Coup Leaders Goïta and Doumbouya’s Bold Camaraderie

  • ECOWAS announces additional sanctions against Assimi Goïta and his military junta. 
  • Guinean President Mamady Doumbouya rejects ECOWAS sanctions
  • Both leaders a pressured by ECOWAS to commit to democratic transitions
Doumbouya and Goïta
Source: People’s Gazette

Why is Mamady Doumbouya in camaraderie with Assimi Goïta?

Answer: Doumbouya looks to publicize his support for Goïta, showing ECOWAS opposition. 

In two years, four military coup d’états have taken place in West Africa. Three of the coups have been by military leaders: Mamady Doumbouya of Guinea, and Assimi Goïta of Mali, twice. 

Both leaders were met with punitive measures—aimed to ostracize their actions—by ECOWAS (Economic Community for West African States), for their respective coups. ECOWAS suspended their membership and made it clear that they were obliged to commit to a 6-month path to back democracy. The African Union was another highly-acclaimed institution that followed suit in suspending Guinea and Mali, in agreement with the initial ECOWAS decision. 

More recently, Doumbouya showed camaraderie with his neighbor Goïta after ECOWAS announced the tightening sanctions against the current Malian regime. Included in the sanctions were land and air border closure with other ECOWAS members, freezing of Malian assets in commercial banks, and closure of cross-border financial transactions (with exceptions to essential goods). 

The blockade came after Goïta suggested postponing the national elections until 2026, contrary to the desires of ECOWAS. Doumbouya decided to announce that the current Guinean regime would not follow suit in the ECOWAS decision to close borders or to stop all non-essential cross-border commerce with Mali. Rejecting the sanctions allows him to get closer to Goïta, and though there are economic benefits attached, the move is mostly symbolic. Though this is not the first time that the two have supported each other (Goïta sent a Malian representative to the Guinean leader’s inauguration), it represents a strong public repudiation of ECOWAS by Doumbouya in favor of his strongman-ally in Mali. 

As Goïta starts to feel more pressure from the international community, Doumbouya may be up next on the chopping block. Making a regional ally and stepping against the grain of the regional organization is a classic move for a military hardman, and may be beneficial for Doumbouya in case ECOWAS presses further sanctions on his own regime. 

What does Assimi Goïta want?

Answer: Recognition, allies, and power. 

After the first coup, Assimi Goïta claimed that he would bring Mali to elections, initially agreeing to the previous deadline that was set by ECOWAS, February 2022. This timeline was interrupted when he took over power for a second time. Since then, it has not been entirely clear how or when President Goïta will call elections, but it remains that ECOWAS was set on their February 2022 deadline. 

Having suggested a deadline of 2026, Assimi Goïta was trying to allow himself an unofficial ‘presidential’ term continuing his mandate in Mali. Though Goïta is unlikely to be granted this timeline, it seems that he hoped the international community would grant him more time. In the case that Goïta is given more time, as Mali’s President, his next move would be to wait until foreign actors accept him as the leader of Mali, and allow him to stay in office. From here, Goïta would have the choice of whether or not he would keep his promise of a 2026 democratic transition. 

Goïta wants to gain more legitimacy and support regionally and domestically. During Mamady Doumbouya’s inauguration, Goïta sent ambassadors and the President of the Transitional Council, Malick Diaw, on behalf of the Malian junta. Goïta sent the delegation as a diplomatic move, intended to reach out to his Guinean neighbor, Doumbouya.

Domestically, Goïta has also been said to be making an enemy out of ECOWAS and their former colonial power France. Goïta is feeling pressured by the regional bloc, so decreasing public confidence in ECOWAS’ capabilities will in turn increase the public support for Goïta and his junta. 

What does Mamady Doumbouya want?

Answer: To benefit relations with Mali and Goïta, not to be ex-communicated by ECOWAS in the future. 

Going against the ECOWAS sanctions on Mali, Doumbouya proved that he would like to make a clear repudiation of the regional bloc and other international organizations that may look to put pressure on him. In going against ECOWAS, Doumbouya sees two potential outcomes that could be of benefit to him and his junta: buying time and a larger African repudiation of the bloc. 

