Next week, September 26, will be the third week anniversary of the coup that ousted
Guinea’s president Alpha Condé and left its leader (and one-time Condé loyalist), Col Mamady Doumbouya, in charge.
There is something different, and even terrifying, this time about this coup. It takes a week to 10 days for Africa’s coup makers to run mad and tie a few crooks from the old regime to a barrel and shoot them. If not, they threaten to do so.
And as quickly, we box them into a familiar box and condemn them as a typical bloodthirsty junta. Doumbouya and his comrades have still kept their powder dry.
But, perhaps more striking, tracking the sentiment of young Africans on social media, this Guinea coup has struck a chord, and there is quite some excitement about it. There are even some noises suggesting that this might signal a new dawn in Africa.
Very tall and dark, Doumbouya, with his gangster looks, is playing like some heroic bandit arising out of the Sahel and a second-rate Thomas Sankara — but a Sankara nonetheless.
So much has Doumbouya’s coup unsettled the African establishment that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni — who came to power through an armed rebellion in 1986, rules with a mallet and sees himself as a grand ayatollah of African politics and pan-Africanism — felt obliged to pen a 15-page treatise on it.
The commander of Uganda’s Land Forces, Maj-Gen Kainerugaba Muhoozi, who’s the president’s son, tweeted that if Museveni gave the order, the Uganda army would quickly hasten to Guinea and put it down.
So why would this coup, of all the nearly 10 of the past 10 years in Africa, so rattle elders? It seems, to begin with, that it has to do what Condé symbolised. He represented the African leaders who extend their rule and then go on to steal the election. But that is only a small part of it. He symbolised the leaders who elongate their rule, all to run a corrupt state. None of the recent coups on the continent cut short a life presidency or a wanna-be presidency-for-life. And thus, it repudiated all the above.
Wave of frustration
Secondly, it coincided with the peak of a wave of frustration all over the continent at both elected democratic governments and strongman regimes’ failure to end corruption, improve the lot of the people and provide opportunity to the continent’s flood of young people.
We are seeing a rise in people looking desperately to soldiers again, supernatural forces, and disease, as their saviour. Fake news about ill, dying or dead African strongmen is rampant on African Twitter these days.
There are stories of strongmen who’ve run amok, have died in a European hospital, where they had sneaked off for treatment, and as we saw in the case of Tanzania’s late president, Dr John Magufuli, who had turned decidedly dangerous for civil liberties, there were claims and celebration that the invisible hand of democracy wearing a Covid-19 glove struck him down. Every day, we see Africans online reduced to impotently wishing their leaders and families bad luck.
The good feelings towards and the conferring of a new saviour status on soldiers has quite a handful of African leaders uneasy. It’s not only they who should be uneasy. A market might be opening for extra-constitutional seizure of power by the military due to the failure of democracy.
People have finally had it with the inability of conventional politics and elections to bring change. And, in that sense, it is not just a failure of the ruling party. It is also a failure of the opposition, even when they are ruthlessly repressed by the government and incumbent of the day to overcome those difficulties and change.
Goliaths facing opposition
It would seem people do get it that strongmen are Goliaths facing opposition and activist Davids. But they also know that little David still brought down the giant Goliath with his sling shot.
The regional bloc Ecowas has come down hard on the coup makers with targeted sanctions and demands that they hold elections within six months. But the Guineans have formed a defence circle against the soldiers.
The Ecowas club of election cheats and constitution fiddlers look like conmen confronting Doumbouya and his confederates. It seems like such a long time ago when the same Ecowas, in 2017, sent troops to The Gambia to chase away the brutal Yahya Jammeh when he tried to steal back an election he had lost.
The real big trouble for them will come if Doumbouya defies the odes and actually does dramatically improve the livelihoods of Guineans and makes reforms that leave him looking better than the “democratically elected” Ecowas leaders.
So here we are in Guinea. We are seeing the hens cheering as the fox takes over guard duty at the henhouse. When that happens, it doesn’t tell you how good the fox is. No. It reveals how desperate the hens’ situation is.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. @cobbo3