Alpha Conde–good riddance. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
In Guinea a useless president was overthrown in a coup d’etat by a useless military on Sunday.
Alpha Conde, 83, was a useless president because last year he forcefully amended Guinea’s constitution and removed presidential term limits which allowed him to run for a third time. He shredded the constitution for his own selfish gains as many other politicians have done throughout Africa.
Yet, the neocolonial French trained army commander who has now replaced Conde will fair no better unless he plans transformative changes—the type that Thomas Sankara launched in what was then Upper Volta, when he seized power in 1983.
Guinea’s new ruler is Lt. Col. Mamady Doumbouya, a former foreign legionnaire officer in the French army.
In the four brief years that Thomas Sankara held power he breathed new life into Africa’s politics. He restored hope to millions of Africans. Sankara showed that power, when properly exercised, can transform the lives of Africans.
Sankara changed the name of his country to Burkina Faso—“land of upright people.” Sankara fought corruption and elitism; he reduced the salaries of all officials including his own; he banned ostentatious displays such as Mercedes Benz cars for government officials; he shifted power to the grassroots by organizing rural communities and providing civic education; he mobilized the population to build thousands of rural clinics and schools; he promoted food production and made the country food-sufficient within three years; he promoted indigenous industries, beginning with textiles and clothes to break the dependency on colonial powers like France; he promoted planting of millions of trees when even many Western leaders shunned environmental issues; and he empowered women by appointing them to powerful positions and recruiting them into the armed forces.
Sankara’s was the kind of coup that Africa could use more of.
Sankara was ultimately murdered by his number two in command Blaise Compaore at the behest of France in October 1987. Sankara had been setting an example that France considered too dangerous—that African leaders could actually work on behalf of the people of Africa.
Sankara crossed the redline when he challenged Western finance capital. During an Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting—the organization that preceded the African Union (AU)—at Addis Ababa in July 1987, Sankara called on African leaders to collectively renounce the onerous foreign debt. He said the burden prevented African countries from developing by diverting billions of dollars away from productive development projects to enriching foreign lenders. Sankara warned that if Burkina Faso did it alone, he would be killed before the following year’s OAU meeting. “They cannot assassinate all of us,” Sankara said.
Other African leaders nodded in agreement with Sankara’s proposal. They chuckled when he spoke of the assassinations. But the enemies of Africa were not laughing. Three months later Sankara was murdered and Compaore, a puppet of France, installed in power.
Sunday’s coup in Guinea is no surprise. There had been protests and opposition to Conde since he amended the constitution and bulldozed his way back to power.
Even though there have been some celebrations on the streets in Conakry the capital, unless the new military rulers surprise the country and introduce the kind of revolutionary reforms Sankara did in Burkina Faso, it’s more likely that the same people will be back on the streets in a few months demanding the removal of the soldiers from power.
“We are no longer going to entrust politics to one man, we are going to entrust politics to the people,” Doumbouya said in a broadcast. Time will tell if these are mere words. Only transformative revolutionary coups or popular uprisings can change Africa’s trajectory—from permanent neocolonial dependencies of the West to countries charting their own destinies.
When the army seized power in Mali in August 2020, this editorial page referred to that takeover also as a “useless coup.” The commander was Col. Assimi Goita. He flirted with civilians in a joint government with himself as vice president for nine months. In May 2021, the U.S.-trained adventurer ended the pretense by seizing full powers for himself.
In Chad, after the assassination of military dictator Idriss Deby on April 19, 2021, the army seized power with the support of France and installed his son Mohamet Deby as the new dictator. It’s unlikely that he will remain long in power.
The covid-19 pandemic has destroyed commodity production and exports and tourism and thereby weakened the economies of every African country. This will increase political pressure and more regimes could fall.
In the end only the youth of Africa can end this power struggle between the political and military elite. In Mali, Chad, and Guinea, where the coups have occurred, the youths had been protesting in the streets.
Indeed, many of these coups are expressions of desperation by the military elite. They fear that one day, they and their political elite counterparts will also be swept away by revolutions.
We would like the military in Guinea to prove us wrong by transforming Guinea into Burkina Faso circa 1983.