Report 74 / Africa 19 December 2003 Guinea: Uncertainties at the End of an Era Rumours about the president’s health and the prospective early end of his time in office have placed Guinea in a state of alarming uncertainty. Its government and its political elite must now work closely with the international community in order to stabilise the country in the mid-term if it is not to risk the same fate as its West African neighbours and drift into civil war. Share Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin Whatsapp Save Print Download PDF Full Report (fr) Also available in Français Français English Executive Summary Rumours about the president’s health and the prospective early end of his time in office have placed Guinea in a state of alarming uncertainty. Its government and its political elite must now work closely with the international community in order to stabilise the country in the mid-term if it is not to risk the same fate as its West African neighbours and drift into civil war. While no one doubts that President Lansana Conté will be reelected on 21 December, it is high time for Guinea to prepare for a political transition through its first transparent and democratic elections as soon as Conté leaves office. The population is suffering heavily from the social and economic crisis, and the leadership continues to suppress critical voices through intimidation and state violence. Despite a heritage of voter apathy closely related to the history of police violence in the country, public passivity should no longer be taken as given. The more the government suppresses popular discontent, the greater the risk of radicalisation. Guinea and its international partners have to keep the country out of West Africa’s volatile regional crisis in order to minimise the danger of a possible civil war. The present report warns of the danger of a drift toward violence, including because of the government’s involvement in the Liberian conflict, and provides recommendations to reduce these risks. The presidential elections on 21 December – which seem certain to lead to Conté’s re-election – will not solve the country’s deep-rooted problems. Due to the manipulation of the electoral system as well as the legal opposition’s weaknesses and its internal divisions, the political process remains deadlocked. The lack of an official successor to Conté opens the door to a range of ambitions. While the various clans close to the president’s entourage are keen to ensure the continuity of the regime in order to preserve their privileges, their internal quarrels constitute an important element of instability. Many observers feel that only the armed forces will be able to guarantee a political transition and to maintain civil order. The question, however, is whether the military can master its internal differences and agree on a transitional candidate. A disagreement about Conté’s successor could exacerbate its generational and ethnic divisions. The succession crisis could then turn out to be more violent and more durable than the one sparked in 1984 when Guinea’s first president, Sékou Touré, died. The ambiguous relations between the leadership and the military are another element of uncertainty. Even if the army is kept under careful watch, the president’s illness and popular discontent have weakened the government, and there is danger of a coup d’état. The risk of violence goes beyond a possible succession crisis in the capital. It is connected as well to the spread of fighting in the Mano River region over recent years and more particularly to President Conté’s considerable involvement in the Liberian conflict. His championing of the Liberian rebels has contributed to rising tensions between the communities of the Forestière region, an area bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire. The large number of weapons and irregular combatants circulating in this region is one of the principal elements of concern. These armed groups with their unpredictable allegiances could serve the interests of politico-military elites who seek to create disorder and or to take power by force. It does need to be kept in mind that Guinea has stabilising factors that distinguish it from its neighbours. These include the restructuring of the security forces, the absence of hate media and a sense of nationalism, which, however, does not dissipate interethnic resentment. Key international actors have demonstrated a political will, though sometimes in ambiguous ways, to preserve stability in the country. Guinea, like the entire sub-region, seems to have reached a turning point. At risk from both local destabilisation and the nation-wide implications of the succession crisis, the issue of the succession to the current government is highly uncertain. ICG draws attention to these risks and reiterates that armed violence will continue to affect the Mano River region until there is a regional solution. Freetown/Brussels, 19 December 2003 Related Tags Guinea More for you Q&A / Africa Condé’s Removal Clears the Way for Army to Regain Control of Guinea Also available in Also available in Français Op-Ed / Africa En Guinée et en Côte d’Ivoire, du KO électoral au KO institutionnel Up Next Commentary / Africa Ebola en Guinée : une épidémie « politique » ?