The Story of Secret Events Behind Alpha Condé’s Downfall
One week after former Guinean President Alpha Condé was easily toppled and captured, François Soudan of Jeune Afrique Magazine lays bare how Lieutenant Mamady Doumbouya took over the palace and captured Alpha Condé. This story is a look behind the scenes and characters of the coup d’état that ended the reign of the Guinean “solitary old man”.
Why was Alpha Condé captured so easily?
The Sékhoutouréya presidential palace, on the Kaloum peninsula, in Conakry, is surrounded by a triple security layer made of soldiers from the Autonomous Presidential Security Battalion (BASP), based at Camp Makambo, in the Boulbinet district. Yet in the early morning of Sunday, September 5th, a small detachment of red berets managed to bypass the three checkpoints along the avenue leading to the Guinean Presidential palace entrance gate where some guards were still slumbering.
BASP soldiers are loyal troops to President Alpha Condé – some of them come from the civilian security protection of Condé’s Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinée (RPG) political party. Neither do they have the appropriate training to be presidential guards, nor do they have the weapons needed for the task. French General Bruno Clément-Bollée worked extensively on restructuring the Guinean army upon Alpha Condé’s request. He believes that Sékhoutouréya was “one of the most poorly guarded presidential palaces in West Africa. If we compare it with the protective setup of the Plateau Palace in Abidjan, it’s like day and night,” the French general said.
That Sunday, Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya headed straight for Kaloum from his Kaleya base in Forécariah, in Lower Guinea, 85 km away, from the palace he was about to attack. The Colonel had a column of about fifty trucks and pick-ups armed with 12.7 mm machine guns. Around 8 am, he engaged his entire Group of Special Forces (GFS), about 500 highly trained soldiers. The heavily armed group took the position in front of the Makambo military camp to block any exit of the reinforcements of the Presidential Guard. Meanwhile, the rest of Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya’s troops, including the 8602 Special Unit boys trained by the French and the Israelis, headed for Sekhoutouréya palace with the fire support of an armored vehicle and several mortars.
Alpha Condé, a notorious insomniac, slept at the first light dawn that Sunday. A few days earlier, Alpha Condé returned from Sardinia in France (on a stay that had nothing to do with medical treatment), upon the invitation of his friend and Italo-Eritrean entrepreneur Makonnen Asmaron. Together, they prepared the official visit to Conakry of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki scheduled for September 9th.
In the quiet palace built by the Chinese during Lansana Conté’s era, 83-year-old Alpha Condé is a solitary old man. His wife and First Lady, Djene Kaba, is away in another residence. Her only son, Mohamed, is in San José, Costa Rica. Five or six bodyguards in civilian clothes are routinely on the watch, on the ground floor, and in front of the bay window that serves as the front door. Alpha Condé’s office and bedroom are upstairs. That is where Lt. Col. Mamadou Alpha Kaloko, commander of the Autonomous Presidential Security Battalion Corps, who rushed to Sekhoutouréya with a handful of men from the first shots, came to find Alpha Condé to inform him of the situation.
While the Autonomous Presidential Security Battalion Corps Commander was briefing President Condé, the confrontation went fierce and deadly and deadly in the premises of the Sekhoutouréya palace. In the gunfire exchange, around 20 presidential guards were killed, including Colonel Yemoiba Camara, Alpha Condé’s close protection commander, and at least two members of the GFS. Then, guided by a BASP defector familiar with the place, the coup plotters blew up the bay window and rushed upstairs to the first floor.
Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya and his men first neutralized Presidential Security Battalion Corps Commander Mamadou Alpha Kaloko. The plotters then arrested President Alpha Condé, whom they handcuffed after threatening him (“If you move, we shoot you!“).
The soldiers brought Alpha Condé downstairs to a living room where they filmed and photographed him. Apparently in shock and surprised by the fast occurring of his downfall, Condé looked stunned, distraught, and struggled to contain his anger. Those were the images that went viral worldwide, strangely recalling the pictures of the haggard Gbagbo couple during their capture in April 2011. As the coup plotters got ready to leave the palace, Alpha Condé was flanked by his kidnappers in the back seat of a Suv with all windows open through the streets of Conakry.
During the unfolding events at the palace, eyewitnesses said Doumbouya’s men searched every corner and had no difficulty finding some bags of huge cash squatting Condés palace like most of his counterparts on the African continent. Alpha Conde kept them in his room and his office.
Almost everywhere in the Guinean capital, and particularly in Alpha Condé’s opposition stronghold, scenes of jubilation follow the appearance of the first pictures of Alpha Condé in captivity shared through cell phones. Predictably, the offices of the Ministry of Communication, the headquarters of the government newspaper Horoya, the premises of the now ex-ruling party, the RPG, and the office of the electoral commissions were attacked and often vandalized by happy anti-Condé crowds.
The Minister of Defense, Mohamed Diané, a very close buddy to Alpha Condé, believed the loyal forces could launch a counter-attack and restore Condé to power with the support of some “faithful” regiment paratroopers, and the gendarmerie.
