webGuinée/Bibliothèque/Droit & Politique

webGuinée/Bibliothèque/Droit & Politique


Alexis Arieff

Africa Analyst, Congressional Research Service.
101 Independence Avenue, SE. Washington, DC. 20540 USA

“Still standing: neighbourhood wars and political stability in Guinea.”

Journal of Modern African Studies. 2009 47 (3): 331-348.

The Republic of Guinea is located in a particularly turbulent region. However, while several conflicts in neighbouring countries — Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone — have spilled over Guinea’s borders, the country’s central government has displayed a seemingly unlikely stability. Until a bloodless coup in December 2008 brought a military junta to power, the country had had only two presidents since independence, both of whom died of natural causes while still in office. Ahmed Sékou Touré, Guinea’s first leader, deftly used the anti-colonial insurgency in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau to enhance his political credentials and control domestic and international opposition. The administration of the late President Lansana Conté leveraged regional warfare to solidify its command over remote provinces, increase government revenues, bolster military capacity, and improve regional diplomatic relations. This paper supports the analysis of civil wars as regional phenomena, while shedding light on mechanisms that may interact in counter-intuitive ways with the dynamics of state strength.

Guinea’s ‘neighbourhood effects’

For most of Guinea’s post-colonial history, at least one of its neighbours has been at war. The governments of Ahmed Sekou Touré and General Lansana Conté, who until December 2008 had served as Guinea’s only two presidents in fifty years of independence, were active participants in many of these conflicts, and occasionally fighting spread across Guinea’s borders. However, both Touré and Conté remained in office until their deaths of natural causes. This seemingly unlikely stability at the centre of the Guinean state has confounded policy makers and pundits (e.g. Abalo 2006; BBC News 2000; The Economist 2005). It also presents an interesting case study in light of the finding in recent quantitative analyses that ‘neighbourhood effects’ are strongly correlated with the onset of civil conflict (Hegre & Sambanis 2006: 529, 532-3). Examining the security strategies employed by Guinea’s leaders may help shed light on its future stability, as the country enters a new political era following Conté’s death.
The association of the onset of civil war with the existence of neighbourhood conflict is intuitive, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where closely linked conflicts in West Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region have influenced discussions of Africa’s many security challenges. Theoretically, regional armed conflict may contribute to the onset of civil war through a range of causal mechanisms. Cross-border refugee movements may destabilise the host state by altering its ethnic composition, creating a burden on economic resources, spreading disease, and indirectly causing inflation due to aid flows (Salehyan & Gleditsch 2006: 335). Refugees may also become a target for cross-border rebel recruitment (see UNHCR 2006). Transnational ethnic ties can lead actors in one state to act ‘in solidarity with ethnic kin’ in another (Salehyan & Gleditsch 2006: 336). If a country’s government backs anti-state rebels in a neighbouring civil war, the neighbouring government may retaliate by financing an insurgency across the border. Neighbourhood wars may flood the sub-region with small arms, mercenaries and decommissioned soldiers who may search for new work after the neighbouring conflict has ended
Civil wars may have a negative impact on economic growth in neighbouring countries, through the increased perception of risk by would-be investors, the disruption of trade, the destruction of social and human capital, damage to supply lines, and the reallocation of resources to less economically productive activities ; in turn, low GDP and/or economic growth may render a country more susceptible to conflict (Murdoch & Sandler 2002a, b). So-called neighbourhood effects may also merely be the result of nearby countries tending to share factors which independently lead to instability.
Noting the interconnectedness of conflicts in West Africa, policy makers have argued for a holistic approach to security policy in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, also known as the Mano River states (ICG 2002; Sawyer 2004) . Less remarked on in recent years are the links between Guinea and its unstable neighbour to the northwest, Guinea-Bissau, which, in addition to an insurgency against the Portuguese colonial government from the mid 1960s through to independence in 1974, experienced an army mutiny that spiralled into a wider conflict in 1998 and 1999. In 2002, the emergence of a rebel movement in northern Côte d’Ivoire seemed to prove the inexorable advance of warfare across the region.
The governments of Sékou Touré and Lansana Conté managed to protect the central structures of the state from these destabilising events; indeed, both presidents were able to leverage regional conflict to their own benefit. Partly due to Guinean government participation in these conflicts, Guinean territory was targeted with armed attack in connection with neighbourhood wars: this occurred notably in 1970, in the context of the independence war in Guinea-Bissau, and in 2000-1, in the context of the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In each case, attacks were carried out within Guinea with at least partial participation by anti-government fighters of Guinean nationality, blurring the line between neighbourhood and civil war. However, these attacks ‘failed’ to ignite a broader conflict or to overthrow the central power structure. As this case study makes clear, studies of civil war must take into account the ways in which neighbourhood effects may counter-intuitively contribute to state strength.

