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Army reform in Guinea: Will Mamady Doumbouya succeed where Alpha Condé failed?

By Marième Soumaré
Posted on Monday, 4 October 2021 12:21

Mamady Doumbouya at the 28 September Stadium. Afrik.Com

As soon as he came to power, Alpha Condé made it his mission to reform Guinea's army. However, the military ended up bringing him down and is now in charge of the transition government. History seems to be repeating itself.

It is a sad anniversary that Mamady Doumbouya has not forgotten. On 28 September, the new Guinean head of state visited the Stade du 28 Septembre where, 12 years earlier, at least 150 demonstrators were killed and 100 women raped by the red berets.

As usual, the lieutenant colonel remained silent. “We have gathered here to pray in remembrance of all Guineans,” said Colonel Amara Camara, his spokesman.

On 28 September 2009, thousands of people turned up to demonstrate against junta leader and Captain Mousa Dadis Camara’s decision to run in the presidential election. According to a UN commission of enquiry, the military had premeditated the massacre. Since then, the victims have continued to call for a trial.

Forgetting bad memories

Doumbouya is not expected to run in the elections that will mark the end of a transition government whose exact objectives are still unknown. In fact, the new transitional charter that the country adopted on 27 September clearly states that neither the members of the Comité National de Rassemblement pour le Développement (CNRD) nor those of the Conseil National de Transition (CNT) will be able to run in the next presidential election.

Since his accession to power, Doumbouya has been trying to forget the very bad memories linked to Dadis Camara’s regime. In 2008 – when he succeeded Lansana Conté, shortly after the latter’s death – the Guinean army had a very bad reputation. Authoritarian regimes used it as a tool of repression and, as such, it was seen as corrupt and undisciplined. The Conseil National pour la Démocratie et le Développement (CNDD), led by Dadis Camara, came to power following the army’s split.

At the time, he knew how to play on this politicisation of the troops, by buying officers’ support in exchange for benefits in kind and protection. His presidential guard was mostly made up of young soldiers from Forest Guinea, his home region. He was also an expert when it came to making spontaneous and irregular appointments, propelling those close to him from the rank of simple officer to that of minister, governor or even prefect.

Professionalisation

More than a decade has passed since then. The army reform that was initiated by Sékouba Konaté, president of the transition government, was taken up by Alpha Condé, who is still being held by the military that overthrew him on 5 September.

After the shock that was the 28 September 2009 massacre, the Guinean army was ordered to become republican and separate itself from its ‘black sheep’.

Immediately after his election, Condé got the military out of the political sphere and back to their barracks, redeployed some battalions to their territory and retired some 4,000 soldiers. He increased budgets, intensified the administration’s demilitarisation and became more demanding when it came to recruitment.

“Before, the army was a fallback for those who had failed out of school. Little by little, recruitment has evolved and the army has become more professional,” says a former soldier.

It is no coincidence that the CNRD is made up of qualified and well-trained men, including Doumbouya – who has been training abroad since 2010 – and some of the men who make up his inner circle, such as General Aboubacar Sidiki Camara (aka Idi Amin), Colonel Balla Samoura and his own spokesman, Amara Camara.

“The aim of the security sector reform was also to offer better training to the military, in Guinea or abroad, particularly through UN training, to enable them to rise in rank,” Anna Dessertine, a researcher, tells us in an interview. The specialist adds that a rise in rank may have caused ‘inter-generational tension’ and frustration among the elders.

A well-armed monster

This reform was supported at the time by Western partners, led by France. General Bruno Clément-Bollée, head of the Direction de la Coopération de Sécurité et de Défense (DCSD), was sent to the field. In 2016, the French Foreign Affairs Commission authorised a defence cooperation agreement between Paris and Conakry. However, it had some reservations.

“The Guinean army retains a ‘Soviet’ nature in some respects, as it has an extremely centralised operation and surveillance posts spread throughout the country. Additionally, it has a non-existent human resources management system and a very weak chain of command,” says the bill’s rapporteur. France has stopped all military cooperation with Guinea ever since the latest coup.

The creation of the Special Forces, an elite battalion that was financed directly by the presidency, was a response to Condé’s need to strengthen and professionalise his army. It also received the blessing of foreign partners, who believed that this unit would be able to fight drug trafficking and terrorism.

“With the Special Forces, Alpha Condé has created an extremely well-armed monster,” says a member of the former government team.

It is not an army, it is military units. Alpha Condé has also played on the divisions that exist within the fractured country that is Guinea.”

This source believes that Doumbouya’s rise to power is the result of ‘two major complexes’ of the deposed head of state, who was as much in awe of his protégé’s French experience as he was of his Malinke background.

“It is wrong to believe that the Guinean army has become totally republican,” says a connoisseur of the defence and security forces. “It is not an army, it is military units. Alpha Condé has also played on the divisions that exist within the fractured country that is Guinea.”

Democracy’s watchdog?

Very quickly, after the 5 September coup, the army seemed to rally behind Doumbouya. As early as 7 September, this support was made official at a meeting that was organised between the CNRD and the military at Camp Almamy Samory Touré, which is also the headquarters of the ministry of defence and the army staff.

“The military has mourned the president,” says a former member of the government team; and they have lined up behind Doumbouya, who is now preparing to appoint the prime minister and the government as well as the CNT’s 81 national councillors.

“Mamady Doumbouya is developing a rupturous discourse that resonates with the public and at the same time evokes a certain inclusiveness. We can see that he wants to reassure everyone, but this transition government raises the question of what kind of role the army can play in public life,” says Kabinet Fofana, a political scientist. “Can the army play the role of watchdog for democracy, orthodoxy and governance? Can it be this transition government’s compass and watchdog?”

After countless years, during which the army was governed by political logic, many people are now wondering whether soldiers who committed abuses will remain unpunished. By paying his respects at the 28 September stadium, did Doumbouya intend to give the beginning of an answer to this question?

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