But the arrest of President Condé and the immediate sharing on social media of pictures depicting his absolute detention by the Special Forces caught the Conakry military upper hierarchy by surprise and paralyzed soldiers of the ranks. One after another, the military camps in Conakry, followed by other barracks in the country’s hinterland, rallied to the coup d’état.
The Special Forces commando quickly sealed Alpha Condé’s faith with ease since Mamady Doumbouya is a Malinké from Kankan, the same ethnic group as the President, his Minister of Defense, and most senior military officers.
Why did Alpha Condé have Blind trust in Mamady Doumbouya?
Alpha Condé was always wary of the Guinean soldiers. He fought them for twenty-five years while in the opposition, risking his life for democracy. Consequently, Condé reformed and professionalized the Guinean army when he became President during his first and second mandates. But Condé had a wrong assessment when he believed that the Guinean military suddenly became a Republican army in the strict sense of the term. “The army can kill me, but they cannot run me down,” Condé kept saying.
Condé was a very cautious President and always avoided confronting senior military officers with problematic behavior. Moreover, his loyal minister of Defence, Mohamed Diané, was there always to point out any renegade military officer so that Condé kept them away. Generals Edouard Théa and Aboubacar Sidiki Camara, alias “Idi Amin,” were thus sent as ambassadors to Angola and Cuba respectively, in January 2019.
A blend of overrated self-confidence and leniency caused poor judgment, if not the blindness of Alpha Condé towards Mamady Doumbouya.
Aboubacar Sidiki Camara, alias “Idi Amin,” was said to be a mentor to Doumbouya (although it is not clear when they knew each other). First, “Idi Amin” recommended Doumbouya through the Guinean ambassador in Paris, Amara Camara. When Doumbouya met the ambassador, he told him he wanted to serve his country. Then, in 2012, general “Idi Amin,” who was commander of the Guinean gendarmerie and first aid of the Minister of Defense, introduced Mamady Doumbouya to Alpha Condé in Conakry after multiple failed attempts. As a result, Condé accepted Doumbouya and assigned him to be the Autonomous Presidential Security Battalion Corps instructor about to be formed.
Doumbouya, a 37-year-old strong man with an impeccable operational CV – French Foreign Legion, foreign operations in Afghanistan and Ivory Coast, commando training courses in Israel, Gabon, and Senegal – immediately appealed to President Condé, who loves throwing sights set on new talent.
Moreover, this friendly and respectful non-commissioned officer, married to a Frenchwoman, is a Malinké like him, a son of Kankan. So why not trust him, even if it means doing everything and biting a finger? An obstinate Condé trusted his judgment to the core.
Fascinated by his newly found elite soldier, Alpha Condé sent Doumbouya to the Paris War School to fast-track courses. Condé has a specific project: his Special Force Corps, about to be given birth, is intended to secure Guinea’s northern borders against jihadist incursions. And Condé wants the former legionary (Dumbouya) to command it.
Back in Conakry, Mamady Doumbouya enjoyed a meteoric rise; from a Captain to a commander and then lieutenant-colonel in two years. On October 2nd, 2018, when soldiers of the GFS parade hooded in the Guinea national stadium for the country’s sixtieth independence anniversary, they struck the minds with an ultra-slow pace march of the special forces (28 steps per minute). Guineans were amazed, and Alpha Condé proudly leaned to ask one of his guests, Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, a former parachute officer: “Do you have anything like this?”
Condé immediately shared pictures of his Special Forces parade with friends using his four or five cell phones. A few days later, Condé proudly bragged and laughed on a Guinean television, saying: “Have you seen them? All Guinean women fell in love with Doumbouya. Unfortunately for them, he is already married! ”
Alpha Condé Ignored Key Intelligence on Doumbouya
That Mamady Doumbouya was the brain behind the coup d’état did not surprise the entourage of Alpha Condé. For months, the President chose to ignore the “grim notes” in his intelligence services briefings. While they reported several alleged comments of Doumbouya, who was growing a very popular officer among his troops, Alpha Condé chose to ignore them.
Some of these briefings were anecdotal: one reported instances where Doumbouya complained in a supermarket about the poor quality of imported wines.
Other briefings were more worrying, as they reported critical opinions of Doumbouya on public governance. The officer made his opinion known to an audience of VIPs in a Conakry spot frequented by soldiers of the Guinean contingent of Minusma in Mali during their stays on leave. On the same occasion, Doumbouya displayed his disdain as regards the operational capacities of the Guinean “ordinary” army.
All the intelligence briefings to Alpha Condé point to Mamady Doumbouya’s unflinching strong friendship with General “Idi Amin,” despite the latter being silent in his Cuban diplomatic exile. The intelligence briefings also warned President Condé about the risk of turning the Special Forces into the best-armed unit of the Guinean defense forces.
In April 2020, the growing disagreements between Lieutenant-Colonel Doumbouya and Alpha Condé’s most trusted Defence minister Mohamed Diané fueled rumors in the Guinean media. With the presidential election fast coming, in a particularly tense context, Mamady Doumbouya refused to relocate the operational base of his Special Forces from Conakry to Kaleya, not far from Forécariah.