Sékou Touré and liberation war in Guinea-Bissau

In 1958, Guinea became the first French colony in sub-Saharan Africa to become independent, after Guineans, in a popular referendum, voted for immediate sovereignty rather than continued association with France. Sékou Touré, the head of the pro-independence Parti Démocratique de la Guinée (PDG), became the country’s first president. The charismatic young leader severed ties with France and used a one-party state, pervasive surveillance, a cult of personality, and frequent allegations of foreign and domestic ‘plots’, to consolidate power.
Touré defended his sweeping anti-imperialist ‘revolution’ in both nationalist and pan-African terms. The PDG — the sole legal party between independence and Touré’s death in 1984 — was portrayed as embodying both the Guinean nation and universal aspirations for African independence and self-sufficiency (Touré n.d. : 15-25). However, by the late 1960s, nationalist movements against European colonial rule in West Africa had dwindled to Portugal’s remaining African ‘provinces’, Cape Verde and Guiné (now Guinea-Bissau). Touré’s anti-imperialist rhetoric increasingly rested on accusations that France and other Western powers were engaged in a ‘permanent plot’ (complot permanent) to stymie Guinea’s revolution, requiring constant vigilance to root out imperialist sympathisers (Touré 1969: 24-51). Describing the atmosphere of paranoia and repression that dominated the Touré years, the anthropologist and Guinea expert Mike McGovern (2002: 85) writes:

[The regime] regularly identified ‘enemies of the people’ working both inside and outside the nation … Touré claimed this counter-revolutionary bloc consisted of the imperialist and neo-colonialist powers (France, Portugal, the United States, West Germany) and their African protégés (especially Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire), who worked in tandem with an internal ‘fifth column’ that operated undercover within the Guinean nation. Touré effectively used this model to convince Guineans of the necessity of crushing all forms of dissent within the country.

At this time, an anti-colonial guerrilla movement was leading a surprisingly successful assault on Portuguese rule in Guinea’s tiny neighbour, Guiné. While similar rebellions were launched in other Portuguese colonies, the war in Guiné was, in the words of historian Norrie MacQueen (1999: 209), ‘the most militarily intense’ despite being ‘the most economically pointless’. Although outnumbered and out-funded by the Portuguese counter-insurgency campaign, the Partido Africano para a Independencia da Guiné e Cabo Verde (African Party for the Independence of Guinea [Bissau] and Cape Verde, or PAIGC) proved to be extremely effective: by 1970, it had established itself as ‘the most successful nationalist movement in Black Africa’ — or, in the words of its opponents, ‘the most consequential terrorist movement in the African continent’ (Chabal 1983: 60, 2; Spı´nola 1970: 24). The PAIGC’s campaign would eventually help spark a military coup in Portugal in 1974 and full decolonisation for Portugal’s African territories (MacQueen 1999).
The PAIGC insurgency, and the fierce Portuguese military response, provided Touré’s anti-colonialist rhetoric with context and urgency long after most colonial regimes in Africa had faded. Touré made himself the PAIGC’s main regional patron, offering Conakry as a base of operations to the PAIGC’s founder and leader, Amilcar Cabral, as early as 1960 (Dhada 1998: 574). Eager to sustain his reputation across the continent as ‘African independence and nationalism incarnate’ (Halberstam 1962), Touré supplied significant military and logistical support, as well as diplomatic cover, to the PAIGC throughout the war . By 1970, in addition to Cabral’s house in Guinea’s seaside capital, the PAIGC maintained bases in Conakry and Guinea’s interior ; received military training on Guinean bases; interned Portuguese prisoners of war on Guinean territory, including within Guinean military bases; used Conakry’s Voix de la Révolution radio facilities to broadcast nationalist programmes in local languages into neighbouring Guiné on medium- and short-wave; and published PAIGC literature through the PDG’s printing press