Doumbouya understands his vulnerable position and that he is under scrutiny by ECOWAS. Though by rejecting the ECOWAS sanctions against Mali, Doumbouya aims to publically reciprocate the fraternal support from his neighbor Goïta. Due to Doumbouya’s present vulnerabilities, in the case that he is unwilling or unable to make sufficient progress on the democratic front, he will count on the support from Goïta. Doumbouya, watching Goïta being further ostracized by ECOWAS, realizes that soon enough, without satisfactory progress, could be similarly affected. 

The Guinean leader would also like other countries to support his regime in the case that they are persecuted next by ECOWAS. When responding to the announcement of sanctions, the National Committee of Reconciliation and Development (CRND) in Guinea said the decision to keep the borders opened was supported by its “pan-Africanist vision”. This language supports the notion that an ECOWAS ruling of the sort is being influenced by non-African actors. 

Nonetheless, Doumbouya hopes that if ECOWAS were to take further action against his regime, other west African leaders would replicate his vision of pan-Africanism and not support further ECOWAS punitive measures against Guinea. 

What is Mamady Doumbouya doing?

Answer: Rejecting ECOWAS sanctions on Mali and creating a transitional council.   

Other than Doumbouya rejecting ECOWAS for the sanctions placed against Mali, he also rejected ECOWAS stepping into Guinea to ensure a democratic transition. Doumbouya rejected the special envoy stating “[it] seems neither timely nor urgent”. Though Doumbouya has said that he is open to dialogue with ECOWAS his actions show an unwillingness to fully commit to ECOWAS’ overwatch. 

Looking into the Guinean regime, the CRND released the announcement of their position on the Mali border. As previously mentioned, Doumbouya’s motivations are to publicly denounce a struggling ECOWAS by rejecting sanctions on Goïta. By keeping the borders open with Mali, Doumbouya is allowing Goïta use of Guinean ports in Conakry, as Senegal and the Ivory Coast closed their borders following the ECOWAS announcement. Doumbouya allowing cross-border financial flows to continue and usage of Conakry’s ports helps Goïta internally and softens the blow on already struggling Malian citizens.  

On the topic of democracy, Doumbouya has made some progress in aims to partially satisfy ECOWAS and pro-democracy groups in Guinea. On the 22nd of January, the junta led by Doumbouya announced the creation of the National Transitional Council, an 80-member body set to resemble a parliament. The Council will come together to decide the date of the elections that will theoretically bring civilian rule to Guinea. 

Creating the council aims to please ECOWAS and some pro-democracy protesters (who called out Doumbouya two weeks prior for not making significant moves to restore democracy). Though ECOWAS remains adamant on elections happening in Guinea, it is up to Doumbouya to respect a possible deadline by the council. It seems unlikely that Guineans will enter the polls by March 2022, which may call for extraordinary actions by ECOWAS against Doumbouya and his junta. 

Who is winning? What about you?

Answer: Goïta and Doumbouya barely winning while ECOWAS falls behind. 

Though Goïta and Doumbouya are currently under pressure from ECOWAS and the international community, they are currently both winning, but only slightly. Domestically, Goïta has been able to mobilize public support by making the economic bloc’s sanctions seem unfairly targeted against Mali. On the other hand, Goïta seems more vulnerable on the international level, especially due to ECOWAS’ influence with other West African states. Though depending on how long ECOWAS sanctions last, and depending on whether or not the EU commits to sanctions, will affect how quickly Malians will feel the economic shocks, which would be a disaster for Goïta. 

For Doumbouya, as of now, the essence of time is allowing him to be in a ‘winning’ position. Though Doumbouya has been banned from ECOWAS and the Africa Union for his coup, he, as Goïta, is receiving a welcoming amount of public support. Guineans will likely stand by him in the case of increased ECOWAS sanctions or punitive measures are employed against his regime.

As Doumbouya’s coup took place after Goïta’s, he can wait and see how the international community and west African states will further react to a non-commitment to elections. Depending on the outcome, Doumbouya will have time to make a strategic decision of his own, for instance, to what degree he will commit the country’s new transitional assembly and the formation of a new constitution. 

For ECOWAS’ leader, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, it seems there are fewer options as every day goes by. Though Ouédraogo would prefer Mali and Guinea to switch back to ‘functioning’ democracies overnight, he understands that this is not possible. Increasing anti-ECOWAS sentiment in West Africa does not help his or the organization’s credibility, and employing sanctions on a country that is already financially unstable may lead to an economic calamity, which ECOWAS would take some blame for.