Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, was awakened on Sunday morning by gunfire.
It was unclear at the time, but the government now says it was an attempted coup.
Armed men tried to break into an armory at a military base near the president’s home, then attacked two of the city’s main prisons, freeing some inmates.
At least 19 people, including 13 soldiers, died in the violence, according to the army. The government says 13 military officers and one civilian were arrested.
The president vowed to bring the gunmen to justice, but what was their motive? Were they inspired by military takeovers elsewhere in the region?
“In the days, weeks, even months leading up to Sunday’s events, there was no idea, absolutely none, that something of this nature was going to happen,” says Valnora Edwin, a civil society activist and political analyst based in Freetown.
“But in hindsight, when you put the pieces together, you realize that there was a lot of discontent and that something was bound to trigger.”
Edwin said a number of issues may have contributed to Sunday’s mutiny.
One of them is politics.
High unemployment means many people want stable government jobs, she explains. This means that the stakes are high in elections: people feel that they must be affiliated with certain parties to gain access to public jobs and other benefits.
“If your political party loses, that means someone else is stepping in and if you’ve been open about your political affiliation, you lose everything you have: influence, opportunity and access.”
Sierra Leone’s information minister and army spokesman said soldiers were among those responsible for Sunday’s attack. This will come as little surprise to many Sierra Leoneans, including Ms Edwin.
She explains: “When a new government arrives, even within the army and the police, in terms of promotions, transfers, retirements, it favors certain ethnic groups.
“There is a lot of discontent among the military and the police.”
A gloomy economic outlook may also have contributed to Sunday’s events.
Like many countries in the region, Sierra Leone imports much of what it consumes, making the country’s consumers vulnerable to external economic shocks. Inflation in Sierra Leone exceeds 50%.
Ms Edwin explains: “Other countries have put policies in place to cushion the effects as best as possible, but the current state of our economy leaves much to be desired. More must be done to cushion the impact of external shocks. »
Alie, a 61-year-old businessman living in Freetown, acknowledges that politics has an influence on the armed forces.
“Politics pervades every area of life in this country. The security forces are extremely divided on this issue. Every government that comes in tries to get rid of opposition supporters in the armed forces,” he said. -he told the BBC, on condition that we do not publish his second name.
In June, President Julius Maada Bio was elected for a second term after narrowly avoiding a runoff.
The main opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC), questioned the results and boycotted Parliament for four months. The impasse only ended after mediation by the ECOWAS regional bloc.
Alie believes some APC supporters, especially in the armed forces, still believe the party was stolen.
“A lot of people think that (President Bio’s) SLPP didn’t win and that has led to this anger where some people think they have the power to reverse what happened,” he says.
International observers criticized the June elections, highlighting the lack of transparency in the count. Afolabi Adekaiyaoja of the Center for Democracy and Development was part of a civil society group that monitored the elections and raised a number of concerns.
“The president was re-elected in the first round even though polls and PVT (Parallel Vote Tabulation, or exit polls) predicted that it was much more likely that the president would have to go to a second round to be re-elected. -elected,” he said.
Two months after the elections, authorities said they had arrested a number of people, including members of the armed forces, who were planning a coup against the president. It is not clear what happened to them, but for Mr Adekaiyaoja it reinforces the message that President Bio’s government is under threat.
None of the commentators who spoke to the BBC for this article believe that the series of recent coups in West and Central Africa directly influenced Sunday’s events in Sierra Leone. Instead, they cite specific political and economic factors.
But Mr Adekaiyaoja says soldiers are unlikely to rebel if problems of governance and electoral fraud are not resolved.
“An electoral process must be free, fair and credible. When there are significant concerns about the validity of the process, this will only raise questions about the legitimacy of the leader and concerns about the veracity of that support.
“Because if you think a leader doesn’t have the necessary support, you might, for example, want to carry out a coup,” he says.