L’Agression portugaise

Guinea’s support for the PAIGC did not go unnoticed. In the early hours of 22 November 1970, the Portuguese military command in Bissau sent a group of several hundred Portuguese and Bissau-Guinean soldiers, foreign fighters and exiled Guineans to attack Conakry from the sea, targeting PAIGC installations as well as Guinean government infrastructure. In the days following what is still known in Guinea as l’agression portugaise, Touré accused Portugal of launching a series of land attacks in Guinean border regions, echoing previous accusations by Guinean authorities (UNSC 1969-71: 145).
The mission, dubbed Operação Mar Verde (Operation Green Sea) by its Portuguese commander, aimed to rescue Portuguese prisoners-of-war, destroy the PAIGC leadership in Conakry, and cripple the Guinean government’s ability to continue supporting the rebel movement (Cann 2007: 217-29; Dhada 1998: 586; MacQueen 1999: 216-17). The commandos who carried out Mar Verde, divided into units of Portuguese and Bissau-Guinean soldiers and Guinean exiles, captured the Almamy Samory Touré military base downtown, which served as the military headquarters; occupied the Republican Guard base in Conakry, known as Camp Boiro, freeing hundreds of Guinean detainees accused of subversion who had been interned there; liberated two dozen Portuguese prisoners held at a separate detention facility known as ‘La Montaigne’ ; attacked the PAIGC headquarters; shut down the city’s central power supply; and burned down Touré’s Bellevue presidential villa and Cabral’s house . (Touré rarely, if ever, spent the night at Bellevue; Cabral, it later turned out, was out of the country at the time.) Attempts to destroy the Guinean air force and capture the national broadcaster failed, due to faulty intelligence and arguably to mission over-stretch (Calvao 1976: 51-85; Cann 2007: 225-7; MacQueen 1999: 216).
Fighting was brief. By 9 a.m. on the morning of 22 November, Touré was able to broadcast a ‘Call to the Nation’ on national radio, announcing that Conakry had come under attack by ‘imperialist forces’ led by the Portuguese colonial regime, and proclaiming that the Guinean people would ‘defend itself down to the last survivor’ . Deciding that the mission could not proceed in the absence of broadcast control, the Portuguese commander ordered a withdrawal early the following morning (Calvão 1976: 83). Several dozen fighters stranded on shore, mainly Guinean exiles and Bissau-Guinean troops, were captured by Guinean military and members of the milices populaires, neighbourhood civilian militia organised by the PDG.
The attack failed to annihilate the PAIGC or seriously harm the Guinean government. Indeed, Touré and his government were arguably strengthened, politically if not militarily, by the assault. The mobilisation of the milices populaires in foiling the attackers and rounding up ‘mercenaries’ rallied ordinary Guineans, particularly those in the capital, to the PDG cause; many participants continue to express giddy excitement when remembering taking shifts to guard the neighbourhood milice headquarters, where weapons were distributed to civilians . Deftly playing into Cold War politics, the Guinean government parlayed the raid into an increase in Soviet military surveillance in and offshore from Conakry, while the Nixon administration, not to be left out, offered $4.7 million for the rebuilding of the city (CEAN 1971: 377-80). In the weeks following the attack, Touré received messages of support from heads of state across Africa and the Middle East, which were reprinted in the state-owned media alongside transcripts of the Guinean president’s speeches condemning, in one of many formulations, the ‘grave imperialist Portuguese act, which imperils the freedom and national sovereignty of an African state and seriously compromises peace and security inWest Africa’ (Horoya Hebdo 28.11.1970: 5). Libya and Algeria sent arms to assist Guinea’s national defence forces (CEAN 1971: 379-80), while Nigeria offered troops (Antunes 1988: 21)
The Guinean government, through its diplomatic mission to the United Nations, succeeded in prompting the Security Council to send a factfinding mission to Conakry almost immediately after the assault occurred. This mission spent three days interviewing Guinean officials and military officers, foreign diplomats, members of the PAIGC, foreign residents of Conakry and prisoners captured by Guinean forces during the attack 10. Its conclusion — that the ‘invasion of the territory of the Republic of Guinea …was carried out by naval and military units of the Portuguese armed forces, acting in conjunction with Guinean dissident elements from outside the Republic of Guinea’ (UNSC 1971: 10) — was a diplomatic victory for the Guinean government, and a diplomatic disaster for Portugal, despite official denials of Portuguese involvement. A Portuguese researcher (Antunes 1988: 21, translation mine), who later termed Mar Verde Portugal’s ‘Bay of Pigs’, wrote:

[Touré] ably exploited the protests by the international community, playing various diplomatic trump cards at the same time … It became clear that repeated operations like Mar Verde, especially if they failed, could seriously damage Washington and London’s protective stance toward Lisbon 11

