The main political and economic bloc in West Africa suspended Guinea’s membership on Wednesday following a weekend military coup that overthrew President Alpha Condé and inflicted the last of a series of setbacks to democracy in the region.
At a virtual summit, the leaders of the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded a return to constitutional order and the immediate release of Condé, and also agreed to ‘send a high-level mission to Guinea on Thursday, said Burkinabe Foreign Minister Alpha Barry.
“At the end of this mission, ECOWAS should be able to reconsider its position,” Barry told reporters.
He did not announce any immediate economic sanctions against Guinea, as ECOWAS imposed on Mali following a coup in August 2020.
Some experts say that ECOWAS influence over Guinea could be limited, in part because the country is not a member of the West African monetary union and is not landlocked like Mali.
The economic bloc’s response is being watched closely amid criticism from democracy advocates that it has not stood up enough in recent months against the democratic setback in West Africa.
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ECOWAS remained silent last year as Condé and Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara were running for a third term after changing constitutions that would have forced them to resign, measures denounced as illegal by their opponents.
Activists say this has contributed to West Africans’ loss of confidence in democracy and made military coups more likely.
The Malian army staged a second coup in May this year. ECOWAS said on Tuesday it feared the transitional authorities had not made enough progress in organizing elections next February, as promised.
Release of prisoners
The coup leader in Guinea, Mamady Doumbouya, a former French legionnaire, pledged to put in place a unified transitional government, but did not specify when or how it will happen.
In an apparent gesture towards Conde’s civilian opponents, at least 80 political prisoners held by the president were released Tuesday evening, many of whom had campaigned against his constitutional change.
Doumbouya also met for the first time on Tuesday the heads of various Guinean military branches, in the hope of unifying the country’s armed forces under the junta’s command.
The main Guinean opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, who finished second to Condé in three successive elections, told Reuters on Tuesday he would be willing to participate in a transition to constitutional governance.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Condé’s party said it had “noted the arrival of new authorities at the head of the country” and called for the president’s rapid and unconditional release.
Since the putsch, life on the streets of Conakry seems to have returned to normal, with the removal of some military checkpoints.
Fears that the power struggle could hamper Guinean production of bauxite, a mineral used to make aluminum, have started to ease. The country’s largest foreign operators say they have continued to operate without interruption.
Aluminum hit a new high in 10 years on Monday after the news of unrest in Guinea, which has the largest bauxite reserves in the world. Doumbouya has pledged that mining will continue unhindered.