Guinea in Transition
11 Apr 2006
With a power struggle emerging in Guinea as the president’s long reign nears its end, international actors should send clear signals that a military takeover would be unacceptable.
Guinea in Transition,* the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines scenarios for the country’s future in light of President Lansana Conté’s acknowledged illness and increasing invisibility at the centre of government. Although parts of Guinea’s civilian elite are beginning to treat the country’s future as their collective concern, the probability of a military takeover remains high. Fellow African countries and African institutions, as well as the European Union and U.S., should encourage the new civic spirit. More civil society funding is needed as well as the warning to military leaders and politicians who may not trust their own democratic appeal.
“A new chapter in Guinean history is beginning”, says Mike McGovern, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “Guinea’s future will require a shift away from personality-based politics toward concrete, consultative attempts to build institutions. Guinea’s would-be leaders should come forward with their visions for the nation’s future, and international actors should give them every encouragement.”
Even though Guinea’s civil society and political parties have taken the first step toward setting a new national agenda, average citizens still suffer under the combined weight of hunger, lack of electricity and water, decrepit communications infrastructure and lack of health and education services. Donors must do their part to ensure a successful political transition.
It is also vital to build on three major advances that have taken place over the last six months: the important, but incomplete political reforms instituted to revise electoral lists and establish an electoral commission and privately-owned electronic media; the December 2005 municipal elections, which should be considered a “practice run” for the next poll; and the general strike and mid-March National Consultation that have positioned trade unions and professional and civil society organisations as a potential counterbalance to the alliance between the ruling party and the Guinean military.
The National Consultation was a major breakthrough in a country where there had been little space for such discussions. International actors should support the dialogue begun there by preparing for transparent legislative and possibly presidential elections and supporting a National Conference to set social, political and governance goals. The widely respected activist priest Msgr Robert Sarah, currently in the Vatican, would be a good figure to lead such a dialogue. If the presidency becomes open, the Supreme Court should extend the 60-day interim period foreseen in the constitution to allow adequate preparations for elections.
“Guineans have been governed so badly for so long that instead of seeing the approaching end of the Conté era as an opportunity, most diplomats are looking for the least bad option”, says Suliman Baldo, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Like anyone else, Guineans will tend to rise as high as the bar is set”.