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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
Briefing 66 / Africa

Guinea: Military Rule Must End

The killing of at least 160 participants in a peaceful demonstration, the rape of many women protestors, and the arrest of political leaders by security forces in Conakry on 28 September 2009 showed starkly the dangers that continued military rule poses to Guinea’s stability and to a region where three fragile countries are only just recovering from civil wars.

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I. Overview

The killing of at least 160 participants in a peaceful demonstration, the rape of many women protestors, and the arrest of political leaders by security forces in Conakry on 28 September 2009 showed starkly the dangers that continued military rule poses to Guinea’s stability and to a region where three fragile countries are only just recovering from civil wars. The military junta, the National Council for Democracy and Development (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement, CNDD), is denying its evident responsibility and playing for time by offering what it calls a “national union government” to opposition parties. But with the mood on the streets hardening against the junta, worse trouble is likely unless combined domestic and international pressure is applied to force the soldiers from power.

The international community swiftly condemned the killings and demanded an immediate investigation. On 2 October, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) named President Blaise Compaoré of Bur­kina Faso to mediate the crisis. The killings came only ten days after the African Union (AU) had stated its intention to place sanctions on the junta if its leader, Dadis Camara, did not confirm in writing by 17 October that neither he nor any member of the CNDD will stand in presidential elections that are now scheduled for 31 January 2010.

The violence came amid rising tensions connected to Dadis Camara’s apparent determination to seek the presidency and followed a breakdown in dialogue over the democratic transition process. The junta had blocked creation of a National Transitional Council (Conseil national de transition, CNT), the large consultative body that was to be a key element in the transition process as agreed in March, and temporarily banned political discussions on state media. Political party and civil society leaders had become targets of military intimidation and harassment. The breakdown in dialogue reinforced a belief that the streets were the only available space for the people to express views on the transition process.

Since taking control in December 2008 within hours of the death of Guinea’s long-time autocrat, Lansana Conté, the army has steadily tightened its grip on power. It has militarised the public administration, used state resources to establish CNDD support groups across the country and formed ethnic militias. It has fuelled tensions most notably in the highly volatile southern region, Guinée Forestière, where it has gathered thousands of ex-combatants and former volunteers with combat experience. While the army has a collective interest in staying in power, the militia recruitment attests to the mistrust between junta leaders and other sections of the military. This is of great concern, since any violent breakdown within the military could mean civil war for Guinea and destabilise its neighbours via refugee flows into Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, arms flow into Côte d’Ivoire, and cross-border movements of ex-combatants and refugee communities along the Liberian and Sierra Leone frontiers.

The tragic events of 28 September underline the necessity of crafting an exit strategy for the junta, so as to rescue the democratic transition and establish the conditions necessary for free and fair elections. The next steps are:

  • The junta should take into account that the large majority of citizens will not accept another military regime, and its attempt to remain in power is likely to plunge the country into civil war or anarchy. It should stand aside now and make way for a civilian transitional government that includes a large representation from the Forces Vives – the umbrella group of opposition parties and civil society – and accept the ECOWAS offer to mediate negotiation of a dignified exit for itself.
     
  • Members of the junta should explicitly and irrevocably drop any plans to stand for elections in any form and accept the terms of a comprehensive security sector reform process. This involves in the first place returning to barracks and taking measures to enforce discipline and address impunity among the troops. This could pave the way for more comprehensive security sector reform, including professionalising the army and creating a more capable civilian police force.
     
  • President Compaoré’s mediation on behalf of ECOWAS should focus on obtaining acceptance by the CNDD of the AU election ultimatum and designing the terms for top officers’ departure from power.
     
  • ECOWAS should consider sending a military mission to Guinea, possibly at chief of staff level, to assess the requirements for stabilising the country, disarming all militias, providing security for the elections and launching a comprehensive program of security sector reform. This mission could also include a civilian political monitoring component.
     
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings should consider conducting an urgent mission to Guinea with a view to beginning forensic investigations into the 28 September events, and other international partners should provide financial and political support to national human rights organisations that are collecting information on the ground about the crimes committed.
     
  • If the junta digs in, the international community should isolate the junta regime, starting by imposing tough targeted sanctions on CNDD members and their key supporters. The AU and concerned partners such as France, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) should simultaneously offer help to neighbouring countries for implementation of the sanctions and start contingency planning with ECOWAS forces for a rapid regional military intervention should Guinea slide into further violence.

 

Dakar/Brussels, 16 October 2009

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.