An army vehicle is seen at Kaloum during an uprising by special forces in Conakry, Guinea, September 5, 2021. Picture: REUTERS/SALIOU SAMB
An army vehicle is seen at Kaloum during an uprising by special forces in Conakry, Guinea, September 5, 2021. Picture: REUTERS/SALIOU SAMB

Conakry — A unit of Guinea’s military seized power and suspended the constitution on Sunda, destabilising the West African nation that’s a key source of the raw material used to make aluminium.

The head of Guinea’s special forces, Col Mamady Doumbouya, announced the takeover on state television on Sunday and urged the armed forces to back him. The action was taken to address financial mismanagement and corruption in Guinea under President Alpha Conde, he said. 

“If you see the condition of our roads, of our hospitals, you realise that it is time for us to wake up,” Doumbouya said. “We are going to initiate a national consultation to open an inclusive and peaceful transition.”

Guinea vies with Australia as China’s largest supplier of bauxite, which is used to make alumina and eventually aluminium. The country shipped 82.4-million tonnes of the mineral globally in 2020, according to government data. Much of that went to China, which is the world’s biggest aluminium-consuming country.

Aluminium has jumped about 50% over the past year in London and is near the highest in a decade. Prices have rallied as a global economic recovery from the effects of the pandemic and Chinese output restrictions stoked demand. The energy-intensive aluminium industry has been targeted in China as the government seeks to conserve electricity and curb emissions, while a seasonal power crunch has also dented production.

The military takeover “might have a speculative impact on the price of aluminium but will have a bigger impact on the alumina price because it’s more immediately exposed to the event,” said Tom Price, head of commodities strategy at Liberum Capital. “It’s an event which will create a new risk of security to supply.”

Companies including United Co Rusal have invested heavily to extract Guinea’s abundant iron-ore and bauxite reserves. Rio Tinto Group, the world’s largest miner, has been looking at ways to exploit Simandou, the biggest undeveloped iron-ore deposit. Johannesburg-based AngloGold Ashanti owns the Siguiri gold mine in Guinea, its only asset in the country.

Rusal’s spokesman declined to comment on the military takeover, but said it could have an impact on output. Guinea accounted for about 9% of the alumina produced by Rusal in the first half of 2021, according to the company. 

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned the coup.

Doumbouya’s TV appearance bore a resemblance to a similar scene in August 2020, when a Malian junta removed President Ibrahim Keita after blaming him for the country’s socioeconomic problems. And in April, Chad’s army seized power after the death of president Idriss Deby. 

The military takeover in Guinea on Sunday came hours after heavy gunfire erupted near the presidential palace in the capital, Conakry, in the morning.

Conde’s government said in a statement before Doumbouya’s announcement that the presidential guard, backed by the nation’s security forces, had repulsed the attack by the “insurgents” and called for calm.

Conde, 83, was sworn in December for a third term in office, vowing to fight corruption. Initially hailed when he came to power in 2010 for ushering in democratic rule, he was allowed to run for a controversial third term in 2020 after a referendum, backed by Russia, led to a change in the constitution.

A former educator, Conde has increasingly cracked down on opponents as opposition against his rule has grown.

Update: September 5 2021
This story has been updated with new information throughout.

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