The president’s strategy was not confined to the diplomatic sphere. In the weeks after the attack, Touré announced that many Guineans had collaborated with Portuguese forces as part of a vast internal ‘fifth column’ who pretended to be patriotic citizens but were in reality acting ‘as the true enemies of social progress, as agents of imperialism’ (PDG 1971b: 23). Thousands of Guineans were arrested in connection with l’agression ; one phase of detentions lasted from November 1970 through to January 1971, while a second stretched from April 1971 to year’s end (Diallo 2004: 7) 12. These sweeping arrests constituted merely one episode in a string of successive government crackdowns in retaliation for perceived plots against the ‘revolutionary’ republic 13, but the scale outpaced previous purges, and included dozens of high-ranking government officials, military officers and other public figures 14. Many of those detained were never released.
To many outside observers, the fact that so brazen an attack could be carried out at all, that it succeeded in many of its apparent objectives, and that some participants appeared to be Guinean nationals, proved the ‘military weakness’ of Touré’s regime (Le Mois en Afrique 1971b). Others noted that the Guinean president’s strength rested more on his control over domestic politics and the moral high ground among African leaders. ‘The fact that the attempt failed will boost African morale’, Africa Confidential (27.11.1970) shrewdly predicted, a mere five days after the attack. ‘As far as Guinea is concerned, President Sekou Touré is now probably safe for another 12 years’. (In fact, Touré lasted another fourteen.)
Just as his assistance to the PAIGC had allowed Touré to shore up his international prestige, particularly among other African leaders and members of the Eastern bloc, the war’s spillover onto Guinean territory enhanced the Guinean leader’s credibility and provided a pretext for eliminating internal enemies, real and perceived. As one writer noted at the time, ‘the proclamation of “a state of war” has been the prelude to a vast campaign against those who are merely lukewarm towards the regime’ (Le Mois en Afrique 1971a). Touré was so successful in using l’agression portugaise to his advantage that some Guineans today believe that the president himself played a role in organising the attack, or was aware of Portuguese preparations and declined to take adequate defensive action 15. (Such theories persist in the absence of available documentation suggesting complicity between Touré and the Portuguese military.)
Touré’s strategy of backing the PAIGC additionally paid off when Guinea-Bissau became independent in 1974, at which point the anticolonial rebel movement became the ruling party of a sympathetic state. After Amı´lcar Cabral was assassinated in 1973, his brother Luı´s served as president of Guinea-Bissau for seven years, providing a friendly regional counter-weight to Côte d’Ivoire’s Houphouët-Boigny and Senegal’s Senghor, with whom Touré at best maintained tense relations.

President Conté and the ‘Mano River’ wars

Within a week of Touré’s death in March 1984, a military junta headed by Colonel (later General) Lansana Conté seized power in a bloodless coup. After establishing himself as head of state, Conté introduced some economic and political reforms, with a return, starting in 1989, to ostensibly civilian rule with eventual multiparty — though generally not competitive — elections. This evolution was accompanied by a loosening of many restrictions on civil liberties. During Conté’s later years in office, trade unions, opposition parties and some critical private media operated openly, while the incidence of officially backed ‘disappearances’ decreased.
Liberalisation was accompanied by a weakening of Guinean structures. In later years, Conté’s administration was said to be intensely divided into factions controlling different areas of the government, economy, military, and even nominal opposition and civil society groups. NGOs and international media portrayed a country whose leader was unable ‘to control the day-to-day operations of government’ (ICG 2005: 10). Concerns over the factionalisation of the administration and military heightened with reports that President Conté, who had declined to institutionalise his succession and who did not often appear in public after his re-election in December 2003, was terminally ill. On top of this, by the late 1990s Guinea was surrounded by civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea- Bissau and, later, Côte d’Ivoire. By 2003, the International Crisis Group (2003) warned that Guinea was at serious risk of a civil war or military coup. Instead, through savvy political manoeuvres on both domestic and international fronts, Conté used neighbourhood conflicts to his benefit. While undoubtedly destabilising, ‘neighbourhood effects’ on balance worked to the economic and political advantage of the central state.

Refugee influx : a drain or gain?

One of the more counter-intuitive effects of regional warfare stemmed from the influx of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone into Guinean territory between 1990 and 2005. This influx was thought by the international community to present a burden on the Guinean economy and therefore a strain on its political stability. However, the refugees’ presence also allowed the Conté government to increase, and co-opt, the flow of international humanitarian aid to Guinean territory and improve government presence in remote areas of the country.
Refugees settled predominantly in the south-western coastal region, Basse Guinée, which borders Sierra Leone, and in the south-eastern region, known as Guinée Forestière, which borders Liberia. Felix Gerdes (2006: 92), a scholar who conducted field work in the Forest region, wrote that during the refugee influx, ‘household density increased, (surface) water quality decreased, wells became exploited above capacity and food stocks melted away’.
However, despite these increased economic pressures, the refugees simultaneously served as a source of revenue for the Guinean state. Indeed, because of the assumption that hosting refugees constituted an economic drain, the central government successfully parlayed the refugees’ presence into a bid for humanitarian aid, with government control over significant aid flows. As a Lancet study of the effect of this refugee spillover noted:

In 1998, Conté expressed his concerns to the UN, complaining that the refugee presence hampered the country’s social and economic development. Fears of refugee-induced deforestation, soil erosion, and competition for scarce resources and jobs have been voiced repeatedly by researchers and by residents of Guinea (Lawrie & Damme 2003: 575).

