A coup in Guinea has toppled President Alpha Condé. Since early in the morning of 5 September, the Guinean presidential palace and its environs saw heavy gunfire. The putsch was carried out by the Special Forces Group, led by Mamady Doumbouya.
Mamady Doumbouya appeared on Radio-Télévision Guinéenne (RTG) on 5 September at 2pm. The lieutenant-colonel – who had a tricolour flag draped over his shoulders, while wearing a red beret and dressed in fatigues – was surrounded by eight of his men when he announced President Alpha Condé’s dismissal. The head of the Special Forces Group also declared that he had led this coup and proclaimed himself Guinea’s new strongman.
“We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people. There have been many deaths, injuries and tears for nothing,” he said, slamming the mismanagement, corruption and bad governance that had previously reigned in Guinea. He confirmed that the institutions have been suspended, that a new constitution will be drawn up and that the Comité National du Rassemblement et du Développement (CNRD) will govern during the transition period.
Doumbouya seems to have followed in the footsteps of Jerry Rawlings, the putschist father of Ghanaian democracy. He concluded by saying that “Guinea is beautiful. We don’t need to rape Guinea anymore, we just need to make love to her.” The colossus has now become a poet.
A few hours earlier, Doumbouya and his men had been much less gentle. At around 8am, they opened fire on the outskirts of Sékhoutouréya, where the head of state was staying. The Kaloum peninsula resounded with heavy fire, but the men of the Special Forces Group did not encounter much resistance. They managed to seize 83-year-old Condé, with whom they posed, without shedding a single drop of blood. Thus bringing an end to his 11 years in power.
What went through Condé’s mind when he saw Doumbouya arrive? What was he thinking when the soldier started parading him around the streets of Conakry like a glorious trophy? He had trusted him to the end, despite all the warnings, and helped him become one of the country’s most powerful military men.
Doumbouya was not at all a footsoldier, he was bombarded with a commander’s rank.
The man he created had turned against him.
It was a rapid ascent, as the lieutenant-colonel only returned to Conakry three years ago. On 20 October 2018, he and his men were the only ones present at the military parade that had been organised to celebrate Independence Day. Bedecked in sunglasses, balaclavas and marching at a slow and threatening pace, the special forces – which Condé had just created – made a strong impression.
This Malinke from Kankan had previously been based in France, where he married a French gendarmerie officer and had three children – he even acquired French nationality. He was trained at the École de Guerre in Paris, but also in Israel, Senegal as well as Gabon, and became a member of the Foreign Legion. He served missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Afghanistan and Djibouti, according to his official biography, and holds a master’s in “defence and industrial dynamics” from Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas.
Was the head of state seduced by this military man’s CV or his powers of persuasion? “Doumbouya was not at all a footsoldier, he was bombarded with a commander’s rank,” says someone well acquainted with the Guinean army. Doumbouya managed to get himself entrusted with the newly created Groupement des Forces Spéciales, an elite unit that was better equipped and trained than the others. Condé, who was already thinking about running for a third term at this point, wanted to turn it into a Praetorian Guard that would be able to prevent any dissent and ensure his power.
Obviously, the two men liked each other. Condé trusted Doumbouya. The group’s ranks grew from 200 men to some 500, which were stationed in Kalia, in the commune of Forécariah. As time went by, it became better armed and Doumbouya gained power.
In 2020, shortly before the tense presidential election, he asked if he could install a detachment of the special forces in Kaloum, in a wing of the People’s Palace. The President accepted, with no hint of uneasiness. But some of his entourage were worried. The detachment was now situated less than a kilometre away from Sékhoutouréya and a few minutes’ walk from Camp Samory Touré, the largest in the country, where defence minister Mohamed Diané’s offices are located. It is at the heart of power.
Diané was one of those who did not trust the lieutenant-colonel. For several months, the head of the special forces was trying to become independent. The putsch led by Assimi Goïta in August 2020 in Bamako reinforced these fears. This was a new potential relay for Doumbouya because, like other top brass in the sub-region, the two men had become close ever since meeting during the Flintlock exercise that the Americans had conducted in Burkina Faso in 2019.
Conakry’s corridors of power then started asking questions about the military’s intentions, as he appeared increasingly less loyal. After all, he had refused to answer the minister of defence’s latest summons.
Last May, a decision was made to create, with the support of Turkish military cooperation, another elite unit to counter the special forces’ influence: the Groupement d’Intervention Rapide (GIR). In recent months, feelings of mistrust had become so strong that rumours were circulating in Conakry about Doumbouya’s arrest. But the head of the special forces flexed his muscles. From then on, whenever he went to Conakry, he was always surrounded by many of his men.
Within chancelleries, it was noted that Doumbouya did not enjoy the military’s unanimous support. He was nicknamed by some “the Frenchman”, given he had recently arrived in Guinea and was the leader of a pampered unit.
Did the lieutenant-colonel stage a coup because he felt threatened? After all, he knew the noose was tightening and that it was crucial to obtain the rest of the army’s support. So far, the gamble seems to have paid off.
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