Guinea Cracks Down on Protesters
After promising democratic reforms, the junta is attacking the press and opposition.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Nigeria drops fuel subsidies, Eskom’s ousted CEO publishes revelations of widespread graft in South Africa’s energy sector, and the British royal family refuses to repatriate the remains of a 19th century Ethiopian prince.
Lethal Crackdowns as Guineans Demand Democracy
Guinea’s military government is clamping down on pro-democracy protests with alarming violence.
At least seven people were shot dead and 32 wounded in anti-government demonstrations this month. The junta warned that further dissent would be met with the full weight of the army. It threatened that anti-terrorism laws, including those carrying sentences of life in prison, would be used against people who sought to “intimidate, provoke a situation of terror, create insecurity in the public.”
“We have taken the step of legally requisitioning, as of May 15, 2023, the use of the armed forces to support the police and gendarmerie facing difficulties in maintaining and restoring public order,” Territorial Administration Minister Mory Condé said in a statement read on state TV.
In the latest in a series of small-scale protests against the military government, independent media outlets launched a one-day boycott against the junta last Tuesday. They have threatened to protest on June 1 over the government restricting or blocking access to news sites and popular social media networks.
In a statement, the country’s media associations declared Telecommunications Minister Ousmane Gaoual Diallo the “enemy of the Guinean press.” Guinean internet users have complained that they are unable to access social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or TikTok without a VPN. Guinea’s press associations also condemned the shuttering of two radio stations owned by Afric Vision group and threats from the authorities to close any media that undermines national unity. Diallo has denied a crackdown on media.
The military government has banned all demonstrations since July 2022 when the country’s capital, Conakry, was brought to a standstill by a pro-democracy rally organized by opposition coalition the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution.
Guinea’s then-83-year-old president Alpha Condé was overthrown in a September 2021 coup led by Col. Mamady Doumbouya. As a veteran opposition candidate, Condé finally won the presidency in 2010, in what marked the first credible democratic handover of power in Guinea since independence from France in 1958. Unfortunately, Condé changed the country’s constitution in order to win an extended third term in office in 2020. His victory was marred by the arrests of opposition leaders and widespread deadly protests against what Guineans saw as an illegal power grab.
This provided an opportunity for Doumbouya, who had been trained to protect Condé. “If the people are crushed by their elites, it is up to the army to give the people their freedom,” Doumbouya declared during his first public address after taking power—echoing the late Ghanaian leader Jerry Rawlings, who seized power in a coup in 1979.
But instead of democratic reforms, Doumbouya has continued Condé’s policies, attempting to dissolve opposition parties and restrict media freedom. In the face of economic sanctions, the junta promised the African Union that it would restore civilian rule by the end of 2024. But even as Doumbouya spoke of rooting out corruption and delivering Guineans “free, credible and transparent” elections, he and his fellow coup-leaders arrested or began prosecuting a number of opposition leaders.
While regional blocs such as the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have attempted to compel Guinea’s generals to stick to a democratic timeline, it has not worked. As Jeffrey Smith and Jonathan Moakes wrote in 2021 in Foreign Policy, both the African Union and ECOWAS declared Condé’s 2020 election “free and fair, while the protests and valid grievances of the Guinean people registered barely a mention in the international press. The world casually went on with its business.”
The past has shown that such power grabs inevitably lead to coups. Many young Guineans continue to argue for a stable and inclusive government despite the deadly cost of doing so. The most recent survey by Afrobarometer found that 77 percent of Guineans support democracy in their country.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, May 31, to Friday, June 30: The trial of former Rwandan police officer Philippe Hategekimana continues in a French court. Hategekimana is accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He fled to France and gained citizenship in 2005.
Thursday, June 1: African Energy Chamber hosts the Invest in African Energy Forum in Paris.
Thursday, June 1, to Friday, June 2: South Africa expected to host a meeting of the foreign ministers of BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) to discuss regional and global developments.
