After a decade in power, President Alpha Conde’s bid for a third term has sparked a year of harshly repressed protests.
Elite soldiers who staged an uprising in Guinea’s capital have announced a nationwide curfew “until further notice” and the replacement of regional governors by the military.
The soldiers also said in a statement read out over national television they would convene President Conde’s cabinet ministers and other top officials at 11:00 GMT on Monday in Conakry.
After seizing state television the day before, the mutinous soldiers had vowed to restore democracy in a statement read out by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya.
“The duty of a soldier is to save the country,” read Doumbouya, who sat draped in a Guinean flag flanked by six other soldiers in uniform.
“The personalisation of political life is over. We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people,” Doumbouya said, adding that the constitution and government would also be dissolved and borders closed for one week.
Doumbouya, who has headed a special forces unit in the military, said he was acting in the best interests of the nation of more than 12.7 million people. Not enough economic progress has been made since independence from France in 1958, the colonel said.
“If you see the state of our roads, if you see the state of our hospitals, you realise that after 72 years, it’s time to wake up,” he said. “We have to wake up.”
Late on Sunday, the defence ministry had claimed briefly that the attempted uprising had been put down, saying in a statement that the group of attackers had been repelled.
Earlier on Sunday, unverified videos shared on social media appeared to show President Alpha Conde surrounded by soldiers. His whereabouts were unclear.
This followed earlier reports of heavy gunfire in Conakry near the presidential palace.
The events drew concern and condemnation from regional and international observers, including United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said he strongly condemned “any takeover of the government by force” and called for Conde’s immediate release.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened to impose sanctions after what its chairman, Ghana’s President Nana Akuffo-Addo, called an attempted coup, while the African Union said it would meet urgently and take “appropriate measures”.
The United States said violence and any extra-constitutional measures would only erode Guinea’s prospects for peace, stability and prosperity.
“The United States condemns today’s events in Conakry,” the Department of State said in a statement. “These actions could limit the ability of the United States and Guinea’s other international partners to support the country as it navigates a path toward national unity and a brighter future for the Guinean people.”
Situation remains fluid
Guinean journalist Youssouf Bah told Al Jazeera the situation is fluid.
“Since the coup plotters’ statements on the national television, the opposition supporters have taken to the streets and thousands of youth are dancing, welcoming them,” he said, speaking from Conakry.
Bah described Doumbouya as a “popular military officer among most of the presidential guard”.
“The city is divided,” he added. “One part is supporting the coup plotters, and the other part has clashes between different groups. So it’s very difficult to understand exactly what is happening.”
Videos shared on social media had earlier shown military vehicles patrolling Conakry’s streets and one military source said a bridge connecting the city to the Kaloum neighbourhood, where the palace and most government ministries are located, had been sealed off.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar in neighbouring Senegal, said troops had been deployed in downtown Conakry and ordered residents over loudspeakers to remain indoors.
Haque said the area near the Hotel Kaloum was the scene of the shooting and President Conde was reportedly nearby at the time.
“This comes a week after the national parliament voted an increase in budget for the presidency and parliamentarians, but a substantial decrease for those working in the security services like the police and the military.”
Conde won a third presidential term in a violently disputed election last October after pushing through a new constitution in March 2020 which allowed him to sidestep the country’s two-term limit, provoking mass protests.
Dozens of people were killed during demonstrations, often in clashes with security forces. Hundreds were arrested.
Conde, 83, was then proclaimed president on November 7 last year – despite complaints of electoral fraud from his main challenger Cellou Dalein Diallo and other opposition figures.
A former opposition activist himself, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and won re-election in 2015 before doing so again last year. Critics, however, accuse him of veering towards authoritarianism.
Haque said the growing discontent with Conde was rooted in his inability to unite the population – the majority of who are Fulanis but are ruled by the minority Malinke ethnic group.
“It’s interesting to see officers go to the national television on social media calling for unity and the reason being is because the military remains divided,” he said. “There are still members that support Alpha Conde and will go out of their way to defend the president.”
Colonel Mamady Doumbouya is himself a member of the Malinke group.
Guinea has witnessed sustained economic growth during Conde’s decade in power thanks to its bauxite, iron ore, gold and diamond wealth, but few of its citizens have seen the benefits.