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Guinea: Putting the Transition Back on Track
Guinea: Putting the Transition Back on Track
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
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
Report 178 / Africa

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

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.