Credit: GIN photo

Young military officers who ousted Guinea’s President Alpha Condé on Sept. 5 are wasting no time taking on the duties of heads of state. Meetings have been scheduled with leaders of political parties and religious groups to be followed by civil society organizations and representatives of diplomatic missions. Sessions with mining companies, banks and insurance companies are scheduled for Sept. 16, followed by confabs with trade unions Sept. 17.

While coups are currently frowned upon, this one might win over some of its critics. The former president, elected in 2010, was said to be drifting into authoritarianism, increasingly cracking the whip on his perceived enemies as when 400 opposition and civil society members across the country were arrested following the publication of presidential elections results in October. Four people, including three supporters of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, died in pre-trial detention in Conakry’s main prison.

“These people died while being held in prisons that are notorious for squalid, abusive conditions that often result in death, where the international rules of law on the treatment of detainees are ignored,” declared Fabien Offner, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.

Alioune Tine, an independent human rights expert for the United Nations and founder of the AfrikaJom Center think-tank, reflected on the meteoric rise and fall of the now deposed President Condé. “He was one of the politicians who worked over 40 years for democracy in Guinea,” Tine told the Reuters news agency. “Once in power, he totally destroyed it.”

“He put people in prison. He killed and he completely refused any political dialogue with the opposition.”

Condé denies accusations of human rights abuses. Like other African leaders who rewrote constitutions to hang onto power, he said he needed more time to realize his vision of a modern Guinea.

With the president out of power, Sidya Touré, leader of the Union of Republican Forces party, returned from Paris where he fled after alleged threats from Condé and the arrest of several of his critics. Cellou Dalein Diallo, also of the opposition who lost to Condé in three elections tainted with irregularities, said he initially believed the Guinean president was a man who wanted to turn Guinea into a democracy.

“So I was very disappointed when I saw how he acted because it was the opposite of what I expected.”

“Alpha Condé himself created the crisis that swept him away,” he added, speaking to the Financial Times. “[He] would not have met such a tragic end” if he had not changed the constitution in order to run for a third term.

The fall of the 83-year old Condé, the self-described “Mandela of Guinea,” brought shouts of “freedom” from Guineans who have largely been excluded from the bonanza earned from Guinea’s rich reserves of iron ore, gold, bauxite and other minerals.

More than half of the population lives below the poverty line, with around 20% in extreme poverty.

Hunger also poses a serious threat with 230,000 children suffering from malnutrition and 25.9% of the population experiencing chronic malnutrition.

The gravity of these conditions notwithstanding, the United Nations, the U.S., the African Union, ECOWAS, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, among others, have directed their outrage for the coup-makers.

Jenerali Ulimwengu in The East African begs to differ. “Such is the terror that African rulers have visited on their people that the oppressed masses have had to depend on the Grim Reaper to take their rulers away before the people could overthrow the government,” he writes.

“As for the AU and Ecowas, having failed the people of Guinea when Condé rode roughshod over them, these organs should hang their heads in shame rather than try to play absent-minded arbiters.”

Meanwhile, Diallo, if elected to replace Condé, said he would ask for an audit of all mining contracts whose benefits are not visible anywhere in Guinea. They have only enriched the ruling elite, he says.

Adds coup leader Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya: “If you see the condition of our roads, of our hospitals, you realize that it is time for us to wake up.”