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Guinea Needs Consensus on Poll Position if Election Race is to Pass Peacefully
Guinea Needs Consensus on Poll Position if Election Race is to Pass Peacefully
Commentary / Africa

Guinea: The Junta Must Leave

The situation in Guinea remains alarming. Despite the negotiations in Ouagadougou and the build up of regional and international pressures, the junta seems like it would rather lead the country into a civil war than give up power. The Ouagadougou negotiations enter a critical phase today; their agenda should be limited to the departure of the junta. A “National Unity Government” that allows the current military regime to stay in power would only increase the risks for the region. To prevent a catastrophe, ECOWAS and the United Nations should start preparing for an eventual military intervention.

Since Dadis Camara took power in December 2008, political tensions have constantly increased. They reached the point of no return on 28 September, when security forces executed demonstrators, killing 160 people and injuring 1700. Testimonies about the organization of the killings point towards a premeditated massacre: the military units that carried it out  were already in position  while officers issued  orders at the stadium Since that day, security forces have led a terror campaign, using rape and torture as tools of repression.

Popular resentment grew against a junta that showed its determination to stay in power. In response, the junta’s leaders have paralyzed the democratic transition and blocked the creation of a National Transitional Council (Consiel national de transition CNT) an inclusive consultative body meant to over see the transition process. Opposition leaders became the target of harassment and arrests, and political discussions were banned in the national media. Given the situation, the union of opposition parties and civil society leaders, the “Forces Vives”, decided to suspend its dialogue with the junta.

Prior to that, the African Union had announced its intention to declare sanctions against the junta if Dadis Camara did not confirm that neither he nor any member of the CNDD (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développemen) would run for the January 2010 presidential election. On 17 October, ECOWAS imposed an arms embargo on the military junta. Ten days later, the European Union and the United Nations declared targeted sanctions against some members of the junta. Following the killings, the international community demanded the creation of an independent commission of investigation. ECOWAS has named president Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso to mediate the crisis.

Notwithstanding the international pressure, Dadis Camara’s behavior remains unequivocal. The military junta has denied  any responsibility in the massacre and has refused to release those who were  arrested during the September demonstration. Dadis remains the Head of State despite calls for him to step down and the public administration has been militarized. All but three of 33 prefects have been replaced by military officers since 2008. Pro-junta support groups and youth organizations have been created throughout the country. The situation is particularly worrying in Guinea Forestière, where Camara’s supporters play on the resentment of local communities against Malinkés, Fulanis or Sousou, three ethnic groups that are seen as beneficiaries of previous regimes. Now idle, former militias are ready to take up arms to fight again, adding to the general tension.

In 2001, when Charles Taylor’s army attacked Guinea Forestière, Lansana Conté had recruited, trained and armed around 6000 young men from the Macenta region. After fighting for their country, many of them joined the anti-Taylor combatants in Libéria. Only few of them have been disarmed and reintegrated into their community. These trained combatants have difficulty  adjusting to civilian life and have become a major source of trouble in the region. The recruitment of militias trained outside Conakry may be the result of ethnic or personal divisions, or  the accumulation of power by individuals. They are of great concern since any violent breakdown within the military could mean civil war for Guinea or an increase in massacres against groups perceived as opponents to the junta.

Moreover, a conflict in Guinea could destabilize the entire region. Cross-border movements of combatants and refugees along the Liberian, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leonean frontiers could reanimate the conflict in these still vulnerable countries.

ECOWAS’ leaders and Burkina Faso’s President, Blaise Compaoré, must not be deluded. The negotiations with the junta will be difficult, even more so because for most Guineans the only acceptable outcome is the replacement of the junta by a transitional civilian administration. They will accept no other high-ranking military official other than the Defense Minister, responsible for re-establishing order in the barracks and disarming the militias. The transitional administration should lead the electoral process, which can only be credible if it is free of any military control. Dadis Camara and all officials that have taken control of the civil administration and functions of the state must leave. Only then will Guinea’s democratic transition resume.

The Forces Vives also have a role in the transition. Their internal conflict over leadership must stop: their concern should be the interest of all Guineans rather than personal ambitions. Members of the transitional administration in charge of organizing the elections should not be allowed to run for presidency. Nor should they be allowed to place one of their allies in the State apparatus in order to finance and support their campaign.

The price for the junta’s departure could  be high. Dadis and his followers might demand a golden exile, and impunity for the crimes that were committed on 28 September. However, it is still too early to address this issue: the conclusion of the international commission of investigation must be known first. It is essential that the commission establishes the responsibility of high ranking state officials, including Dadis Camara, and draws the necessary judicial conclusions.

Moreover, the sub-region should send a military mission to Conakry without further delay. This would give the junta a clear sign that a repetition of Sierra Leone and Liberia’s civil wars will not be accepted in Guinea. The mission should start an open but firm dialogue on the dismantling of militias and the recruitment of Liberian combatants. It should be conducted in agreement with the mediation of Burkina Faso’s President. A high ranking official of the Nigerian army would likely  be best suited to lead it. The creation of a reduced protection force should be discussed and planned with the Guinean army: a force equipped with air power would be enough to protect the members of Forces Vives and the international commission. In the long term, the region will have to assure the security of the civilians and the organization of the elections.

