West Africa’s main regional bloc has suspended Guinea’s membership, days after a military coup that removed President Alpha Conde.
During an extraordinary virtual summit on Wednesday, leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded a return to the constitutional order and the immediate release of Conde, who was arrested by special forces led by Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya on Sunday.
“At the end of that mission, ECOWAS should be able to re-examine its position,” Alpha Barry, Burkina Faso’s foreign minister, told reporters in Ouagadougou after the meeting.
The bloc’s decision comes after the coup sparked broad diplomatic condemnation, but was also met jubilation in some parts of the capital, Conakry, where residents turned out on the streets to applaud passing soldiers.
The 83-year-old became the first democratically elected president in 2010 and was re-elected in 2015. But last year, Conde pushed through a constitutional change to allow himself to run for a third term, a move his opponents said was illegal. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara also won a third term last year after changing his country’s constitution.
ECOWAS was criticised at the time by activists for remaining silent about Conde and Ouattara’s third-term bids.
Elsewhere in the region, Mali’s military staged coups in August 2020 and then again in May this year. ECOWAS condemned the coups and temporarily imposed sanctions. It said on Tuesday it was concerned that Mali’s transitional government had not made sufficient progress towards organising elections next February as promised.
Reporting from Conakry, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris said ECOWAS’s decision to suspend Guinea was “a protocol we have seen over and over again”.
“Steps taken by ECOWAS, whenever there is an unconstitutional change in government … while the fear is such that unconstitutional change of government in West Africa could be a norm unless they take strategic steps and stern measures against people who organise coups to unconstitutionally unseat a democratically elected president in the region,” he added.
Doumbouya, Guinea’s coup leader, has pledged to install a unified, transitional government but has not said when or how that will happen.
In an apparent gesture to Conde’s civilian opponents, at least 80 political prisoners were released on Tuesday evening, many of whom had campaigned against the constitutional change.
Doumbouya also met the heads of Guinea’s various military branches for the first time on Tuesday, hoping to unify the country’s armed forces under the coup makers’ command.
Guinea’s main opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, who finished runner-up to Conde in three successive elections, told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that he would be open to participating in a transition back to constitutional governance.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, Conde’s party said it “noted the advent of new authorities at the head of the country” and called for the president’s swift and unconditional release.
Since the coup, life in the streets of Conakry appears to have returned to normal, with some military checkpoints removed.
Fears that the power struggle could hinder Guinea’s production of bauxite, a mineral used to make aluminium, have begun to ease. The country’s largest foreign operators continued to operate without disruption on Tuesday.
Aluminium hit a fresh 10-year high on Monday after news broke of unrest in Guinea, which holds the world’s largest bauxite reserves. Doumbouya has pledged that mining will continue unhindered.
Doumbouya, hours after taking power, appeared on television and accused the government of “endemic corruption” and of “trampling on citizens’ rights”.
“We are no longer going to entrust politics to one man, we are going to entrust politics to the people,” Doumbouya told public television on Sunday, with the national flag draped over his fatigues.
Analyst Paul Melly, from the Chatham House, said there are big challenges ahead for the new military rulers.
“[Doumbouya] is clearly saying all the rights thing now about a transition, about an inclusive political approach, reminding people of the need for the reforms, all the governance failures of the past,” he told Al Jazeera.
“But the real test is going to lie really in a couple of phases over the next few weeks,” he said.
“First of all, in his internal discussions, he has got to secure the acquiescence of a broad … political class and civil society in this transition. And although a lot of people are expressing relief … that’s not quite the same thing as signing up for all the details of the new transition.
“And the next stage will be a difficult negotiation with ECOWAS, which really has a pretty firm constitutional law that soldiers cannot take long term power by force.”
AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES