Guinea’s ruling junta is facing a tough choice: keep ousted president Alpha Conde detained, ignoring international demands for clemency, or free a powerful leader who could seek revenge.
A recent military putsch ended Conde’s rule in the West African country, coming after months of tension over his decision to seek a third presidential term last year.
Special forces led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya rebelled on September 5, assaulting the presidential palace and capturing 83-year-old Conde.
They quickly dissolved the government and installed a military junta, citing rights abuses under Conde.
But the coup sparked broad diplomatic outrage and led to calls for Conde’s immediate release, including from the United Nations, the African Union and the West Africa bloc ECOWAS.
Guinea’s ruling military has promised to keep the former leader safe, but their plans for Conde are unclear.
The ex-president’s political opponents appear to want him to stay under lock and key — wary of his fierce reputation and close links to some African leaders.
“We think that Mr. Alpha Conde should at first stay with the junta, for security reasons — for Guinea, but also for himself,” said Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, a spokesman for the opposition collective FNDC.
“We all know the friendship he has with some heads of state in the sub-region. We know that he is rich and has all the means to want to return to power,” he added.
Former prime minister and opposition figure Cellou Dalein Diallo also said that releasing Conde could be problematic.
“Knowing Mr. Alpha Conde, I am not sure he can remain calm,” he told AFP.
Free ‘in principle’
ECOWAS envoys, sent to Guinea’s capital Conakry in the aftermath of the coup, saw Conde on Friday and reported him to be in good health.
It was the first news of the former president since the day of the coup, when a video showed a rumpled-looking Conde sitting on a sofa, in jeans and a partly unbuttoned shirt, surrounded by troops.
After the visit by the delegation from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Guinea’s stand-in foreign minister Fanta Cisse spoke of an agreement “in principle” to release Conde.
She said it was “difficult to answer immediately a request” to free the ex-president, but that “the principle is recognised”.
The issue is sensitive, and raises questions of what will happen to Conde after he is released and whether he will stay in Guinea.
An official close to the ECOWAS delegation said Conde had insisted that he “is still the president” and that he must be reinstated.
Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015.
But last year, Conde pushed through a new constitution that allowed him to run for a third term in October 2020.
The move triggered mass demonstrations in which dozens of protesters were killed. Conde won the election but the political opposition maintained the poll was a sham.
Many Guineans hold the former president responsible for the violence.
FNDC Abdoulaye Oumou Sow said there must be a “right to justice, a right to restitution.”
Asmaou Diallo, a member of an association representing victims of a 2009 massacre, said she wanted Conde to go on trial.
The ex-president let victims down, she said, referring to the lack of investigation into a massacre that saw troops under former army strongman Moussa Dadis Camara kill at least 157 protesters and rape dozens of women.
Diallo said she hoped junta leader Doumbouya would uphold his post-coup promise that justice will be the “compass that guides every citizen”.
Conde must “be held accountable because impunity must end,” she said.
However, Souleymane Keita, an MP from Conde’s RPG party, warned against “settling scores”.
“Naturally, Mr. Conde must be released, unconditionally. Good governance and justice were the credos of our politics,” he said.