Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?
Report 164 / Africa

Guinea: Reforming the Army

If the armed forces of Guinea are not reformed thoroughly, they will continue to pose a threat to democratic civilian rule and risk plunging the country and the region into chaos.

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Executive Summary

After decades of bad governance and misuse, the armed forces are a potential source of instability which could still throw Guinea and the region into chaos. At the very least, if not reformed thoroughly, they will continue to pose a threat to democratic civilian rule. The recent establishment of a transitional government and the ongoing, although fragile, electoral process are a significant opportunity. Getting army reform wrong could have disastrous consequences for the country’s political future. Getting it right entails numerous technical challenges, redefining the relationship of the armed forces with civilian power and addressing the critical issue of military financing, in order to create disciplined, effective and affordable armed forces. The suspension of the second round of the presidential elections, originally scheduled for 19 September, has heightened tension. Though the army has remained neutral, fears remain that if the election is not completed successfully and without excessive delay, it may seize the opportunity to intervene again. This would be a major setback to any prospect of medium-term reform, which requires respect for civilian rule and oversight.

The army’s well-deserved reputation for indiscipline and resistance to democratic civilian rule is a product of its troubled past. The country’s first two presidents both manipulated the armed forces to their own political ends, allowing insubordination to develop, and bought off senior ranks with patronage opportunities. Mutinies over poor conditions, and waves of irregular recruitment characterised the last years of President Lansana Conté. The junta that took over on his death in December 2008 further exacerbated the situation in the military. Its leader, Dadis Camara, used the army against political opponents, fostered tension between the junta and the rest of the armed forces and recruited ethnic militia.

The armed forces today are divided along ethnic and generational lines and notorious for indiscipline, human rights abuse, insubordination and criminality. While military life is difficult and unrewarding for most, a handful of senior officers live opulently. Financial management is clouded in corruption; civilian and military oversight institutions are weak or non-existent. The army is bloated and poorly trained. With public confidence in it at an all-time low, reform would be a major step to help Guinea achieve a secure environment in which democratic institutions can grow.

Since General Sékouba Konaté took over as interim leader in December 2009, reforming the armed forces has assumed new importance. Basic discipline has been improved, and the transitional authorities have welcomed the May 2010 report of an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-led security sector reform (SSR) evaluation mission. The army has thus far remained neutral in the lengthy and delicate electoral process. Dadis Camara, whose support in the institution is fading, remains in exile in Burkina Faso and effectively contained. But the extent to which senior officers have really bought into a meaningful reform agenda has yet to be tested.

The new president will face dilemmas and pressures pulling him in contradictory directions. He first needs to build consensus in the army to accept reform and to align expectations in the ranks with what the country truly requires. Balancing the need to keep the military on board with the need to reduce numbers and reform financial management will be tricky. While the president must satisfy some army concerns to assure his security and that of the transition in the short-term, the most contentious issues cannot be ignored for long. Army attitudes combine a willingness to engage on SSR with fears for loss of jobs and privileges and possible punishment for human rights abuses. The fears are exacerbated by awareness of the deep antagonism felt against it, especially after the massacre of opposition supporters on 28 September 2009.

There is a risk that the military will be willing to relinquish formal power but want to retain significant backroom influence and will ultimately refuse subordination to civilian rule on issues that concern it. This is what has happened in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, where EU- and UN-led SSR has failed because the army has played the international actors off against each other. Good international coordination will be vital in order to avoid this in Guinea.

The objective of the reform process is to establish a much smaller force, accountable to civilians and capable of meeting the country’s security needs. The most pressing priority should be to get a larger part of the army to understand and embrace that objective without letting it dictate the nature and pace of the process. The longer-term challenges will be to enhance civilian oversight, cut the size of the force and establish financial transparency. These steps should go hand-in-hand with improved living and working conditions for the armed forces. The president must also resist the temptation to use the army for partisan ends, relying instead on democratic credentials to govern effectively.

Senior officers must come to recognise that comprehensive reform is in the military’s best interest and that any attempt to undermine it would damage their credibility; reinforce anti-military sentiments in society; render the army less able to share in international peacekeeping missions; engender political instability; and result in further isolation of the country, potentially including international sanctions such as travel bans for individual officers and their families.

The international community will probably not be as heavily involved in reform of Guinea’s security system as it has been in Liberia and Sierra Leone, although offers of aid and training will likely be forthcoming. Most donors are in wait-and-see mode, ready to negotiate help with a new civilian administration. Their help needs to be generous and long term, because the situation will be fragile for some time, and any reverse would threaten gains elsewhere. Reform of its army will take sustained effort and both require and feed into broader public sector reform, with important stakes for West Africa.

Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels, 23 September 2010

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