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Will Mamady Doumbouya Succeed where Alpha Conde failed to reform Guinea’s army

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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