Deposed Guinea president Alpha Conde is well, say ECOWAS envoys

Saturday September 11 2021
Conde pic
By AFP

Conakry. Deposed Guinean president Alpha Conde is in good health, envoys from West Africa bloc ECOWAS said Friday during a mission to the country organised after last week's coup.

Guinea's ruling military has been coming under growing diplomatic pressure after special forces led by Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya seized power on Sunday and arrested Conde.

ECOWAS suspended Guinea this week. On Friday, the African Union (AU) followed suit.

The pan-African body tweeted that it had decided "to suspend the Republic of Guinea from all AU activities and decision-making bodies."

Mediators from ECOWAS -- the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States -- landed in the Guinean capital Conakry on Friday.

They met coup leader Doumbouya, who arrived at the hotel where the envoys were staying flanked by special forces commandos.

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ECOWAS Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, who was part of the delegation, said that mediators had seen Conde in the city's junta headquarters. 

"President Alpha Conde is well," he told reporters.

Burkinabe Foreign Minister Alpha Barry, another delegation member, confirmed that the 83-year-old former leader was in good health.

After the visit, Guinea's stand-in foreign minister Fanta Cisse spoke of an agreement "in principle" to release Conde.

She said it was "difficult to answer immediately a request" to free the ex-president, however "the principle is recognised".

Increasing pressure on Guinea comes amid rising fears of democratic backsliding across West Africa, where strongmen are an increasingly familiar sight.

Guinea's putsch has drawn parallels with its neighbour Mali, which has suffered two coups since August last year led by Colonel Assimi Goita, who was also a special forces commander.

- Condemnation -

On Wednesday, ECOWAS called for Conde's "immediate and unconditional release."

It also urged "the immediate return to constitutional order" and demanded that the security forces "maintain a constitutional posture."

The US embassy in Conakry on Friday stated that Guinea should "immediately restore democracy."

Guinea's putschists have formed a junta named the CNRD, which has dissolved the government and the constitution.

Doumbouya appeared on television hours after the coup and accused the Conde government of "endemic corruption" and "trampling on citizens' rights".

He has pledged to open talks on forming a new government, but it is not yet clear when, or under what form, these may take place.

When faced with a similar predicament in Mali last year, ECOWAS imposed economic sanctions, but lifted them after Mali's ruling military committed to restoring civilian rule.

- 'Bury democracy' - 

Public discontent in Guinea had been brewing for months over a flatlining Covid-hit economy and the leadership of Conde, who became the first democratically elected president in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015.

But last year, Conde pushed through a new constitution enabling him to run for a third term in October 2020.

The move sparked mass demonstrations in which dozens of protesters were killed. Conde won the election but the political opposition maintained the poll was a sham.

After the coup, the junta freed about 80 political activists detained under Conde and banned ex-ministers from leaving the country.

On Thursday, it also said ex-ministers' bank accounts had been temporarily frozen.

Coup leader Doumbouya has nonetheless promised there will be no "witch hunt" against members of the former regime.

The military has also guaranteed Conde's safety.

The coup was greeted with jubilation in some parts of Conakry, where residents flooded the streets to applaud the soldiers.

But Conde supporters are bitter. Victor Leno, a schoolteacher and a member of Conde's RPG party, said "in one day, the military really came and buried this beautiful democracy".

An RPG spokesman Mahmoudou Traore warned against trusting the military's promises of a transition.

"They will stay in power for five, six (or) seven years," he predicted.

- Aluminium shock -

Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite abundant reserves of minerals including iron ore, gold and diamonds.

The former French colony also has the world's largest reserves of bauxite, the primary source of aluminium. Mining is the driver of the economy.

News of the coup sent the price of aluminium soaring to its highest level in 13 years this week.

Doumbouya has pledged continuity in the mining sector and said this week that Guinea will "uphold all its undertakings (and) mining agreements".