These complaints, which emphasised the destabilising effects of demographic and environmental pressures, represented a successful attempt by Conté to use the discourse of structurally rooted civil wars to his benefit. Gerdes (2006: 92) writes that the humanitarian aid system that sprang into action in response ‘represented a vehicle for tremendous capital import, part of which the government could use to strengthen its financial basis and by extension its patronage system’. Meanwhile, UNHCR-funded infrastructure aimed at delivering aid to refugees ‘complemented governmental efforts in road construction aimed at enhancing its legitimacy among the population on the one hand and better exploitation of the Forest region’s resources on the other’, with the increased ‘military and administrative presence in the region’ leading to increased local identification with and allegiance to the Guinean state.

A regional player

Far from being a passive victim of regional turbulence, the Guinean state was an active participant in neighbourhood conflicts. Conté sent troops to support his ally, Nino Vieira, in Guinea-Bissau during that country’s civil war in 1998; backed rebel movements opposed to his regional nemesis, Liberian president Charles Taylor; and lent diplomatic and logistical support to Côte d’Ivoire’s president, Laurent Gbagbo. These regional alliances in some ways posed a threat to Guinea’s stability : Conté’s support for anti-Taylor rebels, in particular, played a role in inciting armed attacks on Guinean soil, in regions bordering Liberia and Sierra Leone, in 2000 and 2001. However, arms sales were an economic boon to Guinean authorities, while foreign military assistance flowed in to shore up the Guinean state against regional instability. Furthermore, by repeatedly backing the ‘winner’, Conté’s risky security strategy played off, leaving the Guinean president surrounded by friendly, or at least neutral, leaders in 2003.
Charles Taylor launched his Liberian rebellion on Christmas Day 1989, setting off over a decade of spiralling warfare in West Africa. He received support from Côte d’Ivoire’s president Houphouët-Boigny and Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Compaoré, both long-time rivals of Conté.
Correspondingly, from the outset, Conté sought to halt Taylor’s advance, and rein in his influence in neighbouring countries. These efforts began with Guinea’s participation in the ECOMOG regional peacekeeping mission to Monrovia from 1990 to 1996, which was ostensibly aimed at protecting the capital from Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and preventing the conflict from spreading to neighbouring states. Conté’s anti-Taylor stance was far from altruistic. Beyond the (failed) goal of stopping Taylor, Guinea’s participation in the peacekeeping force meant training and extra funds for salaries for Guinean soldiers, a significant base of support for Conté’s rule 16
After Taylor was elected president in 1997, Conté transferred his support to anti-Taylor rebels, including the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO), and later Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). He allowed both groups to use Guinean territory, in particular the Forest region, as a rear base. Ethnic tensions and local opposition to the hosting of foreign rebels played into a series of armed attacks on Guinean towns near the Liberian border, which began in early September 2000 and lasted nearly a year. However, the advantages accruing from alliances with rebel groups in the end outweighed the risks.
Conté’s willingness to act as a regional arms dealer, even amid strict embargoes, had an economic as well as strategic motivation, as arms sales improved shaky state finances and expanded opportunities for patronage. In 2001, the Guinean government began supplying arms and ammunition to the LURD in exchange for coffee, cocoa and diamonds, transforming a rag-tag rebel movement into a formidable force while reinforcing patronage networks of Guinean officials and military officers (AC 2002a: 5). A Human Rights Watch publication in 2003 reported that a major offensive carried out by the LURD had been made possible only by direct assistance from the Guinean state, and that ‘Guinea’s Ministry of Defence ordered mortars and other ammunition from Iran and arranged their onward transport to LURD’ (HRW 2003). According to the International Crisis Group (2005: 16-18), the Guinean government played a role in falsifying documents for illicit weapons fuelling conflicts in both Sierra Leone and Liberia; a single Guinean government employee, with likely oversight from Guinea’s military and/or defence ministry, was reportedly ‘responsible for issuing 80 percent of the documentation for illicit arms fuelling West Africa’s regional war in the 1990’s’.
The spiralling conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and Conté’s attempts to block Taylor, shifted international policy toward the Guinean government — including, notably, that of the United States. Until the mid 1990s, as far as the US government was concerned, Guinea’s poor record on democratisation had tended to ‘overshadow’ the destabilising threat posed by developments in the region (Smith 2006: 420-34). However, amid intensifying conflict in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and as US dislike of Taylor grew, the United States began training Guinean forces in border security operations. US military training expenditures in Guinea tripled between 1998 and 2001, from $100,000 to $300,000; following the September 2000 attacks within Guinean territory, the USA launched a sophisticated bilateral military programme to train an 800-man ranger battalion as a Guinean ‘rapid reaction force’ (ibid. : 434). The training began in May 2002, exposing the US government to accusations that it was ‘training the LURD’s military sponsors’ (Africa Confidential 2002b: 5). A large portion of the US-trained ‘Rangers’ were later deployed to Conakry and helped shore up Conté’s personal defences 17. Foreign military assistance, which served the interests of the Guinean state by increasing its military effectiveness, particularly in the volatile Forestière region, while also bolstering the Guinean military officer corps (an important source of military support for Conté), was offered despite US reservations about Guinean political and human rights practices ; and, according to a former US ambassador to Guinea, it would not have been made available but for US concerns over regional stability (Smith 2006: 433-4). During the same time period, the Chinese government trained several hundred Guinean ‘commandos’ 18
Conté gambled correctly in backing the LURD, which played a decisive role in Taylor’s fall (HRW 2003; Itano 2003). In August 2003, amid a massive rebel assault on Monrovia, Taylor was persuaded to step down and go into exile ; today he is in custody in The Hague, on trial for his role in the Sierra Leone conflict. Taylor’s departure was an unalloyed boon to Conté’s regional influence, while his successor, Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf, was, unlike Taylor, unlikely to pose a significant threat toConté’s rule.

