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Guinea: Soldiers detain president in coup

September 6, 2021

Mutinous soldiers in Guinea have detained President Alpha Conde, declaring on state television that the government had been dissolved in a coup. They also announced a nationwide curfew "until further notice."

A screenshot shows Guinean President Alpha Conde after his arrest
Videos and images of president Conde surrounded by soldiers have been circulating in social media Image: AFP

Guinea's special forces soldiers announced on state television on Sunday that they have toppled President Alpha Conde.

The elite army unit's chief, Mamady Doumbouya, said "poverty and endemic corruption" had driven his soldiers to remove Conde from office.

"We have dissolved government and institutions," Doumbouya — a former French foreign legionnaire — announced on television, draped in Guinea's national flag and surrounded by eight other armed soldiers.

"We are going to rewrite a constitution together," he said, adding that his forces have also closed Guinea's land and air borders, and that a transitional government will soon be formed. 

"The personalization of political life is over. We will no longer entrust politics to one man. We will entrust it to the people," Doumboya said.

The special forces also announced a nationwide curfew "until further notice" as well as the replacement of governors by the military.

The soldiers said that the military would convene Conde's cabinet ministers and other top officials at 11:00 am (1100 GMT) on Monday in Conakry.

President detained by special forces

Gunfire rang out near the presidential palace in the Guinean capital of Conakry, following reports of an attempted coup, witnesses told Reuters and several other news agencies. At least two people sustained injuries.

The shots were fired in the Kaloum peninsula area of the capital, which is home not only to the presidential palace, but other government institutions and ministries.    

A source in the presidential palace told DW that the president was detained by special forces. Yet, the source added that the soldiers staging the coup are only a small group, with the rest of the army staying loyal to Conde.   

Guinean armed forces members patrol Conakry after the apparent coup
The Guinean armed forces have sealed off Conakry's Kaloum neighborhood after the gunfire Image: CELLOU BINANI/AFP

Troops were deployed to the streets in response to the incident, with the military blocking access from the mainland to Kaloum. Guinean President Conde was reportedly unharmed by the gunfire, but his exact whereabouts are still unclear. 

Local residents say they have been asked by soldiers to stay in their homes, according to news agency AFP. 

Governmental denials, UN calls for release

Earlier on Sunday, Guinea's defense ministry claimed in a statement that the presidential guard and security forces "had contained the threat and repelled the group of assailants but- videos circulating on social media suggested otherwise, appearing to show the president being detained by the army.

The UN has called for Conde's release and criticized the "takeover" by force in Guinea. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he is "personally following the situation in Guinea very closely."  

How are Guineans responding?

Videos from Conakry showed groups of people celebrating in the streets following the reports of Alpha Conde's ouster.

A woman told DW she was very happy about the takeover because of the dismal situation in the country.

"The people suffered so much — there is no water, there is no electricity, there are even no streets! No streets in Guinea, that is ridiculous! We are all tired of it."

Others, however, told our correspondent Bangaly Conde they were "disappointed" by the military allowing the president to be captured by a single special forces unit.

"It's like we don't even have an army!" a man told DW.

Ibrahim Kane, a political scientist at the Open Society Foundation, says Guinea "has been in the eye of the storm" for two years. He told DW that since last year's elections, the country has been dealing with "endless chaos."

"Guinea has been in a permanent crisis. It was clear that one day someone would try to bring order to the situation," he said.

Images and videos of the president being held captive have been circulating online since early Sunday, but the public in Guinea did not take them seriously, said DW correspondent Bangaly Conde.

"A special forces member approached [the president] in one of those videos and asked 'Were you tortured during the arrest?' He asked several questions. But the president did not answer."

Doumboya posted a video address on Facebook, but this too failed to draw much attention until the soldiers took control of the national television and used it to address the nation later in the day.

"It looks like the coup has actually succeeded," DW West Africa correspondent Fred Muvunyi said from Lagos, Nigeria.    

"It's still confusing to know who is going to take over," Muvunyi added, citing the country's internal divisions.

Guinean analyst Kabine Fofana says the situation in the country will ultimately "come down to a trial of strength."

"In a power grab like this, whoever is strongest usually wins," he told DW.

How is the international community responding?

The African Union (AU) bloc condemned the military takeover and called for Conde's immediate release.

A statement by AU chairman and Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and AU Commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat appealed to the body's Peace and Security Council to meet urgently and take appropriate action.

What is Alpha Conde's legacy?

Conde assumed office in 2010 after the country's first-ever democratic elections. He survived an assassination attempt in 2011.  

The 83-year-old won a third term last year in the 2020 presidential election. His win came after he rammed through constitutional changes allowing him to sidestep the country's limit of two presidential terms. 

The opposition claimed last year's election was fraudulent, with dozens of people subsequently killed in anti-government protests.

The Guinean president has pledged to stamp out the country's rampant corruption, but critics say he has failed to improve life for the average citizen.

Although Guinea is rich in natural resources, including diamonds and gold, much of the country's population lives in poverty. Guinea declared independence from France in 1958 and witnessed a period of military dictatorship from 1984 to 2008.  

mvb, wd/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)