Less than a year into his controversial third term in office, Guinea’s president, Alpha Condé, was ousted last week in a military coup. Citing rising corruption and poor economic performance, coup leader Col. Mamady Doumbouya, once a confidant of the president, promised a “national unity government” and a “new era for governance and economic development.”
Doumbouya’s pledges suggest he may have been listening to the complaints of ordinary Guineans. An Afrobarometer survey in November/December 2019 signaled that Guineans were increasingly unhappy about mounting corruption and economic mismanagement in their country.
But the findings also show that Guineans are resiliently pro-election, pro-democracy and anti-authoritarian.
Many Guineans felt the country was off track
In late 2019, only about one-third (36 percent) of Guineans thought the country was going in the right direction, compared with 64 percent who saw it on the wrong track. Perceptions of corruption were rising steeply (Figure 1): 63 percent said it had increased “somewhat” or “a lot” in the past year, while 81 percent said the government was doing a “fairly bad” or “very bad” job of fighting it, a 27-point jump since 2013. Perceptions that “most” or “all” officials in the office of the president were corrupt had nearly doubled in just four years, rising from 26 percent to 47 percent.
Meanwhile, the government received poor marks for its overall performance. Seven in 10 citizens (72 percent) said it was doing a poor job of managing the economy. Respondents rated the government even lower on improving the living standards of the poor (85 percent disapproval), creating jobs (89 percent) and narrowing income gaps (90 percent). Government performance ratings worsened over the decade across virtually every sector, sometimes by wide margins.
Guineans’ satisfaction with their political system also took a hit, dropping from 56 percent of respondents who said they were “fairly” or “very” content with the way democracy works in 2017 to just 29 percent in 2019.
Most Guineans support term limits
Condé took office in 2010, becoming Guinea’s first democratically elected president after a half-century of authoritarian rule. In 2015, he was reelected to a second term. In 2019, he prepared to run for a third term, contrary to Guinea’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit for president — a limit that 76 percent of Guineans support, according to Afrobarometer survey findings.
Despite widespread and often deadly public protests, Condé successfully pushed forward a March 2020 referendum to change the constitutional term limits. With the campaign advantages that accrue to an incumbent, he went on to win Guinea’s October 2020 presidential election.
Popular disaffection with virtually all aspects of governance and Condé’s moves to secure an illegitimate third term thus set the stage for the Sept. 5 coup. International reaction followed within days: U.N. Secretary General António Guterres condemned the forceful takeover of government, and the African Union and Economic Community of West African States suspended Guinea’s membership in both regional bodies and demanded Condé’s release. But some opposition supporters reportedly celebrated Condé’s ouster, and the leader of Guinea’s main opposition party voiced support for the military takeover.
Support for democracy remains strong
While Guineans’ satisfaction with the performance of the Condé government was failing, their faith in the democratic system that initially brought him to power was not. Support for elections and democracy have remained strong over the past decade, as shown in Figure 2. More than three-fourths of Guineans (77 percent) supported democracy in 2019 — and 82 percent supported choosing their leaders through free and transparent elections.
They also consistently reject both military (77 percent) and strongman (79 percent) rule. In short, there is no sentiment among Guineans for throwing the democracy baby out with the bathwater.
How do Guineans feel about military rule?
In the course of six decades since independence in 1958, Guineans have endured several episodes of military rule. The question on everyone’s mind now is how long this round will last, and how much the public may resist.
Celebrations by coup supporters have been more subdued than after the coup in Mali a year ago, perhaps in part because the military in Guinea, unlike in neighboring Mali, does not enjoy especially strong public trust. While rated higher than other government institutions, Guinea’s military enjoys the trust of only a bare majority (52 percent), about the same level recorded in 2019 for the now-deposed president (50 percent), as shown in Figure 3.
Moreover, there was significant alignment in the 2019 survey results between those who trusted the president and those who trusted the military. In other words, a sizable share of the population (37 percent) both trusted the military and supported Condé, so the allegiances of many Guineans in the aftermath of this month’s coup may be unclear.
Another third of citizens (34 percent) trusted neither the military nor the president. This finding suggests there may be reason to question the depth of public support for the military’s actions, including the suspension of the constitution and assumption of power.
Afrobarometer surveys also highlight two resources that both the Guinean military and Guinean society could turn to in navigating the way forward. Guineans hold religious and traditional leaders in far higher esteem than government institutions, which suggests these leaders may have an important role to play in helping to reestablish a democratic government in Guinea.
Carolyn Logan (@carolynjlogan) is director of analysis for Afrobarometer and associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University.
Aliou Barry is executive director of Stat View International in Guinea. Among nonpartisan positions he has held, he served as a civil society representative and president of the electoral-processes commission in Guinea’s 2010-2014 transitional parliament.
Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny (@JAppiahNyamekye) is knowledge translation manager for Afrobarometer.