Guinea: A National Unity Government to Save the Nation
Gilles Yabi, allAfrica |
17 Jan 2007
On December 16th, President Lansana Conté's entourage made its way towards the central prison of Conakry. The Guinean head of state attended in person to obtain the release of two of his friends, a former minister and vice-governor of the central bank, and the president of the Guinean employers' union. These two cronies are being prosecuted for bouncing cheques, and the embezzlement over 15.5 billion Guinean francs (approximately two million euros) of public funds.
This was a step too far. Guinea's unions, whose demands following their June strike had been agreed to by the government and the employers union but have since only been partially implemented, immediately denounced the interference of the president in judicial affairs and demanded his cronies return to prison. They also demanded the resignation of the transport minister - the brother-in-law of the president's second wife - who was dismissed by a decree on 22 December ... and reappointed five days later.
The social and political tension in Guinea is reaching a breaking point, with a general and open-ended strike being called on 10 January 2006 by the country's two unions, "with the aim of restoring republican order". The state's decline, the continued impoverishment of the population, and the anti-constitutional actions of President Conté, in power for 23 years, have ended up provoking a population that aspires for radical change. In the long run, this third strike, following those in February/March and June 2006, could well degenerate into a violent struggle between the police and army on the one side, and civilians with nothing left to lose on the other. In June, high school student protests were suppressed by government forces, resulting in 11 deaths.
Counting on military intervention to rapidly restore order and security in the event of new street protests, is a dangerous and cynical course of action. Ethnic and generational divisions within the security and defence forces, the collapse of the official chain of command, and the prospect of an uncertain future for superior officers linked with the General Conté's regime are all factors that could plunge the country into chaos with unforeseen consequences if a political solution to the current crisis is not rapidly found.
West Africa cannot afford yet another civil conflict. The crisis in Côte d'Ivoire remains far from resolved and Liberia and Sierra Leone, both neighbours of Guinea, remain fragile states. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), supported by the international community, must acknowledge the gravity of the situation and urgently call upon President Conté to take the critically important step of appointing a prime minister with broad-ranging powers. The Prime Minister should be tasked with forming a national unity government, after consultation with the unions, civil society organisations, religious leaders, political parties and armed forces. President Conté must commit to respect the separation of powers and refrain from blocking the government's actions. This government should organize a national dialogue moderated by religious leaders to consider the underlying causes of the current crisis.
Only a government whose members have not been chosen by President Conté's wives, or cronies looking to the sick president's succession, will have the necessary legitimacy to negotiate a resolution with the unions. It is more likely to have the credibility required to carry out the political agreement between the ruling party, the opposition, and the administration agreed in December 2006. This agreement shapes the framework – the creation of an independent electoral commission and the reform of the electoral law – necessary for Guinea to have "free and fair" legislative elections in June 2007. The signature of the agreement led the European Union to restore cooperation with the Guinean government last December - after being suspended for three years 117 million euros are now to be made available in the next few months.
Guineans will never believe in the possibility of a sustainable settlement of the economic, political and social impasse which they face - if it is dependent on the promises of a government constantly being reshuffled, and a president who believes "la justice et l'Etat, c'est moi". Guinea's international partners must not rely on declarations of intent made only to obtain external aid. They must not encourage, in the name of artificial stability, a flimsy compromise that will only hold for a few months. Guineans expect real support for a change in the management of their country and its significant natural resources.
Gilles Yabi is West Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group.