Guinea – West Africa’s Next Failure?
Guinea – West Africa’s Next Failure?
Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Guinea – West Africa’s Next Failure?

Observing Guinean politics usually means following the health of its ailing President, Lansana Conté, and predicting the succession battle everyone knows could turn messy. But Conté’s wellbeing is actually not the most important issue for Guinea’s future or for determining whether the country can avoid becoming Africa’s next failed state. A set of comprehensive political and economic reforms agreed by the Guinean government and supported by Conté, largely under EU pressure, will have far greater consequences in the long-run.

Conditioning aid has proven effective in Guinea’s case. The EU tied the disbursement of European Development Fund monies to minimal good governance and human rights criteria under Article 96 of the Cotonou Accords, which regulate relations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific nations. This block on EU funds – as well as curbs on funding by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank – forced the reluctant Conakry-based government to the negotiating table last July.

The reform package, including both political changes, such as a revision of the electoral list and the creation of Guinea’s first ever electoral commission, and economic improvements, such as the elimination of crony-monopolies and the limiting of off-budget expenditures within the government, was agreed by Guinea’s leadership in December 2004.

The economic reforms may put the country back on track with the IMF, but many in Guinea remain sceptical that the government will apply the reform package to its fullest extent, saying the leadership will only do the minimum necessary to turn on the taps of international aid. These fears are well placed.

As the president’s health oscillates between bad and very bad, various interested parties gather around, with an eye either on maintaining the advantages they gained as members of the presidential clique, or picking the last remaining scraps from the carcass of what was once a robust state.

The strength of the Guinean state was both bane and blessing. Autocrat Sékou Touré, the only other leader the country has known since its independence in 1958, constructed a state that touched the lives of its citizens often in unwelcome ways: through the secret police or the onerous system that confiscated half of farmers’ produce, often to let it rot in warehouses.

The results of that socialist system are still visible in Guinea today. Informal networks, which developed to provide goods which the state could not, have become webs of smuggling and arms trading. Formerly state-owned companies have been replaced by monopolies owned by a few oligarchs close to the government. The security forces remain quick to clamp down on citizens’ civil and human rights. Yet strong national identity has helped Guinea to avoid the divisions that contributed to the wars in neighbouring countries.

The proposed reforms come at a crucial moment for Guinea. The country needs strong and transparent institutions to put a check on personalised power. If the reforms are put in place in a comprehensive manner, the autumn 2005 municipal elections could prove an important dry- run for presidential elections to replace Conté whenever he leaves power. If they are not, presidential succession is likely to follow a Togolese scenario, in which a military takeover is followed by non-transparent elections, leaving the world to choose between short-term stability and good governance. When that decision is made after the fact, short-term stability almost always wins, which means the citizens of the country in question lose.

The EU and its partners in the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations should begin planning now for Guinea’s next act. Financial and diplomatic support for reforms as well as uncompromising criteria for their application are the starting point of this process. They should also be making clear signals to the Guinean military that a takeover would turn Guinea into an international pariah.

As long as reforms are proceeding on time, the funds should keep flowing. Prime Minister Cellou Diallo needs to show concrete benefits deriving from his push for reform, and the expeditious disbursement of monies from the European Development Fund, as well as the IMF and World Bank, will make a huge difference in guaranteeing that the reform process has popular support.

The consequences for getting it wrong in Guinea could be dramatic. Sky-rocketing inflation already compounds a high unemployment rate, especially among young men. Guinea’s often overlooked involvement in its neighbours’ wars – in Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and especially Liberia – threatens to rebound in the form of ex-combatants being recruited in Monrovia to fight in Guinea.

The EU has played a leading role in bringing a long-overdue reform agenda to Guinea. Now, it must stay engaged and maintain strong pressure over the coming months to make sure Conakry’s reform promises are fulfilled.

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