The rhetorical uses of regional instability

Conté, like Sékou Touré, rhetorically spun regional disorder to a domestic and international audience. The Conté administration used regional instability as a distraction from, and a warning against, domestic and international criticism, and as a reason to delay long-awaited democratic progress (McGovern 2002: 91). During the 2000-1 cross-border attacks, Conté turned the sizable refugee population into a ‘foreign’ foil by which to impose national cohesion and shore up domestic support.
Legislative elections originally scheduled for November 2000 were indefinitely delayed for ‘security reasons’ (Reuters 2000a), and were not held until 2002. Government officials also used the unstable security situation as an excuse for the country’s poor economic performance when appealing to international donors and agencies. For example, then interior minister Kiridi Bangoura claimed in a 2006 interview that ‘our economic problem today and certain problems of security that we have seen in the past all come essentially from the endemic wars on our borders …Those two conflicts have impinged on the budget of our country. It has taken all our strength to protect our territory and assure security’ (IRIN 2006). Such explanations shrugged off any responsibility for Guinea’s economic and political stagnation, and cast Guinea’s government in the valiant role of a bulwark against regional chaos.
The cross-border attacks in 2000 and 2001, which terrorised the border regions of Guinea, were a genuine ‘military threat to the nation’ (McGovern 2002: 89-90), and as such represented the most significant destabilising spillover from conflicts in neighbouring countries during Conté’s rule. The attacks appeared to be carried out by fighters from Sierra Leone and Liberia, with participation by Guinean nationals. The International Crisis Group (2002: 9) reported that the offensive sought to ‘take the forest region’ and to topple the Guinean government. It is difficult to interpret the nature of these attacks, which can be seen as an episode in the Liberian civil war — opposing Liberian government and Sierra Leonean forces loyal to Taylor against anti-Taylor fighters — that took place on foreign soil, or as a nascent Guinean rebellion backed by a neighbouring power 19

A previously unknown rebel group calling itself the ‘Rally of Democratic Forces of Guinea’ (RFDG) eventually claimed responsibility for the attacks ; the group’s spokesman, who identified himself as Mohamed Lamine Fofana, communicated with the international press by satellite phone. At times, he announced an attack before it was launched, as in the case of the rebel attack on the city of Guéckédou in December 2000. A reporter for Le Monde (2000, translation mine) wrote:

This man has sown confusion amongst residents. For while [Guinean] authorities affirm that the attackers are essentially Liberian and Sierra Leonean rebels (easily recognisable by the fact that they speak English or the creole known as Krio), Mohamed Lamine Fofana affirms that all RFDG combatants are Guinean: ‘Our movement is Guinean’, he told Le Monde by telephone. ‘It was created on Guinean soil a year ago … We want the departure of Lansana Conté and the end of his regime.’

However, despite this nebulous threat, Conté successfully combined the attacks and tensions over the influx of refugees to his advantage. On 9 September 2000, the president gave a nationally broadcast speech in which he called on all Guineans to root out rebel elements whom he accused of hiding amongst refugees: ‘Civilians and soldiers, let’s defend our country together. Crush the invaders’ (AFP 2000a). The speech additionally targeted Alpha Condé, Conté’s long-time political opponent. McGovern (2002: 84-5) writes:

[The speech] explained to Guineans that the three cross-border attacks that had taken place between 1 September and 6 September were the work of an unholy alliance : Charles Taylor, Liberia’s President, and his long-time associate, Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, had joined forces with Alpha Condé, the Guinean opposition leader, and various unnamed international powers. Most importantly, Conté informed the Guinean populace that many of the rebels lived among the refugees, who were their accomplices. All the refugees should be rounded up, the President ordered, so that they could be kept under surveillance.
What followed was a frightening exercise in anti-refugee violence. Security forces combined with civilians, as Conté had suggested they should, to round up refugees. These vigilante groups attacked certain refugee camps, notably Kalia Camp near the town of Forecariah, but focused primarily on self-settled refugees living in towns like Conakry and N’Zerekore. According to numerous reports, refugees were raped, beaten, robbed, expelled from their lodging, and in some cases killed 20

