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Hall of infamy: Mamady Doumbouya

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Guinea
CELLOU BINANI/AFP/GETTY

JOB: President of Guinea

REPUTATION: West Africa’s latest military putschist

Some people just look the part. Take Colonel Doumbouya – he presents as an imposing larger-than-life leader, towering over his subordinates complete with military uniform and wraparound sunglasses. Stick on the medals and the jaunty red beret and who else would you want to lead a coup to overthrow an unpopular civilian government? That is just what the good colonel did in Guinea last September, when he deposed the government in Conakry. The former French legionnaire then had himself appointed ‘interim’ President on 1 October 2021. The loser here was 83-year-old Alpha Conde, who had just engineered a controversial referendum to overturn a constitutional two-term limit in the top seat.

Doumbouya, 41, is one of the younger military officers left out of the feeding frenzy enjoyed by the old school Guinean political elite who have been cashing in on the West African country’s mineral bounty – including large quantities of bauxite, iron, gold and diamonds. Their main partner has been China, which took the unusual step of breaching its usual ‘non-interference’ policy to condemn the coup. Guinea is a classic case of Africa’s ‘resources curse’; despite its obvious natural riches more than 40 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

Doumbouya is no desk soldier having successfully parlayed his experience in the French legion and France, with training in Israel, UK, Senegal and participation in United States special forces exercises for good measure. Conde, not the first politician to pick his own usurper, appointed Doumbouya commander of the elite Special Forces Group charged with intelligence and internal security responsibilities. Doumbouya knows what he’s talking about when it comes to human rights violations as the good colonel has been under investigation by the EU over allegations of such abuses.

The neighbouring countries of West Africa were less than amused over Guinea’s coup. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) slapped on sanctions and ramped up the pressure for a return to some semblance of civilian rule. Most ECOWAS member states are to some degree complicit in the kind of economic mismanagement and misuse of patronage that undid Conde, and are nervous about the political ambitions of their own officer corps. Since 2010 there have been eight successful military coups in Africa.

While it is tempting to blame all military coups on power-hungry officers, it isn’t so simple. With a few notable exceptions the civilian political class has served the continent poorly. West Africa in particular has been plagued with regimes best known for authoritarian rule, intolerance of dissent, patronage (often based on tribal loyalties), outright corruption and general mismanagement. The results: persistent poverty and inequality, and an electorate grown cynical and apathetic about politics and politicians. All adding up to fertile ground for military coups. The dance of Doumbouya and Conde has a sad familiarity about it.

LOW CUNNING: Since Doumbouya grabbed power he has evoked more popular historic coup leaders, such as Jerry Rawlings in Ghana and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, to justify his ‘re-founding of the state’ with a new constitutional order. While Rawlings and Sankara displayed some integrity, Doumbouya appears more dedicated to feathering his own nest than representing the public good. Guinea is the second-largest bauxite producer in the world and prices have shot up following fears of a supply shortage. Doumbouya exempted mining areas from his post-coup curfew, urging companies to continue their activities. The big mining corporations anticipate healthy profits – as does, in all likelihood, Guinea’s political elite.

SENSE OF HUMOUR: Decidedly sexist, with added military swagger. Doumbouya on the country he leads by dint of military force: ‘We don’t need to rape Guinea any more, we just need to make love to her.’ According to a 2017 report, 8 out of 10 women in Guinea have suffered some form of sexual violence.

Sources: BBC; Politico SL; Westside Gazette; ahramonline; africanews; allAfrica; AlJazeera; Review of African Political Economy; Center for Strategic and International Studies.

New Internationalist issue 535 magazine cover This article is from the January-February 2022 issue of New Internationalist.
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