/ 14 September 2021

Democracy is still a dream in Guinea

Guinea Politics
A sun-glasses seller walks past a billboard showing junta leader, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, in Conakry on September 11, 2021. - Doumbouya's special forces on September 5, 2021 seized Alpha Conde in a Coup, the West African state's 83-year-old president, a former champion of democracy accused of taking the path of authoritarianism. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)


In a broadcast on Guinea’s state TV, a group of soldiers announced that President Alpha Condé was in detention. The justification for this was that there had been a move to “end rampant corruption and human rights abuses”.

Guinea has a track record of being an unsuccessful democracy since the advent of its independence in 1958. This military coup will have consequences on the future of the respect for democracy in the country — bearing in mind that this respect was already largely absent. 

The principles of democracy include citizen participation, equality, political tolerance, accountability, transparency, regular free and fair elections, accepting the results of the elections, a multiparty system and the rule of law. 

The translation of coup d’état means “blow of the state”, which in essence means chaos and anarchy. A democracy promotes stability; a coup d’état attacks that stability. The citizen’s right to participate in governance is compromised. 

Some Guineans were in support of the coup, but democratically speaking they were implicit in a sabotage of their own rights. There exists the delusion of equality between the Guineans and their military. 

Imagine a scenario where someone makes a decision without your consent and you happen to be happy with the outcome; but this does not necessarily mean that you will appreciate the gesture next time they make a decision on your behalf. 

Guineans have unwittingly endorsed the compromise of the rule of law as well as the freedom to make their own decisions. How do they know that the military will not forcibly assume the role of big brother once more? 

The leader of the coup, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, said that “the Guinea personalisation of political life is over … We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people”. 

It would appear that the end justifies the means. The irony came in the manner in which personalisation of politics was decried, pushing the narrative that the overthrowing of the president would automatically lead to the consolidation of democracy. Guinea has not learnt its lesson of the consequences of the military taking the law into their own hands. 

Guinea does not have a precedent of respecting democracy; 37 years ago, a week after the death of dictator Sekou Toure, a military junta seized power. The promises made by the junta were similar to the ones made in this coup: the protection of human rights. A transitional parliament was put in place to facilitate the transition to democracy. 

When Guinea had its first democratic elections in 1993, there were rumours of irregularities and the government was accused of tampering with the votes. The birth of democracy — in particular, the principle of free and fair elections — was already compromised.

It needs to be understood that the consolidation of democracy begins at the ballot box. In November 2001 there were allegations that the results of a national referendum had been tampered with. The purpose of this referendum was for a constitutional amendment, to allow the president to run for an unlimited term. The effects of this amendment was that the term was increased from five to seven years.

Citizen participation as a democratic value has always been under threat.  Guinea is supposedly a constitutional republic. The principles that should be embodied by a constitutional republic include a system of checks and balances. This system ensures that there is no hoarding of power and limits the personalisation of public office. Power has to be constantly justified and revised. In the absence of a system that is checked, the people’s democratic rights are effectively compromised. Assuming that a person has been elected through democratic means they have a duty to the people.

What Guineans have to realise is that the only way in which they will be able to enjoy a successful democracy is if they have a democratic revolution. There has to be an understanding that a democracy is a reflection of the value systems of the leaders and the people.

Guinea has an ingrained culture of a lack of accountability and transparency. When the people continuously accept the removal of sitting presidents they undermine the power of their own constitution. They undermine their own power of decision-making; they could have called for their presidents’ removal through constitutional means.

An example of this is the impeachment procedure. This is normally the first step in the remedial process of removing someone from public office. The requirements for this are normally serious misconduct and a blatant disrespect of the constitution. This is also not as straightforward as it sounds, as it is difficult to remove a sitting president. If the people serving in public office are not politically compromised the path to this becomes easier. It is also very important to have a society that is educated in its civil rights to prevent unlawful take-overs.

What is happening in Guinea is that Guineans are compromising. They have learnt to settle for the lesser of two evils. A Guinean living in Senegal was quoted as saying that they were aware that a coup was not good, but that the president was too old and no longer allowed Guineans to dream. In interviews held on the day of the coup, many were reported to be saying that it was not that they did not know that a coup was unlawful, but that they were exhausted. 

As is seen where there are many successive dictatorships, the bare minimum in governance is expected, — not necessarily accepted but tolerated — and Guineans are victim to this mindset.

This article first appeared on The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.