Guinea president Lansana Conte, 71, who took power in a military coup in 1984, is suffering from a number of serious health problems, including heart disease and complications from diabetes. In the event of his death, the constitution provides that presidency will temporarily devolve on the President of the National Assembly, who will be responsible for holding elections. But this official, El Hadj Boubacar Biro Diallo, lacks a personal constituency and has relatively little influence in this nation of about ten million.
Rumors of a possible military coup abound, and a number of military leaders are thought to be interested in the job. The armed forces total some 9,700, of whom about 75 percent are short service conscripts. The army, with 8,500 troops, mostly conscripts, is by far the most important service. It comprises an armored battalion (T-34s, T-54s, and PT-78s, mostly in poor repair), 5 infantry battalions, plus one battalion each of artillery, air defense troops, engineers, special forces, commandoes, and rangers. In addition, there is a 1,600 strong Republican Guard, and a National Gendarmerie of about a tthousand. There is also a national militia of 7,000. The active troops are not particularly well-trained nor well-equipped, and the militiamen are even less so. The navy has only about 400 personnel, with a few coastal patrol boats, and the air force has nearly 800 men, with a small number of old combat (perhaps 8 Mig-17s & -21s) and transport aircraft.
The Guinean military is typical of what is found in most African countries. Not that many troops, most of them poorly paid, trained, equipped and led. But the troops are powerful enough to dominate mobs of civilians, and take control of the government. In Africa, this is the most common operation for the armed forces.