Juju, polygamy and coups: In Guinea, it’s back to the old ways roots

Saturday September 18 2021
Colonel Mamady Doumbouya

President of the National Committee for Rally and Development (CNRD) Colonel Mamady Doumbouya (centre) leaves a meeting with high level representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in Conakry on September 17, 2021. PHOTO | JOHN WESSELS | AFP

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Guinea’s recent coup leader Col Mamady Doumbouya, who is now setting himself as the country’s strongman, offered a twist to his story.

He appeared in a photograph, wearing a matching white robe with his wives. But his being a polygamist, in this Africa of ours, is neither here nor there. What got the goat of some African patriots who commented on the photograph online, is that both women are white; one is French, the other German.

On one of the websites that carried the photograph, some chap mourned in halting English that an African man who is a polygamist, with both his wives being white and “doesn’t see any black African woman native to marry too has problem and is cursed”.

In other words, Doumbouya can marry a white, Asian, or any other woman he wishes, but once he went for a second one, he had an obligation to marry a daughter of the soil.

His opponents could soon argue that if you are a polygamist and you think the country cannot provide you “wife material”, then you don’t deserve to lead it. It would be ironic if Doumbouya’s first problem with his people were to come from his choice of wives. He might just have to take a third wife with credible Guinean roots, to deal with this problem.

The Guineans, otherwise, have welcomed this coup with glee. The scenes of them dancing with and taking selfies with the putschist soldiers show people visibly excited about the ouster of Alpha Conde. It seemed to confirm what the opposition and people who took to the streets last year alleging he had stolen the election, were right.


African coups, though, notoriously end in tears and heartbreak. It might not be long before the Guineans are crying again.

In the meantime, the contradictions from the coup continue to fascinate. Doumbouya is 41, that’s half the age of Conde, who is 83. We would have expected that it would be Conde, not Doumbouya, who would be more traditionalist and a polygamist.

Hours after the September 5 coup, several photographs of Doumbouya and his comrades emerged. In one of them, there was a witchdoctor. Apparently, when they went to attack the presidential palace, they carried along their own juju man, just in case Conde had his own presidential shaman.

Again, one would have expected that youthful soldiers, more exposed to the world, would be more scientific. Their leader, after all, has been all over the world, with a 15-year military career that has seen him serve in missions in Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Central African Republic and do other work in Israel, Cyprus, the UK and Guinea.

He was in the French foreign legion, and trained severally before Conde called him back to lead his Praetorian guard, the elite Special Forces Group (GFS) in 2018. After all that, they still needed to sprinkle chicken blood, feathers on the state house fence, and blow ash in the air to ward off possible Conde spells.

Yet, it might not be a contradiction. Observers see Doumbouya and his comrades as representing a strong, not yet fully acknowledged, trend in Africa today; a return to the roots, to the old ways.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]