Conté’s speech served to undermine his political opponents, while distracting Guineans and the international community from Condé’s trial, ongoing at the time, on politically motivated charges 21. Two days after the speech, Condé was sentenced to five years in prison. Armed attacks, and anti-refugee rhetoric by government officials, continued into early 2001.
As many as a thousand residents were killed. The former commercial hub of Guéckedou was particularly affected by the fighting: rebel forces laid siege to the town, after which it was bombed by the Guinean air force which ‘liberated’ it (IPS 2001). The president’s rhetoric, and the accompanying violence, further served to distract attention from the fact that Conté himself had played a role in provoking the attacks through his support for anti-Taylor Liberian forces, who had been armed, trained and financed by the Guinean state 22. Moreover, the conflict generated opportunities for increased central military control over the Forest region, and for the growth of military patronage networks, particularly after Conté replaced civilian administrators with army officers in areas of the Forest region affected by armed attacks, in January 2001 (PANA 2001).
McGovern (2002: 85) argues that the border attacks and Conté’s antirefugee screed, with its references to national unity in the face of shadowy external threats working in cahoots with disloyal domestic forces, successfully invited Guineans to revert to a paranoia-inspired social cohesion familiar to those who had lived through the Touré years. Reminiscent of the Guinean response to the Portuguese assault in 1970, civilian militia worked in tandem with state security forces to round up thousands of suspected rebels and ‘mercenaries’ who were allegedly behind the foreignbacked attack (AFP 2000b; BBC Monitoring 2000). This same connection was made by a senior military officer in a recent interview: ‘[The Guinean response to] l’agression portugaise was an example of independence, of courage, of conscientious action. It was the same thing in September 2000 … Even two Guineans fighting each other on the side of the road, as soon as they are attacked [agressés], will join forces to fight against the enemy. That’s how we are.’ 23


Guinea’s recent history provides interesting insights into the complex dynamics of civil and regional warfare. While Guinea appears to be the perfect target of destabilising ‘neighbourhood effects’, the governments of Sékou Touré and Lansana Conté profited from conflicts in neighbouring countries, even as they participated in these conflicts, and even as these conflicts spawned armed attacks on Guinean soil. This was due in part to the successful manipulation of neighbourhood instability by Guinean authorities, which allowed the central state to draw political and economic benefits. Thus, both Touré and Conté leveraged neighbourhood wars to increase external financial and military aid, participated in these wars as a tool of foreign policy, and used regional conflict as a smokescreen for cracking down on internal rivals. Additionally, as the successful rhetorical practices of both Guinean presidents make clear, the effect of neighbouring conflict on national cohesion and pro-government sentiment deserves further attention in the study of warfare in Africa.
One additional reason for the Guinean state’s ‘success’ appears to have been that, through an apparent combination of skill and luck, the Touré and Conté governments tended to back the winning party in neighbourhood conflicts. This repeatedly led to a neighbouring government deeply in its patron’s debt, or at least inclined towards friendly relations. Thus Conté’s Liberian protégés eventually succeeded in forcing Taylor to step down in 2003, while his regional ally, Côte d’Ivoire’s president Laurent Gbagbo, has proved able to hold on to power despite an organised rebellion backed by regional rival Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso (ICG 2005: 22).
The dense network of ties linking West Africa’s military and political leaders testifies to the use of this strategy. Far from representing discrete theatres of politics, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, for example, can resemble a single organic system. As a Guinean military officer stationed in Boké during the anti-colonial insurgency in Portuguese Guiné, Lansana Conté forged close ties with Nino Vieira, a powerful PAIGC military commander in the south-eastern region of Guiné, bordering Boké 24. As president in 1998, Conté (with the government of Senegal) sent troops to Guinea-Bissau to shore up support for Vieira, who by then, as president, was attempting to stave off a military mutiny. Vieira was deposed in a coup in 1999, but was re-elected president in 2005. Before Conté’s death, Vieira was said to be the ailing Guinean president’s ‘closest regional ally’, reportedly sending troops to support Conté in early 2007 amid nationwide anti-government strikes in Guinea 25. (Vieira was assassinated in March 2009, just months after Conté’s death.)
This case study provides a cautionary tale for the often unidimensional conclusions of quantitative studies of civil war onset. Given the past instrumentalisation of conflicts in neighbouring countries, it may not be a coincidence that Guinea has experienced increasing political insecurity since 2004, after the regional security situation, largely stabilised. The implications for Guinea’s new military regime are worrying.

