Members of the Guinean military attempted to seize power hours after the death of President Lansana Conté, who has ruled the African nation since 1984. But the situation on the ground remained unclear Tuesday night with conflicting reports as to the importance of the rebel movement.
In a radio announcement on Tuesday, a military commander said the government had been dissolved, along with the country’s key institutions.
“From today, the Constitution is suspended, as well as all political and union activity,” said Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, reading a communiqué on Radio Conakry. He said a “consulting council” would soon be put in place, “composed of civil and military” representatives.
The president of the National Assembly, Aboubacar Sompare, confirmed the rebel activity in a telephone interview with FRANCE 24. “There has indeed been an attempted coup,” he said. “But it is still hanging in the balance, for there appear to be different movements within their camp.” Nor is the army united behind the mutineers. “It’s a group. I can’t say how many they are, but in any case the majority of the armed forces remain loyal to the state.”
Guinea’s armed forces chief meanwhile told FRANCE 24 that they were a minority. “They are not the majority in the army," said General Diarra Camara.
But Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré insisted on French radio RFI that the government was still in place. “The government has not been dissolved,” he said. “We are currently working on organising the president’s funeral.”
‘The Constitution is suspended’
In the event of a president’s death, article 34 of the Constitution confers interim power on the National Assembly. The assembly must then organise elections within 60 days. But that's not what happened.
Overnight Tuesday, it was Mr Sompare who announced on national television that Conté, 74, had died. Mr Souaré then asked the president of the Supreme Court to acknowledge the power vacuum and apply the measures prescribed in the country’s Constitution. With the coup attempt, the army took effective control of the situation.
The mutineers, representing themselves as the “National Council for Democracy and Development” (CNDD), demanded that “government members and all departmental officers” report to the country’s main military camp in Conakry “in order to assure their security”.
“It remains to be seen which faction of the army, which ethnicity, comes out on top,” says Emmanuel Goujon, AFP correspondent for FRANCE 24 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “The army is very divided and President Conté used this division as an instrument of power.”
FRANCE 24 spoke to Guinean journalist Maseco Condé, who runs the local Temps Info. Describing manoeuvres by the military at the entrance of Conakry, where government buildings are located, Condé said most Guineans “remained in their homes as events unfolded”. He added, “one is never sure what might happen tomorrow.”
The African Union (AU) was quick to express its concern following the army’s announcement. “We urge the country’s political forces and all state institutions, particularly the military, to work towards guaranteeing a peaceful and constitutional transition that respects the democratic order,” said the AU’s commissioner for peace and security, Ramtane Lamamra.
‘He speaks on behalf of a group’
Moussa Dadis Camara, the officer who read the statement on Radio Conakry, is so far known as the man in charge of fuel in the army’s Supply Corps. “There has been no mention of him replacing President Conté. He speaks on behalf of a group,” said Mr Condé. “He spoke of the country’s problems, namely violence and corruption.”
Indeed, social issues featured prominently in the announcement. Pointing to the country’s “catastrophic economic situation” and “the deep despair of the population”, the military blamed the government for “the embezzlement of public funds, the widespread corruption, the impunity in government, and the anarchy reigning throughout the state machinery.”
“The government hasn’t been equal to the country’s economic potential,” the former Guinean prime minister and current opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, told FRANCE 24. “The poor governance and the lack of rigour in managing public funds, particularly since 2000, have been the hallmarks of Conté’s regime.”