Author: Madina diallo
Affiliated organization: Clingendael – the Netherlands Institute of International Relations
Type of Publication: Article
Date of publication: 2016
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Guinea, a West-African country that has rarely made international headlines, found itself in the international spotlight in 2013 during the Ebola outbreak. While the international community currently has its eyes riveted toward its Malian neighbour, the socio-political and security situation of Guinea is going unnoticed. The explosive nature of the country resides in a political culture characterized by violence and a military with antecedents of human rights abuses and criminality. In the absence of effective measures to address Guinea’s challenges, the ability of the Guinean people to resist these long-standing structural factors of violence is likely to be challenged in the run-up to the 2020 elections.
Since its independence in 1958, Guinea has been trapped in a spiral of despotism under Ahmed Sékou Touré (1958-1984), and military rule embodied by Lansana Conté (1984-2008). Despite the introduction of political pluralism by Conté in 1992, the former president lifted presidential term limits and rigged every presidential election until his death. The first free and fair elections in Guinea’s history took place only in 2010. However, political parties missed the opportunity to alter the political structure in place in the country. As a result, the political system remains characterized by unilateralism, corruption and predation.
At the heart of the issue lies the excessive personalisation and ethnic-based nature of most Guinean political parties. Instead of promoting the provision of public goods and national development, parties serve as vehicles for personal advancement and patronage. The weak political and institutional structures in Guinea favour identity politics, cronyism and personal interests.
This fatal event is unfortunately not surprising in this country where political violence is a persistent practice. When looking at the history of Guinea, political violence appears to be the main approach to acquire, manage and challenge power
Parties continue to be constituted along support movements of one individual or group of individuals based on regions, ethnicity and the defense of partisan interests. For instance, the Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinée relies on the Malinke electorate in Upper Guinea whereas the Union des Forces de Guinée (UFDG) has a stronghold among the Fulani community in the Fouta Djallon massif in Central Guinea. Competition for power within and between political parties can quickly escalate, which was the case earlier this year when the battle between the UFDG leader Cellou Dalein Diallo and his vice-president Bah Oury for the control of the party degenerated into gun shots, causing the death of a journalist by a stray bullet.
This fatal event is unfortunately not surprising in this country where political violence is a persistent practice. When looking at the history of Guinea, political violence appears to be the main approach to acquire, manage and challenge power. For instance, Sékou Touré maintained the country for 26 years under a climate of fear and repression and forced an important part of the political, intellectual and economic elite to exile. Political violence in Guinea has several effects, including the reinforcement of a culture of impunity, the use of ethnicity as a mobilizing factor to stimulate groups to acts of political violence, making electoral participation a risky political exercise.
In the past, presidential elections in Guinea have been characterized by massive frauds, boycotts, arrests and imprisonments. The 2015 presidential elections were uncontested due to the general expectation that Alpha Condé would be re-elected for a second mandate. Looking ahead, the peaceful conduct of the 2020 elections will mostly depend on three factors. First, the outcome of the current dialogue between the government and the opposition on the creation of a new electoral register. Second, the role of the international community to continue to closely monitor the political process. Third, the government’s ability to deliver results with its post-Ebola recovery plan, determining the level of satisfaction with and legitimacy of the current government.
In the past, presidential elections in Guinea have been characterized by massive frauds, boycotts, arrests and imprisonments. The 2015 presidential elections were uncontested due to the general expectation that Alpha Condé would be re-elected for a second mandate
On the other hand, there are two risks that threaten the electoral process in 2020. The first risk is the political mobilization of voters based on ethno-regional affiliations, which might produce episodes of violence. The second risk is the discrediting of the electoral process as a result of an open struggle between the main political parties about the control over the national electoral commission.
An eventual disagreement between the government and the opposition over the composition of the commission is likely to delegitimize the electoral process as well as facilitate the contestation of results. In these circumstances, elections become a drawn-out and violent affair with further negative impacts on Guinea’s economy and social cohesion. In a similar vein, an attempt by Alpha Condé to amend the constitution to enable him to run for a third term, would undoubtedly trigger mass protests that could turn violent. A bad omen is this regard is that President Condé stated during a press conference that it is for the Guinean people to decide on his political future. If he actually goes through with this Guineans might ultimately turn to look for other sources of authority and advancement in the longer-run.
It is imperative for Guinea to address its long heritage of bad governance, elite predation and dysfunctional security forces if it wants to consolidate democracy, peace and social cohesion. Guinea is a country with considerable assets including abundant mineral and water resources and a dynamic diaspora. The current dialogue between the government and the opposition is the ideal moment for the political class to draw lessons from the past and move forward as a nation. It is an opportunity not to be missed.