Friday, June 2: Mauritian Finance Minister Renganaden Padayachy delivers the country’s annual budget speech.
What We’re Watching
Nigerian subsidies dropped. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu on Monday used his inauguration speech to make his first policy announcement ending Nigeria’s controversial fuel subsidies. “Fuel subsidy is gone,” Tinubu said at the ceremony attended by many of the continent’s heads of state, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, and Senegal’s Macky Sall.
Consumer petroleum prices have for decades been kept artificially low in Nigeria, through a subsidy that has proved politically difficult for past presidents to remove despite their promises to do so.
The cost of maintaining Nigeria’s petrol subsidy was over 4 trillion naira last year (about $9.7 billion) according to Nigeria’s state petroleum corporation. Tinubu did not make it immediately clear when Nigerians should expect to see fuel prices rise. His supporters hope that he will continue to pursue the fiscal policies he introduced as governor of Lagos, increasing revenue through foreign direct investment and taxation. But he inherits a long to-do list for turning around Africa’s largest economy, including tackling insecurity, high debt, high youth unemployment, and a lack of effective governance in almost all public institutions.
His victory is still being challenged in court by his two closest rivals, although it is highly unlikely his win will be overturned. He also faces a daunting term in office given that there is deep discontent among the public, including from many disgruntled young Nigerians who largely did not vote for him.
Ghana’s domestic debt debate. Ghana’s independent power producers, which supply more than 50 percent of the country’s electricity, have rejected a government proposal to restructure $1.5 billion in arrears owed to them by the state, Reuters reports.
Ghana is looking to cut $10.5 billion in interest payments on its external debt in three years after securing a $3 billion loan deal from the International Monetary Fund. Private energy providers have demanded immediate payment of the money owed.
The country’s judiciary halted court activities in an indefinite strike announced Thursday over demands for salary increases and unpaid arrears. On Monday, it suspended the strike for two weeks after meeting with officials, to allow for engagement and “fast-track” consideration of their demands.
Germany’s Mali troop withdrawal. German troops will remain in Mali for one final year as Berlin aims to withdraw from the United Nations peacekeeping mission there by May 2024. Germany’s parliament voted 375 to 263 to extend the mission’s mandate in the country.
The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was established in 2013 to help push back Islamist militants, but over the past year there have been disputes between Mali’s junta and the United Nations. Western governments have argued that Mali’s decision to bring in Russian Wagner Group mercenaries has hampered the mission. Currently, the top three military contributors to MINUSMA are Chad, Bangladesh, and Egypt.
The U.S. government also announced sanctions on the Wagner Group’s regional boss in Mali, Ivan Maslov. Wagner could be secretly trying to obtain military equipment for the war in Ukraine through its operations in Mali and other African countries, the U.S. Treasury Department stated in a press release.
Al-Shabab attack. Militant group al-Shabab on Friday launched an attack on a base manned by Ugandan soldiers from the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS). The base, located in the town of Bulamarer (about 80 miles southwest of the capital, Mogadishu), was attacked using car and suicide bombers, ATMIS said. An adjacent base belonging to the Somali military was also targeted. Al-Shabab in a statement claimed its fighters had killed 137 soldiers. “Condolences to the country and the families of those who died,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said.
Since last August, the Somali army had pushed al-Shabab back from swathes of central Somalia. But the militants continue to survive by reaching out to opposition clan elders while mounting attacks on the government and military.
After the country’s worst drought in 40 years, 8.3 million Somalis, many of whom are trapped in Shabab-held territory, face famine. A United Nations-backed conference raised $2.4 billion in pledges last week for people affected by drought in the Horn of Africa.
On the day of the attack, Somali Foreign Minister Abshir Omar Jama discussed the possibility of creating trade platforms in the mining and energy sectors with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, at a meeting in Moscow, he said. Lavrov said Moscow would support Somalia’s fight against terrorism.