The author wishes to thank Mike McGovern, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, and Stathis Kalyvas, Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science, both at Yale University, for their guidance and encouragement. Research for this article was made possible in part by a US Fulbright student grant. Any views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not represent those of the Fulbright Program or the Congressional Research Service.

. This paper omits discussion of the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), the military junta that took power on 23.12.2008, following President Conté’s death after a long illness.
. Human Rights Watch (2005) has reported that ‘thousands of young men and boys, many of whom have committed atrocities while fighting in West Africa’s brutal civil wars, face re-recruitment into the region’s emerging conflicts’.
. The International Crisis Group (2002: 6) termed the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone a ‘regional conflict’, and wrote that ‘it has become painfully evident that the war is not [Sierra Leone’s] own, but rather part of a larger conflict that began in Liberia, engulfed Sierra Leone and Guinea, and is now back inside Liberia’.
. While the PAIGC included both Cape Verdeans and Bissau-Guineans, and called for a political union between the two territories, the guerrilla war was based entirely on Bissau-Guinean territory.
. Author interviews with a former PDG radio official, Conakry, October 2008; and with two former PAIGC fighters who had spent time in Conakry, Gabú (Guinea-Bissau), February 2008.
. Interviews with witnesses, Conakry, October 2008-January 2009; see also UNSC 1971; Calvaõ 1976: 73-83.
. Ahmed Sékou Touré, ‘Premier Appel à la Nation’, 22.11.1970 (reprinted in Parti Démocratique de Guinée 1971a: 9).
. Interviews with former members of the University of Conakry milice, Conakry, October-November 2008.
. The Africa-focused journal Marchés Tropicaux (26.12.1970) compiled a list of foreign government gifts to Guinea linked to the Portuguese attack, which also included gifts from East Germany, Morocco, China and Kuwait.
10. The observation that most, if not all, witnesses were selected by Guinean authorities led one American commentator (Kilpatrick 1970) to term the fact-finding mission a ‘farce’.
11. It is unclear why both António de Spínola, who led an otherwise savvy counter-insurgency campaign in Guiné, and Prime Minister Marcello Caetano failed sufficiently to consider the potential for diplomatic fall-out. MacQueen (1999: 217) concludes that this ‘misjudgment was the inevitable product of the compound of diplomatic seclusion, military frustration and political poverty at the centre of Portugal’s late colonialism’.
12. The names, photos and recorded dépositions (detailed confessions, many extracted under torture) of fifty well-known detainees were printed in Horoya and republished in two hefty volumes known in Guinea as the livres blancs (PDG 1971a, b).
13. See e.g. Blancard 1989: 22-3. Sidiki Kobélé Kéita (2002), a retired university professor and active member of the ‘Club Ahmed Sékou Touré’ in Conakry, provides a detailed description of each alleged plot
14. The precise number of Guineans arrested in connection with the Portuguese attack is unclear. Diallo (1985) estimates that 5,000 were detained. Amnesty International (1982) estimated in 1982 that 2,900 prisoners had ‘disappeared’ in Guinea since 1958, including individuals detained in connection with other alleged anti-government activities.
15. Interview with former PDG official Mamadou Barry, who spent nearly eight years in prison in Guinea after being accused, among other things, of aiding the Portuguese, Conakry, October 2008; interview with senior military officer and former detainee, January 2009; interview with editorialist and politician Alyou Barry, Conakry, January 2009.
16. Stephen Ellis (1995, 2001) provides a detailed study of ECOMOG’s role in the first phase of the Liberian civil war, and of the role of regional alliances in Liberia’s conflict.
17. Interview with specialist on Guinean security, Conakry, February 2009.
18. Ibid.
19. As Sambanis (2004: 829) has noted, ‘intrastate war can be taking place at the same time as interstate war’.
20. See also HRW 2000a, 2000b, 2001.
21. Condé, who continues to head the Rally du Peuple Guinéen (RPG) party, opposed Conté in the presidential elections of 1993 and 1998. Two days after the 1998 vote he was arrested on accusations of trying to leave the country ‘illegally’, and was later tried for allegedly seeking to overthrow the government by force. Convicted in 2000, he was officially pardoned in 2001 and released from custody. Incidentally, Condé was sentenced to death in absentia by the Guinean government under Sékou Touré, who alleged that he participated in planning the Portuguese attack (Kéïta 1993: 89).
22. Guinean opposition groups attempted to make this point publicly (Reuters 2000b).
23. Interview with military officer and Ministry of Defence official, November 2008, translation mine.
24. Interview with a retired military officer and Conté associate, Conakry, February 2008; interview with former PAIGC combatant, Gabú , February 2009.
25. Richard Reeve, analyst, Royal Institute of International Affairs (London), quoted in VOA 2007.


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