Author: Josie Lianna Kaye
Affiliated organization: United Nations University Centre for Policy Research
Date of publication: 2018
*Les Wathinotes sont des extraits de publications choisies par WATHI et conformes aux documents originaux. Les rapports utilisés pour l’élaboration des Wathinotes sont sélectionnés par WATHI compte tenu de leur pertinence par rapport au contexte du pays. Toutes les Wathinotes renvoient aux publications originales et intégrales qui ne sont pas hébergées par le site de WATHI, et sont destinées à promouvoir la lecture de ces documents, fruit du travail de recherche d’universitaires et d’experts.
When President Lansana Conté died on 24 December 2008 after decades of authoritarian rule, political repression and under-development, it took only a few hours before a group of young military officers – acting in the name of the Conseil National pour la Démocratie et le Développement (CNDD) and led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara – enacted a bloodless, military ‘coup. The constitution, all state institutions and the activities of trade unions and civil society organizations were suspended with immediate effect. The ‘junta’, as it became known, made bold promises concerning anti-corruption, economic transparency and ‘free and fair’ elections, leading many Guineans to flock to the streets in celebration, anticipation and hope for change. While the specific group of individuals that took power was relatively unknown to the public, Conté’s health had been in decline for over a decade and there was a widely held expectation that the military would eventually step in to fill the void.
Dialogue over the democratic transition process fell into complete disarray: the junta blocked the creation of a National Transitional Council – a cornerstone of the entire process; political discussions on state media were banned; the leaders of political parties and civil society representatives became targets of military intimidation and harassment; and the formation of CNDD-related ethnic militias across the country had a de-stabilising effect at the local level and created mistrust between junta leaders and other sections of the military. It was within this tense context that Guinea witnessed one of its most violent episodes to date: On 28th September 2009, under the banner of the FVN, political parties, trade unions and members of civil society assembled in Conakry Stadium in a show of unity, support and discontent with the CNDD broadly speaking and in opposition to Camara’s bid to run for president specifically.
Security forces were charged to disperse the gathering, killing over 150 people, and injuring more than 1500.10 Security forces were also accused of perpetrating the mass rape of women protestors and, in the days that followed, soldiers “attacked and looted neighbourhoods throughout the capital that were known as opposition strongholds.” The spectre of civil war loomed large, not least since, in addition to these local dynamics, the spill-over effects from sub-regional conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia had destabilised Guinea throughout the 2000s. And yet, not only has Guinea avoided succumbing to large-scale violence, it has embarked on a largely successful – albeit incomplete – political transition, marked by the holding of Presidential elections in 2010, legislative elections in September 2013, the formation of the National Assembly in January 2014, and, the holding of Presidential elections in October 2015 when the sitting president, Mr. Alpha Condé was re-elected.13 Furthermore, the first local elections since the era of military dictatorship were finally held in February 2018 after a thirteen year delay. How did Guinea step back from the ‘brink’, and what role did the United Nations (UN) broadly speaking, and the UN Resident Coordinator (RC) along with the UN Country Team (UNCT) specifically play in preventing violence from spiralling into civil war? What steps did the RC and the UNCT take to foster the required dialogue and necessary compromises in the context of Guinea’s political transition?
It was within this tense context that Guinea witnessed one of its most violent episodes to date: On 28th September 2009, under the banner of the FVN, political parties, trade unions and members of civil society assembled in Conakry Stadium in a show of unity, support and discontent with the CNDD broadly speaking and in opposition to Camara’s bid to run for president specifically
When Guinea gained independence in 1958, its first President, Ahmed Sékou Touré took over these structures and used them to secure and perpetuate his authoritarian regime, characterised as “Stalinist, violent and repressive.” Lasting 24 years, his regime served to reinforce colonialist legacies through one-party rule and endemic corruption, repression and a dire lack of economic development. Economic development that did take place – including the mining and exportation of bauxite, diamonds, gold and other minerals – enriched the few at the expense of the many. Sékou Touré’s adoption of ‘socialist policies’ and the concomitant shift towards the Eastern bloc increasingly isolated the economy,sending it into crisis.
This forced the President to enter into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for a loan as part of a structural adjustment programme.23 When Touré died suddenly in March 1984 – before concluding any loan agreements – Colonel Lansana Conté took over just a few weeks later, following Guinea’s first bloodless military coup. He installed a ruling elite, dominated by the military, which – over time – “came to resemble a primitive corporatist regime”based on rent-seeking – dynamics that have remained at the forefront of Guinean politics for decades.Conté loosened the state’s grip on the economy and encouraged private investments, especially in the mining sector.
And yet, not only has Guinea avoided succumbing to large-scale violence, it has embarked on a largely successful – albeit incomplete – political transition, marked by the holding of Presidential elections in 2010, legislative elections in September 2013, the formation of the National Assembly in January 2014, and, the holding of Presidential elections in October 2015 when the sitting president, Mr. Alpha Condé was re-elected.13 Furthermore
Conté’s twenty-four-year reign was defined by “widespread corruption, repression, weak state structures, a fragmented civil society, political opposition, a burgeoning drug trade, and plummeting living standards” and, perhaps most notably, the manipulation of ethnic divisions for political purposes. Unlike his predecessor Touré, who was from the ‘Malinké’ ethnic group, President Conté was a ‘Soussou’, one of the smaller minority groups.31 Until Conté’s appearance on the national stage, ethnicity had played little to no role in provoking or exacerbating tensions in the country, but in 1990, Guinea introduced political pluralism through the holding of a national referendum to adopt a new constitution, a process of multiparty politics which moved the country towards identity politics
Thus, political parties based on ethnic identity were born: the Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinée (RPG) ‘represented’ the Malinké group, led by Alpha Conde and dominated the Upper Guinea region; the Union pour la Nouvelle République (UNR), led by Mamadou Ba, and the Parti du Renouveau et Progrès (PRP) led by Siradiou Diallo, dominated Middle Guinea and was largely Fulani-based. Meanwhile, the ruling party, Parti de l’Unité et du Progrès (PUP) led by Conté, dominated by business, economic and security interests which could not be toppled from its powerful position on the domestic landscape as a result of ethnically-based, highly fractured and divided opposition.33 On the basis of these dynamics, Conté won the first multiparty presidential elections in 1993, was re-elected in 1998 and 2003, and continued to rule the country until his death in 2008, following illness.