” and of “trampling on citizens’ rights”.
He has pledged to open talks on forming a new government, but it is not yet clear when, or under what form, these may take place.
“The government to be installed will be that of national unity and will ensure this political transition,” Doumbouya tweeted on Tuesday.
– ‘Free and democratic’ –
Public discontent in Guinea had been growing for months over a flatlining Covid-hit economy and the leadership of Conde, who became the first democratically elected president in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015.
But last year, Conde pushed through a new constitution that allowed him to run for a third term in October 2020.
The move sparked mass demonstrations in which dozens of protesters were killed. Conde won the election but the political opposition maintained that the poll was a sham.
Guinea’s military on Tuesday freed about 80 political opponents of Conde’s who had been detained during the turbulent electoral period.
Ismael Conde, one of the detainees, told AFP upon his release that he was praying for a “new era for Guinea”.
“We are leaving invigorated to continue the struggle for a free and democratic Guinea,” he added.
The coup has triggered broad diplomatic condemnation, including from the African Union, European Union and the United States.
– ‘Straighten the country out’ –
No deaths have been officially reported in the putsch, although reports in Guinean media have suggested that between a dozen and 20 people were killed.
AFP was unable to independently confirm the reports.
The coup was met with jubilation in some parts of Conakry, where hundreds residents turned out on the streets to applaud passing soldiers.
Cellou Dalein Diallo, the country’s main opposition leader, has backed the military regime — although he called for the army to uphold the rule of law.
In Bambeto, an opposition stronghold in Conakry, resident Abdoul Gadiri Diallo told AFP on Tuesday that he supports Doumbouya.
“He is going to straighten out this country very well, we are counting on him,” he said.
Doumbouya is in his early forties and was trained at France’s Ecole de Guerre military academy. He was also a member of the French Foreign Legion. AFP