On 5 September, special forces soldiers led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya arrested President Alpha Conde. During a subsequent broadcast on state TV, the putschists announced the suspension of state institutions, the temporary closure of national borders, and a nationwide curfew. In addition, a new constitution would be drawn up, and a’union government’ would be formed, although no timelines were given. Since Conde’s arrest, during which gunshots were heard in Conakry, the putschists have not faced any open resistance from troops that may still be loyal to the president; furthermore, they appear to enjoy the support of the local population. Sanctions potentially being imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are unlikely to have a major impact on economic activity in Guinea as far as the mining industry is concerned. Meanwhile, Doumbouya was keen to emphasize that mining operations should continue as usual, exempting them from the curfew and reopening ports. However, a medium-term prospect is that the coup government may embark on a general or selective review of iron ore and bauxite mining contracts.
The some 500-strong special forces led by Doumbouya, an ex-legionnaire who hails from the same ethnic group as the president, were created by Conde as a ‘pretorian guard’ in 2018. They were supposed to act as his insurance policy against public backlash as Conde pushed through constitutional changes allowing him to secure a controversial third term in elections marred by violence in October 2020. Even though, unlike over in Mali in August 2020, the putschists did not act amid an ongoing wave of anti- government protests, they seem to enjoy considerable local support. This was fueled on 7 September by the release of political prisoners and the disbanding of unpopular security checkpoints set up by Conde two years ago. While members of the official opposition welcomed the coup d’etat, it remains to be seen whether the junta will opt to include them in a new government. Meanwhile, the putschists have taken further steps to consolidate their power by installing army officers at the top of the country’s eight regions and various administrative districts.
Conde, who remains in custody, has so far refused to resign amid statements from ECOWAS, the African Union, the EU, the US, and Chinese governments, among others, condemning the coup and calling for his release. ECOWAS leaders are expected to meet on 8 September to discuss possible sanctions. However, neither a military intervention (as last happened on a limited scale in The Gambia in 2017) nor tough economic restrictions (limits on Mali’s financial flows and commercial trade were imposed in 2020) appear likely or viable. Unlike Mali, Guinea is not a landlocked country and is also not part of the CFA franc zone, severely curtailing the impact of economic sanctions.
While, for now, existing mining operations may thus continue almost as usual, there is considerable downside risk in the medium term. It may be recalled that Conde’s government reviewed and subsequently withdrew several mining contracts after coming to power in 2010. Doumbouya, who justified his coup d’etat with references to rampant corruption and economic mismanagement under Conde, may be inclined to embark on a similar path once he has managed to consolidate his grip on power.