Mali: Is Guinea’s Doumbouya taking a risk to support Goïta?

By Diawo Barry
Posted on Thursday, 13 January 2022 10:04

Mamady Doumbouya after a meeting with the Ecowas delegation in Conakry, 10 September 2021. © Sunday Alamba/AP/SIPA

Guinea's Mamadi Doumbouya has decided not to respect the sanctions that Ecowas has put in place against Mali, as it is keeping its borders with its neighbour open. Is this a gesture of solidarity between putschists or is Conakry taking a gamble?

“Guinea and Mali are two lungs of the same body.” This expression, which underlines the two neighbours’ geographical proximity and dates back to the reins of Sékou Touré and Modibo Keita, perfectly describes Conakry’s current situation. Even the national television station, RTG, published an editorial about the shared history of the two countries, which once belonged to Soundiata Keïta’s Mandingo empire.

Conakry invoked both the past and present in the aftermath of Ecowas’ 4th Extraordinary Summit on Mali, (held on 9 January), to express its solidarity with Bamako, which was heavily sanctioned. The Guinean authorities have adopted a stance in opposition to the rest of the sub-region, which agreed to condemn Mali’s desire to extend its transition period from “six months to five years.” Harsh sanctions – border closures, freezing Mali’s assets, suspending trade – were then introduced.

Guinea was not involved in making these decisions, according to a press release issued by the ruling Comité National de Rassemblement pour le Développement (CNRD) on 10 January. The country itself was the scene of a coup on 5 September and was suspended from the organisation three days after Mamadi Doumbouya overthrew Alpha Condé.

“As a result,” says the text signed by Colonel Sadiba Koulibaly, the army’s chief of staff, “the CNRD reaffirms that Guinea’s air, land and sea borders remain open to all sister countries, in accordance with its pan-Africanist vision.”

Solidarity between putschists

“When your neighbour’s house is burning, help him quickly put out the fire, lest he attack your own,” says the adage. Has Conakry adopted this position as an act of solidarity with the putschists who are facing the same sanctions and isolation? “Exactly! Guinea is in an uncomfortable position,” says political scientist Kabinet Fofana.

They are making a mistake by thinking that they do not have to respect Ecowas’ decisions. Moreover, Mamadi Doumbouya has not cut all ties with the organisation. He continues to meet with the organisation’s ambassadors and even sent emissaries to the December summit.

“The CNRD’s ambivalent attitude is consistent with its diplomatic positioning: on the one hand, it rejects sending an Ecowas emissary. On the other hand, the president of the transition government received the ambassadors of Ecowas member countries (for an end-of-year dinner). The CNRD seems to be anticipating decisions that will soon be taken against it.”

Ecowas’ firm stance against Mali seems like a warning to Guinea. And not respecting the sub-region’s decisions could cost it dearly, says Fofana.

“Guinea is obliged to respect Ecowas’ decisions, in accordance with the principle of extraterritoriality. That is to say that even when you are suspended from an organisation, you are required to apply their decisions. I believe that Ecowas could sanction Guinea for not respecting a resolution that it has adopted. They are making a mistake by thinking that they do not have to respect Ecowas’ decisions. Moreover, Mamadi Doumbouya has not cut all ties with the organisation. He continues to meet with the organisation’s ambassadors and even sent emissaries to the December summit.”

Winning hearts

So why take such a risk? There is a long list of reasons: Assimi Goïta and Doumbouya are friends, Guinea and Mali are geographically close, political opportunism, the fact that the two countries are going through similar situations and economic realism.

In terms of commercial transactions, Conakry is one of its neighbour’s “natural ports”, without access to the sea. Even though recently, the state of the first national road, which is currently under construction, has resulted in traffic slowing down, thus impacting large Malian trucks.

But Doumbouya, who dreamed of “making love to Guinea” when he came to power, may also be hoping to win hearts with his heterodox position. More and more Guineans, as well as the rest of the sub-region, are criticising Ecowas’ decision and backing Goïta.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options