Militarism examined

Coup leader completed UK military leadership course weeks before forcefully seizing power

A Guinean Colonel attended a British military leadership course just weeks before leading a coup to install himself as President last year. 

Col. Mamady Doumbouya has been condemned by the African Union, Ecowas, the EU and the UK for ousting the country’s first democratically elected President, Alpha Condé, in September. His military junta remains in power. 

But just seven weeks prior the Commander of the West African nation’s Special Forces attended a Senior Strategic Leadership Programme run by the UK’s Defence Academy, part of the Ministry of Defence (MOD). 

His attendance was revealed by a Freedom of Information request by research charity Action on Armed Violence. A subsequent request for a full list of 120 attendees from 40 countries has since been denied by the MOD on the grounds of personal data protection. 

Political speakers included Armed Forces Minister James Heappey and House of Commons Defence Select Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood and Vice Chair John Spellar. 

Senior military personnel also presented, with Commander of Strategic Command General Sir Patrick Sanders, Assistant Chief of Defence Air Vice-Marshall Alastair Smith as well as Major Generals Andrew Roe and Darrell Amison all addressing the conference.

Topics ranged from ‘Delivering the Strategic Intent’, delivered by Heappey, to ‘Policy and Democratic Oversight’ by Ellwood, along with ‘Strategy – The Practitioner’s Perspective’ from Sanders. 

The two-day event (13-14th July 2021) is normally run at Shrivenham for senior officers and officials from 30 countries. Last year, it was held virtually and ended with a Q&A with General David Petraeus, former commander of multi-national forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and Director of the CIA. In Afghanistan, Petraeus is known to have overseen an increase in deadly Special Forces night raids that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, according to the UN.

Col Doumbouya was appointed Commander of Guinea’s newly established Special Forces Group by President Condé in 2018. He was one of 25 Guinean officials that the EU had threatened to sanction for alleged human rights abuses, including killing 12 protestors in the aftermath of a contested 2020 election, two of whom were children, according to Human Rights Watch.

Embarrassingly for the US, Doumbouya was in a military camp run by Green Berets when he rounded up his allies and left in the middle of the night in fifty trucks to seize power in the capital Conakry. On the morning of September 5th last year, his forces marched into the Presidential Palace, reportedly meeting little resistance.

Condé was detained and removed from the palace. His current whereabouts are unknown. Later that day, in a nationally televised address, Doumbouya announced the dissolution of the Constitution, government and parliament and the closure of national borders. 

His announcements concluded: “I know that we are capable of taking our destiny in hand,” he concluded. “Guinea is beautiful: we no longer need to violate it. We just need to make love to her.”

He has since promised fresh national elections and to not run for office himself, but in March the six-month deadline demanded by Ecowas for a return to civilian rule was missed. He is now Africa’s second-youngest leader, behind only Mali’s Assimi Goïta, 38, who also staged a military takeover and is a personal friend of Doumbouya.

The 42-year-old has had a decorated international military career. Trained by the French Legionnaires, he served in Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Central African Republic and delivered close protection in Israel, Cyprus, the UK.

His wife, Lauriane, is a serving member of the French National Gendarmerie, whilst also now holding the position of the First Lady of Guinea. They reportedly met when he was studying in Paris and have four children together. 

In October, The Times reported that Mrs Doumbouya may have served in Guinea, which has significant gold and diamond reserves and where France has a small presence of police, gendarmes and military figures.

Her ascension to First Lady has been used by Russian internet trolls to stoke anti-French sentiment in the former colony. Doctored images were used to suggest she was a former lover of President Macron.

President Doumbouya’s office was approached for comment but did not respond in time for publication. 

An MOD spokesperson said:“Armed Forces personnel from all over the globe attend our world renowned Defence Academy.  Personnel from Guinea have attended leadership and other vocational courses for many years, focusing on topics such as good governance and international humanitarian law.

“Such courses are offered to a wide range of nations and serve an important diplomatic function.”

The MOD refused to comment on the vetting process for attendees of the course. 

Doumbouya’s Presidential Office was approached for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.