This Week in Postcolonial Controversies
The United Kingdom has denied the latest request that the body of a 19th-century Ethiopian prince be returned to Ethiopia. Prince Alamayu was brought to Britain at the age of 7 after his father, Emperor Tewodros II, was defeated in the Battle of Magdala in 1868. Tewodros II committed suicide rather than surrender to Britain, but British forces brought his wife and son to the United Kingdom along with hundreds of plundered artifacts.
Tewodros II’s wife died en route, but Alamayu grew up in the care of a British soldier. He was presented to Queen Victoria and educated in prestigious boarding schools. According to historians, Alamayu was “deeply unhappy” and made frequent pleas to return home. He died at age 18 and was buried at Windsor Castle.
In the latest refusal, Buckingham Palace said in a statement, “It is very unlikely that it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting place of a substantial number of others in the vicinity.”
Ethiopians regard Alamayu as a prisoner of war who died in captivity. “We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians because [the U.K.] is not the country he was born in,” Ethiopian royal descendant Fasil Minas told the BBC. As the first postcolonial British monarch, King Charles III faces mounting pressure over goods plundered during the colonial era. South Africans last month renewed their request for the return of the world’s largest diamond. The Star of Africa, which weighs 530 carats, sits in the king’s royal sceptre.
FP’s Most Read This Week
Russia’s Frighteningly Fascist Youth by Ian Garner
Russia Is Already Looking Beyond Ukraine by Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch
A BRICS Currency Could Shake the Dollar’s Dominance by Joseph W. Sullivan
Chart of the Week
Africans are most at risk of modern-day slavery, according to the 2023 Global Slavery Index report published last Wednesday. This is despite incidences of slavery being lower on the continent than elsewhere when population size is taken into account. The report shows modern slavery and cases of abuse are widespread in Arab states, where the number of African migrants has increased in the last few years. At least 89 Kenyans, most of whom were domestic workers, died in Saudi Arabia between 2020 and 2021, according to a 2021 report by Kenya’s ministry of foreign affairs.
What We’re Reading
Graft at Eskom. Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter alleges in his new book, Truth to Power: My Three Years Inside Eskom, that South Africa’s state-owned energy company is in the grip of corruption and criminal cartels aided by senior politicians. In the book, de Ruyter claims that the going rate for bribes to falsify the delivery of one truckload of good quality coal at Eskom’s new Kusile power station is 200,000 rand (about $10,150). He writes that “while the Gupta family had been the shark swimming in the murky waters of state capture, the much smaller piranhas were feasting on Eskom’s flesh.”
On Friday, the South African parliament’s public accounts watchdog announced it wanted de Ruyter to hand over an intelligence report he reportedly commissioned into graft at Eskom. The committee is holding hearings about de Ruyter’s allegations.
Chinese hacks. Chinese hackers targeted information systems belonging to the Kenyan government for years, according to a Reuters investigation. The hackers were allegedly attempting to assess Kenya’s risk of defaulting on over $9 billion in loans owed to Beijing. Kenya’s presidential office told Reuters that frequent espionage attempts from Chinese, U.S., and European hackers occurred but were not successful. However, Kenyan authorities later dismissed the report as “sponsored propaganda” against Beijing, circulated by “foreign media with well-known inclinations.”
Much of the Kenyan government’s network infrastructure was built by China; therefore “to infiltrate the same systems it has helped install, it would unlikely engage third-party hackers,” Principal Secretary for Internal Security and National Administration Raymond Omollo said in his refutation of the report.
Editor’s Note: It is with great sadness that FP reports the death of one of our contributors, Eusebius McKaiser.
McKaiser spent years as a political radio host and newspaper columnist. He was widely regarded as one of South Africa’s most provocative and incisive commentators and admired by both allies and opponents for his formidable debating skills. His work covered a wide range of topics—from constitutional law to gay rights, xenophobia, and political corruption, among other issues.
Foreign Policy was lucky to have him as a contributor and to publish one of the last columns he ever wrote, which you can read here, along with the rest of his articles for FP. —Sasha Polakow-Suransky
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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