Report 94 / Africa 14 June 2005 Stopping Guinea's Slide Guinea risks becoming West Africa’s next failed state. Its economy is faltering, the government has nearly ceased to provide services, and in 2004, there were isolated uprisings in at least eight towns and cities in all regions of the country. Share Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin Whatsapp Save Print Download PDF Full Report Also available in Français Français English Executive Summary Guinea risks becoming West Africa's next failed state. Its economy is faltering, the government has nearly ceased to provide services, and in 2004, there were isolated uprisings in at least eight towns and cities in all regions of the country. Getting it wrong in Guinea now could have disastrous consequences. Getting it right will require a greater engagement by both the Guinean population and the diplomatic and donor communities, including a focus much more on reforming institutions than on the immediate personnel issues involved in the succession to the ailing and dictatorial president, Lansana Conté. As if the situation were not already precarious enough, Guinea faces a series of potential external threats. Over the past fifteen years, it fuelled almost all the region's wars, and the mayhem it sowed is starting to rebound. Resentment is growing in Sierra Leone over Guinean incursions; Liberian ex-combatants have been recruited to fight both for and against the Conté government; LURD fighters recruited and trained in Guinea are returning dissatisfied from Liberia; and raids and infiltration across the Ivorian border are rendering life insecure for Guineans living in that area. There is preoccupation with Conté's health, which does appear to be poor but it is important to depersonalise Guinean politics. The steps the country must take in the next months are the same whether the president recovers or not. The package of political and economic reforms recently agreed by the government require the people of Guinea to assume a new level of responsibility for their own governance. The emphasis should be placed not on personalities but on institutions and checks on personal power, a concept foreign to Guinean politics. A crucial first step is to ensure successful municipal elections scheduled for the fall of 2005. They will largely determine the quality of Guinean democracy. If they fail, the presidential succession will likely be disastrous. In order to make these elections credible, key reforms must include a thoroughly revised electoral list, opening the airwaves to the opposition, and a truly independent electoral commission. The government has already agreed to these reforms, but they need to be in place before the vote. Reform will be difficult because of the entrenched financial interests of those around Conté and because of the lack of coherent leadership policies. Guinea is being pulled in two directions at once. The president's poor health and the disorder that accompanies it are driving the country towards anarchy, while the prime minister, with Conté's explicit backing, is attempting to implement sweeping and constructive changes. Because it is unknown how far the president is willing to let such efforts go, however, African regional organisations, other international institutions, donors and diplomats need to give the reform program all possible support. Should Conté fail to serve his full term (until 2010), and especially should he leave office soon, there is little chance of the constitution being followed regarding succession, and a military coup is a strong possibility. Yet, if reform is to occur, it is essential that the institutions of government be allowed to develop. Government, opposition and international community should, therefore, agree to delay the new presidential election called for by the constitution within 60 days of a vacancy to allow prior implementation of the above reforms, including, preferably, prior municipal elections. During the interim period, the constitutional succession to the president of the national assembly should be followed. Such an approach would help Guinea avoid the pitfalls of Togo's flawed succession, in which the short constitutionally-mandated period between vacancy and election played into the hands of the presidential clique. To support this process, the international community needs to begin making clear now that a transition from dictatorship to dictatorship "lite" would not be acceptable. Such an approach will be resisted in several quarters, especially the military and those who have benefited from Conté's transformation of the state into little more than a machine for pillage and self-enrichment. Of particular concern are members of his political party, the Parti de l'Unité et du Progrès (PUP), which is likely to begin disintegrating once he is no longer there. The handful of businessmen who have achieved tremendous wealth from the president's favour will also seek to thwart transition toward a new, more transparent politics. However, bold steps are needed to avoid another crisis in West Africa. The reforms agreed to by its government give Guinea its best chance for leaving behind decades of personalised rule -- if the promises can be converted into reality. Recommendations To the Government of Guinea: Implement key electoral reforms by mid-July 2005 so that fair elections (municipal and, if necessary, presidential) can be held before the end of the year, including: creating an independent electoral commission; finishing revision of electoral lists and giving opposition parties and individual voters opportunity to examine them; and launching a public information campaign explaining the process of voter registration and the forthcoming municipal elections. Open the airwaves to private radio and television, assure access to the airwaves by opposition parties during campaigns, and guarantee freedom of movement and association for all political parties. Implement promptly economic and security reforms, including: eliminating special tax exemptions to businessmen working closely with the president; withdrawing all members of the armed forces from Sierra Leone territory; addressing salary and promotion issues for the military in order to give its members a stake in political-economic reforms and reducing justifications for extortion; and eliminating the roadblocks previously banned by a presidential decree but which have recently reappeared all around the country. Cease all involvement in the regional arms trade and abide by the arms embargoes on Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire. To the Opposition Parties: Participate fully in preparations for the municipal elections and press the government to respect its promises of freedom of movement, freedom of association and access to television and radio for campaigning. To the International Community: Begin signalling now that any attempted military takeover would be met with immediate consequences, such as suspension of aid and targeted sanctions against the usurpers. Agree that if the presidency becomes vacant, the constitutionally-mandated 60-day period for a new election should be extended to enable prior implementation of the above reforms and ideally the municipal elections as well. To the African Union (AU): Take the lead in giving technical support to electoral reform, particularly the revision of electoral lists and creation of an independent electoral commission. If the presidency becomes vacant, appoint an independent arbitrator to ensure that political reforms are implemented fully and consensually before a new election is held. To the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): Emphasise Guinea's commitments to respect the ECOWAS moratorium on small arms. To the UN Panels of Experts on Arms Embargoes on Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire: Monitor Guinea's compliance. To the United Nations: Support the AU by providing immediate technical assistance on electoral reform and contribute to peacebuilding in Guinea in the following areas: reforestation projects in the Forest Region (Guinée Forestière), which received most refugees during the 1990s; reinsertion programs for "Young Volunteer" militia recruits and other ex-combatants from regional wars; and inter-communal peacebuilding, especially on both sides of the Guinea-Liberia border. To the EU, the IMF, the World Bank, France, Japan, the U.S. and other Donors: Continue to support development and humanitarian activities, focusing on infrastructure and basic services, closely monitor the government's use of funds and freeze disbursements if it fails to meet macroeconomic benchmarks set by the IMF. 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