Misconception of Power and the Case of Guinea’s President Alpha Condé

On September 5th, President Alpha Condé was captured by the Guinean elite special force commander Col. Mamady Doumbouyah and his team. Col. Doumbouyah, the head of CNRD (National Committee of Reconciliation and Development) immediately dissolved the government, annulled the constitution, urged the former officials to report on the following day for a meeting, and insisted that a “no show” of any official and minister was automatically considered a defiance and rebellion against the new regime. Similar to other Guinean leaders of the past, why was President Alpha Condé not able to leave power peacefully? Why does transfer of power occur through death or, in this case, a military coup?

President Alpha Condé. Photo: Kremlin.ru / Wikimedia Commons

A Theoretical Analysis of the Misconception of Power

Throughout Guinea’s political history, leaders from Sékou Touré to Lansana Conté and Alpha Condé have all failed to effectively organize their succession of power. By analyzing the events that occur towards the end of their leadership, one can arguably state that these leaders have not only misunderstood the essence of power but have also personalized power. As the scholar Tiziana Casciaro mentioned in her book Power, for All, power depends on what one of the individuals in a relationship wants it to be and whether the other individual can provide it, and it is through this interaction that power takes shape. In order words, power is not something that we own. The recent military coup d’état in Guinea demonstrates how deep and widespread the misconception of power is among leaders, not solely in Guinea, but across the whole Sub-Saharan Africa. Many people equate power to position and believe that it belongs only to those at the top. However, they fail to realize that power can be fairly distributed across an organization, and has nothing to do with hierarchy.

President Condé and Personalization of Power: From Democratic Activist to Autocrat

These misconceptions have led many leaders, including African presidents to believe that power is essentially a matter of manipulation and coercion. The misconceptions can sometimes also lead individuals, or leaders for that matter, to ignore the degree of interdependence in an organization, whether it is a commercial company or a state. In his book, The End of Power, Moises Naím mentioned that a great number of the abuses that happen around power come from the illusion it gives us about being capable of doing things on our own, without the need for anyone else. In another words, there is a belief that with great power we can forge ahead irrespective of others. Consequently, there are two negative effects power can have on individuals who are incapable of managing it. The first is that power can make us overconfident, which can lead to an excessive sense of invincibility that we manifest in all kinds of different environments. The second negative effect of power is self-focus. Here, we refer to the fact that we can become uninterested in others lower in the hierarchy, simply because we fundamentally think that we do not need them. This makes us insensitive to their needs and wants. As Herminia Ibarra noted in her book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, these two effects are crucial, because they can undermine the effectiveness of leaders when they do not understand the people they are leading. As inputs from people in their surroundings are less valued in the decision-making process, this can have severe implications.

By applying the above-mentioned framework, we can better understand the case of Guinea’s President Alpha Condé, and why, after being in power for approximately 11 years, his tenure ended with a violent transfer. The election of Professor Alpha Condé was a hope for Guinean youth, who dreamt of a better future and prosperity under democratic rule. However, this hope soon turned into a nightmare when the former president decided to go for a third term by changing the constitution. With much emphasis placed on his extensive political knowledge of Guinea, President Condé ruled Guinea with an iron fist and soon started to disregard his own advisers and their opinions. What he failed to understand was that politics is changing at the same rate as the world is evolving. The face of politics has changed, and the process of decision-making is now faster than ever due to new digital communication tools, such as social media.

Through monopolization of power, Alpha Condé’s regime eliminated political pluralism. With the belief of having uncontested authority and limited vulnerability, this charismatic leader became, over time, unpredictable for both members and non-members of his ruling party. The lack of desire for political pluralism also meant acting affirmatively via legal or extra-legal means, while suppressing political opposition. Similar to other authoritarian leaders, the President and his regime also appeared to lack an elaborate and guiding ideology while exercising power abuse with no accountability. Many viewed Condé as a leader who morphed into his predecessors, who were unwilling to relinquish power. Throughout 2019 and 2020, the Guinean population had on numerous occasions expressed calls for regime change and the removal of Condé, requesting military intervention. However, this popular dissent was instantly cracked down on by the Guinean security segment and various democratic institutions were undermined.

Political Consequence of the Misconception of Power: A Military Turnover?

President Alpha Condé’s use of coercive force on his own population created a danger of the military turning its weapons on the very regime that empowered its existence. Although some measures were employed to keep the military at bay, those coup-proofing measures were ineffective at stopping the military from overthrowing the regime. Alpha Condé is yet another example of how misconception and personalization of power continue to be fundamental issues among current African leaders. Addressing these issues can perhaps be one of the ways of ending Africa’s extensive experience with poor leaders. Surely, it is only through good leadership, a strong civil society and a fair political process, underpinned by shared inclusive values, that African countries, including Guinea, can end the series of endemic militarism and start moving towards stable democracies.

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