Guinea: Putting the Transition Back on Track
Guinea: Putting the Transition Back on Track
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Report / Africa 4 minutes

Guinea: Putting the Transition Back on Track

Unless Guinea’s main political actors agree on organising the pending legislative elections, there is a risk inter-communal tensions could spark violence that opens the army’s way back to power.

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Executive Summary

After the election of Alpha Condé to the presidency in November 2010, legislative elections are set to complete a new phase in Guinea’s political transition. However, recent violent ethnic politics and the political actors’ mistrust in the electoral arrangements are cause for concern. Condé’s unilateral move to overhaul the electoral system has gained little praise, and with his party’s gloomy prospects for the legislative elections, suspicion is increasing. He has done too little too late to promote reconciliation or dialogue with the opposition. Guinea can afford neither a makeshift electoral system, nor a new campaign based on ethnic factors. Rising pre-electoral tensions could spark inter-com­munal violence and offer an opportunity to take action for those in the army unhappy about loss of power. The 19 July military attack launched by some soldiers on the presidential residence confirmed this is a real possibility. A genuine agreement between the main political actors on the organisation of the legislative elections is crucial and urgent. Without the international community’s significant involvement, chances of success are slim.

Condé’s accession to power provided an extraordinary opportunity to end 50 years of authoritarianism and economic stagnation. The new government faces immense challenges with limited means, even if donors seem prepared to increase aid. The failure of the 19 July attempt against the president’s life indicates that, for the moment at least, it has the military hierarchy’s support. Condé has consolidated the normalisation process begun by his predecessor, General Sékouba Konaté, and sent the army back to the barracks and away from Conakry. The imposition of heavy security measures since 19 July, however, has set the process back. Security sector reform is still at a preliminary stage. The new authorities show willingness to provide good economic and financial governance, but strict budgetary discipline will depress the economy, at least in the short term, so they are trying to compensate by responding to social demands, importing food and improving electricity supply. There are indications of an ambitious long-term economic restructuring program.

On the other hand, it is only recently that dialogue with the opposition has begun and some conciliatory gestures have been made. For example, on 15 August the president met with one of the leading opposition representatives for the first time since the election. He plays both sides though, for example accusing the main opposition party of being responsible for the 19 July attack before the judiciary has even looked into the case, and long ignoring, before rejecting, a memorandum about the organisation of the elections handed by the opposition to the government on 17 August.

The legacy of his own election is cause for some concern, including for the legislative contests, because it gave new impetus to the idea that Guinea’s history is a struggle between its four major ethno-regional blocs. In the first round, most politicians started by organising their own communities. The second round – during which ethnic rhetoric built steadily on all sides – was a scarcely disguised debate on supposed Peul domination, with Condé, a Malinké, attributing hegemonic ambitions to that community from which his opponent and the main opposition party leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, comes. Although the security forces were responsible for the worst violence, political mobilisation along ethnic lines sparked clashes and claimed victims. Organisational weaknesses of the electoral process fed these tensions by allowing mutual accusations of fraud at every stage.

The new government has done little to cope with this grim legacy and has been slow to organise the legislative elections, which are indispensable for completing the institutional arrangements required by the constitution. It kept quiet for months about the elections procedure, until, on 15 September, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) suggested they be held on 29 December 2011. However, the authorities had already begun to overhaul the electoral register, made changes to the INEC and redefined the division of labour between it and the territorial administration ministry. The National Transition Council (an interim legislative body) and civil society tried to mediate, and under domestic and international pressure, the authorities finally called for consultations and abandoned the creation of a new electoral register. The initiation of a dialogue has not so far enabled any agreement on the bones of contention: the composition and functioning of the INEC, the electoral register and the elections date.

The suspicions generated by the electoral system risk accentuating tensions in certain areas and leading to inter-communal violence. This could in turn spark reprisals elsewhere in the country or provoke a brutal reaction from an army that 19 July showed is still divided about the return to a civilian government capable of putting an end to crude activities of illicit enrichment. It is also split by factionalism, partly along ethnic lines. Further delaying the elections is not an option: it would only worsen tensions and suspicions, and a national assembly based on a popular mandate is urgently needed in order to restore balance in the political system and take further steps toward democracy. Because another period of electoral instability could endanger the young Guinean democracy, the government and the opposition must discuss electoral arrangements at the highest level, and all political actors must refrain from stirring up inter-ethnic tensions.

The international community, which partly withdrew after Condé came to power, must accompany this final stage of the transition, providing guarantees for the legislative elections as it did for the presidential election. The Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the UN must reinvest vigorously in Guinea to preserve the gains acquired since the demise of Lansana Conté’s regime in December 2008 and the removal of the military junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in January 2010. Unfortunately, the democratic transition in Guinea is not irreversible.

Dakar/Brussels, 23 September 2011

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