What you should know about Guinea’s coup

The first thing to say about the coup attempt that followed the death of Guinean President Lansana Conté is that it’s something of a miracle it took 24 years. The president, who died of diabetes Monday, was hardly a beloved exemplar of democratic values. By the time of his death, even the once-loyal Army was starting ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
590904_081227_guinea5.jpg
590904_081227_guinea5.jpg

The first thing to say about the coup attempt that followed the death of Guinean President Lansana Conté is that it's something of a miracle it took 24 years. The president, who died of diabetes Monday, was hardly a beloved exemplar of democratic values. By the time of his death, even the once-loyal Army was starting to mutiny over low pay. In fact, for many West Africa watchers, Guinea's fall into chaos has only been a matter of time. 

For more than two years leading up the president's death, political wrangling and unrest were the norm. General strikes in 2006 paralyzed the country. Conté refused to leave power and poverty was consuming the country. I was in Senegal at the time, and the stories we heard there were fierce: Strikes were so strictly adhered to that any passing soul on the street would be shot. There was violence between police and civilians -- as has also become the norm in times of crisis in Guinea.

In the compromise that ended those strikes, the president finally named a prime minister. There have been several in recent years, and the most recent, Ahmed Tidiane Souare, was a close Conté ally whom the International Crisis group wrote in June "puts reform at risk." Democratic legislative elections were scheduled for this month.

The first thing to say about the coup attempt that followed the death of Guinean President Lansana Conté is that it’s something of a miracle it took 24 years. The president, who died of diabetes Monday, was hardly a beloved exemplar of democratic values. By the time of his death, even the once-loyal Army was starting to mutiny over low pay. In fact, for many West Africa watchers, Guinea’s fall into chaos has only been a matter of time. 

For more than two years leading up the president’s death, political wrangling and unrest were the norm. General strikes in 2006 paralyzed the country. Conté refused to leave power and poverty was consuming the country. I was in Senegal at the time, and the stories we heard there were fierce: Strikes were so strictly adhered to that any passing soul on the street would be shot. There was violence between police and civilians — as has also become the norm in times of crisis in Guinea.

In the compromise that ended those strikes, the president finally named a prime minister. There have been several in recent years, and the most recent, Ahmed Tidiane Souare, was a close Conté ally whom the International Crisis group wrote in June “puts reform at risk.” Democratic legislative elections were scheduled for this month.

Instead, Guinea got a coup. 

So now what? For now, the military has the reins, despite claims from Souare that he retains control. The perpetrators of the coup, calling themselves the National Council for Democracy and Development, have called a curfew and promised elections in two years. As in previous times of tension, soldiers fill the streets and much of Conakry is shut down. Companies, such as mining giant BHP, are closing offices for now. Other countries in the region are condemning the coup.

So what at first seemed like a Christmas miracle for Conakry has taken a dangerous turn for the worse.

Photo: SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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