Guinea: Ensuring Democratic Reforms
Africa Briefing N°52
24 Jun 2008
The political and economic change Guineans demanded in 2007 at the cost of nearly 200 lives is in jeopardy. Dismissal on 20 May 2008 of Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté and his replacement by Tidiane Souaré, a close ally of President Lansana Conté, puts reform at risk. Calming talk of inclusion and pursuit of “change” from the new head of government should fool no one. Unless robust internal and external pressure is applied, there is every chance the government will break the promise of credible legislative elections in December 2008, compromise economic revival and bury the independent commission of inquiry tasked with identifying and prosecuting authors of the 2007 crackdown. Civil society actors, heads of political parties, religious leaders and all who want real change must present a united front against restoration of the Conté dictatorship.
Political parties, civil society and ordinary citizens had great expectations for Kouyaté, a prime minister initially endowed with powerful popular support. However, Crisis Group’s assessment of his government in November 2007, after only seven months in power, already identified the end the honeymoon and pointed to mounting disillusion among the populace, despite encouraging results in controlling inflation, stabilising the economy and restoring credibility to the Guinean state in the eyes of donors.
Despite the mounting discontent of trade unions and the advice of civil society organisations, which had favoured his selection and were his core support base, Kouyaté made no attempt to put aside his personal ambitions, prioritise reforms or reply publicly and convincingly to accusations of laxity in the management of public resources. Paralysed by the continual obstruction of Conté and his allies and cut off from Conakry’s political and intellectual elite, the prime minister was progressively neutralised and finally sufficiently weakened for the president to be able to dismiss him without fear of new demonstrations.
The tension that seized military camps in Conakry and other cities on 23 May and the detaining of the deputy chief of staff of the army by the mutineers, followed by Conté’s dismissal of the defence minister, the occupation of Conakry airport by more mutineers on 28 May, the detaining of the chief of police on 16 June by discontented police officers and strike action by customs officials demonstrated the degree of political instability in the country.
The nomination of Tidiane Souaré as prime minister serves the interests of the presidential clan well. While an experienced technocrat and minister untainted by the scandals of past Conté governments, he remains, nonetheless, a close Conté ally, ensuring that little substantial reform will occur.
The mutiny by soldiers, unrest within the national police and strike action by customs officials are symptoms of the disintegration of the state and its incapacity to provide security. If Conté and Souaré cannot find a solution to the continued security sector unrest, the risk of a military coup, with its possible violence and ethnic divisions, cannot be ruled out. It is essential that the security sector regains stability and that Souaré moves towards organising legislative elections for December 2008. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU), the UN Office for West Africa, France, the U.S. and Guinea’s other external partners must send a common message to the new prime minister and not hesitate to make any direct assistance to the government conditional on the following priorities:
organisation of legislative elections in December 2008, without calling into question the prerogatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Revision of electoral lists must continue, supported by a regional and international observation mission;
provision of financial and logistic support and security measures (protection of investigators and witnesses) necessary to launch the independent commission of inquiry into the events of June 2006 and January-February 2007;
drawing-up of an action plan against drug trafficking and the opening of inquiries to support the prosecution of traffickers, including into the alleged involvement of individuals close to the president; and
opening of discussion, with participation of opposition parties and civil society, on the status, pay and benefits for soldiers, the strict neutrality of the army during elections and the investigation into crimes committed in 2006 and 2007 that undermined the strengthening and reform of military institutions.
Dakar/Brussels, 24 June 2008