However, the international community should be prepared for the worst. A regional military mission should be planned. The mission’s aim should be to confront militias and protect civilians. Western countries should be ready to provide rapid air transportation and other resources needed to prevent an escalation of violence in Conakry or in the country’s other major cities. This plan is not only a necessary measure to prevent the outbreak of a conflict, it also signals to the junta that its departure from power is non-negotiable.

During the last months, ECOWAS and the African Union have reacted to the deterioration in Guinea with  impressive resolution. Dadis Camara and the officers behind him are counting on the negotiations stalling: they hope that this will allow them to stay in power and buy  time until the storm of international condemnation is behind them. Recently, the military have returned to power through fraudulent elections or military coups throughout the African continent. Guinea must be the starting point to halt this trend once and for all. The status quo can only lead to chaos. There is still time to avoid it.

Op-Ed / Africa

Guinea Needs Consensus on Poll Position if Election Race is to Pass Peacefully

Originally published in The Guardian

Guinea’s history of electoral violence may not be over. Tension is building around the presidential poll scheduled for this October and the local elections planned for early next year. The opposition – principally Cellou Dalein Diallo's Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea and Sidya Touré’s Union of Republican Forces – is concerned about possible fraud. Threatened protests should be taken seriously: in 2013, about 100 people died during electoral unrest.

To set the stage for a comprehensive dialogue about the voting system, the local elections should be rescheduled for this year, so that they take place before the presidential ballot. International actors, in particular the UN Office for West Africa and the EU, would then need to support that dialogue and ensure its results are implemented.

Unlike other African countries with contentious electoral processes, Guinea’s problem is not one of an incumbent president delaying a vote or trying for an unconstitutional new term. The opposition's quarrel is with the order of the two elections. They are convinced that the local authorities, whose mandate formally expired in 2010, are completely under the president’s control.

These local officials, some of whom have been replaced by administrative appointees in constituencies where the opposition has weight, are said to have been responsible for a variety of disenfranchisement schemes in pro-opposition areas during the 2013 legislative elections. They have also been accused of massaging the vote in pro-government areas.

The opposition fears a repeat in the presidential contest unless earlier local polls give them a better chance to get fair play.

Before agreeing to the 2013 legislative elections, the opposition had insisted that the next round of local elections be held well before the presidential ballot, in early 2014. This was written into an annex of an agreement resulting from the 2013 political dialogue, but the government did not sign the document and now disputes the commitment.

Pro-government politicians do not support the schedule change (and possible delay of the presidential vote), fearing the opposition would claim there was a constitutional vacuum, as some opposition figures have threatened. But contemporary Guinea has experienced many exceptional situations – three- and five-year delays for the legislative and local elections respectively, for example. This would not cause it to crumble. In informal discussions, some opposition leaders said they would agree to a reasonable delay in the presidential election were it necessary in order to hold the local vote first.

The controversy, however, goes well beyond the calendar. The opposition has also repeatedly challenged the electoral registry, the map of constituencies, the composition and functioning of the electoral commission and the constitutional court. Not to mention the conditions for diaspora voting, the neutrality of prefects and governors, and much more. Even the recent population census is disputed: the opposition says the authorities inflated results in pro-government areas, in order to prepare to justify a forthcoming increase in pro-government voters there.

Reliable observation missions (particularly the EU’s) noted a long list of problems in the 2010 and 2013 elections. In 2013, for instance, the number of 18-year-old voters registered was unusually high in some pro-government areas, as was the level of participation and the number of voting stations. The number of polling stations and votes invalidated on procedural grounds was correspondingly low. In the closely disputed swing state of Guinée Forestière, the results from more than 180 polling stations were cancelled without explanation.

Some or all of the opposition claims may be false or exaggerated, but why take the chance over a few months’ change in the electoral calendar? As Crisis Group wrote in December 2014, a consensus on arrangements would offer the best chance to avoid an escalation from local incidents fuelled by political affiliations that function largely along ethnic lines.

Such a consensus would be all the more valuable because worrying rumours and suspicions are being fed by other matters, including the Ebola epidemic and a handful of assassinations and attempted assassinations of politicians and administrators. The opposition’s spokesperson, Aboubacar Sylla, claims he was shot at on 4 April, for example. While President Alpha Condé has done a good job of reining in the military and other security forces, sustained troubles could put these important achievements at risk and further poison relations between the country’s communities.

The government called for dialogue on 26 March. The opposition responded that there had been two such dialogues in 2013-14; the authorities simply needed to implement the conclusions reached then. It is up to the government to take the first step by asking the electoral commission to schedule the local elections before the presidential (with a reasonable three- to six-month interval between them). This would build confidence and could pave the way for a dialogue covering the other pending electoral issues. In turn, the opposition should commit to that dialogue and produce a detailed, realistic and time-sensitive assessment of what it considers essential.

In all this, international engagement is essential. In 2013, European observers stayed several nights at a key tallying centre in Conakry to guarantee results would not be tampered with. That is how tense the situation has been, and why an international presence is so essential.

President Condé initially excluded such missions for this year, but he has changed his position: the authorities have approached the EU for observers, and the UN is due to dispatch a mission this month to review electoral preparations. The new secretary general of the International Organisation of la Francophonie has visited Conakry. These are welcome moves. International partners will need to develop a solid coordinating mechanism, however, to prevent Guinean actors playing them off against each other.