Instead, Doumbouya demanded that his unit remains in the Guinean capital to secure the polls on election day. Defence Minister Diané, who found Doumbouya’s insistence suspicious, asked President Alpha Condé to arbitrate.
Although Alpha Condé accepted the relocation idea of Diané, he made an essential concession to Doumbouya: the Special Forces will preserve a small Unit in Kaloum, near the Conakry October 12th Garden and the Parliament People’s Palace.
Ironically, Condé is currently detained in the very building hosting the small unit of the Special Forces he conceded the existence to Doumbouya.
Alpha Condé believed that he needed to strengthen his Presidential guard. So in early 2021, around 100 young people were sent for training to Soronkoni camp near Kankan, under the leadership of Turkish instructors sent by Condé’s friend President Erdogan.
Yet, he stubbornly refused to dismiss Doumbouya. On the contrary, Condé told his entourage he could not imagine that the Doumbouya could attempt anything against him as Doumbouya owes his five stripes of lieutenant-colonel to him, Condé.
While in Conakry less than two months ago, Bruno Clément-Bollée noticed the strange atmosphere in the relationship between President Condé and his army heads: “I had never seen such a cold political climate, so calm, so sluggish. And at the same time, all insiders wondered about the intentions of the special forces and their leader. ”
Why is Alpha Condé’s Downfall of Little Concern to his Pairs?
Apart from the principle of condemnation – so dear to the international community – and the concern about his fate expressed by the Ivorian, Togolese, and Congolese presidents, or the fears by his former International Socialist comrade Antonio Gutteres, no one has explicitly demanded the immediate return to constitutional order or that Alpha Condé take back the Guinean presidency.
On the contrary, while the French-speaking media “covered” the event, their English-speaking counterparts in the subregion were more interested in the tenfold increase in bauxite price, of which Guinea is the world’s largest producer.
Many perceive Alpha Condé as a complex, unfriendly, and difficult Pan-African older man in the West African region and elsewhere around the globe. He was too distant from anyone and too far away from what remains in his circle of friends. So what could Angolan President Lourenço, his South African friend Ramaphosa or his Eritrean colleague Afwerki do for Condé? How may Turkish leader Erdogan, Chinese president Xi Jinping or Russian leader Putin oppose the coup? There is no need to mention the French President Emmanuel Macron, whom Alpha Condé had been cold since the French leader criticized Condé’s bloodstained third term.
The Lust of Solitary Decision Making
To this relativistic context, one could add Alpha Condé’s repeated faults of solitary governance. The micro-management in handling public affairs had ended up concentrating everything in his palms. As a result, Condé listened to very little and controlled everything. In reality, Condé trusted only Condé. He was obsessed with the future of a Guinea that he only pegged to his body.
As described by Clément-Bollée, there was agitation and high tension even in the ruling party. The crack between Alpha Condé and his Prime Minister, a very ambitious Kassory Fofana, was imminent. As heads of the army and the gendarmerie, Generals Namory Traoré and Ibrahima Baldé were silent and inactive during the coup d’état, which raised questions. Before that, the two did not hide their dissatisfaction with the budget cut affecting their troops and the particular restrain about their official vehicles’ renewal.
Aware of this discontent, Alpha Condé had vowed to address their concern. On September 4th, on the eve of the putsch, Alpha Condé had dinner with some foreign guests in Sékhoutouréya. Explaining his housing program for all and describing his vision of Guinea, the President stunned his audience: “I am going to defund the army and loosen its budget. There is no need to create problems”.
Alpha Condé did not know that while he was speaking, Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya was near his palace and had already taken up position around and within the Kaloum hotel, a vast four-star complex built by the Chinese and inaugurated in October. 2018, a few hundred meters from the Presidential palace.
Did Lieutenant-Colonel Doumbouya act because he felt the noose tightening around him? And above all, did he operate alone or under an external influence?
In a country where the core fabric of the society is still very strongly marked by tribal and community connections, Colonel Doumbouya is Malinké, like 90% of his men. This may partly explain the lack of reaction from supporters of Alpha Condé and his party, RPG. It is the third successful coup d’etat in the history of Guinea after the coups that took Lansana Conté and Moussa Dadis Camara to power.
What happens next remains the equation as it could end in political and economic disaster or fundamental change. But the fact remains evident that Guinean soldiers in power have always used instead of serving. As for Alpha Condé, his future is dotted. This was his second arrest by the army after 1998, when he was jailed for two and a half years.
While Conakry’s new strongman, Mamady Doumbouya, is expected to guarantee his physical integrity at a minimum, the option of an exile is yet an off corridor discussion. Besides, where would Condé go. Old political wrestler Condé only owns a small apartment away from Guinea at Place d’Italie in Paris. He acquired it while he was still an opposition figure.
From his detention, one can imagine Condé being deeply wounded in his pride, overwhelmed by betrayals, and determined to keep his brittle and authoritarian dignity afloat. After all, that’s how he always served his compass, even if it means that it leads him to a dead end. The time for self-criticism will come later.