Guinea Transition: how to put it back on track
Executive summary and recommendations
After the election of Alpha Condé to the presidency in November 2010, legislative elections are set to complete a new phase in Guinea’s political transition. However, recent violent ethnic politics and the political actors’ mistrust in the electoral arrangements are cause for concern. Condé’s unilateral move to overhaul the electoral system has gained little praise, and with his party’s gloomy prospects for the legislative elections, suspicion is increasing. He has done too little too late to promote reconciliation or dialogue with the opposition. Guinea can afford neither a makeshift electoral system, nor a new campaign based on ethnic factors. Rising pre-electoral tensions could spark inter-communal violence and offer an opportunity to take action for those in the army unhappy about loss of power. The 19 July military attack launched by some soldiers on the presidential residence confirmed this is a real possibility. A genuine agreement between the main political actors on the organisation of the legislative elections is crucial and urgent. Without the international community’s significant involvement, chances of success in putting the transition back on track are slim
Condé’s accession to power provided an extraordinary opportunity to end 50 years of authoritarianism and economic stagnation. The new government faces immense challenges with limited means, even if donors seem prepared to increase aid. The failure of the 19 July attempt against the president’s life indicates that, for the moment at least, it has the military hierarchy’s support. Condé has consolidated the normalisation process begun by his predecessor, General Sékouba Konaté, and sent the army back to the barracks and away from Conakry. The imposition of heavy security measures since 19 July, however, has set the process back. Security sector reform is still at a preliminary stage. The new authorities show willingness to provide good economic and financial governance, but strict budgetary discipline will depress the economy, at least in the short term, so they are trying to compensate by responding to social demands, importing food and improving electricity supply. There are indications of an ambitious long-term economic restructuring program.
On the other hand, it is only recently that dialogue with the opposition has begun and some conciliatory gestures have been made. For example, on 15 August the president met with one of the leading opposition representatives for the first time since the election. He plays both sides though, for example accusing the main opposition party of being responsible for the 19 July attack before the judiciary has even looked into the case and long ignoring, before rejecting it, a memorandum about the organisation of the elections handed by the opposition to the government on 17 August.
The legacy of his own election is cause for some concern, including for the legislative contests, because it gave new impetus to the idea that Guinea’s history is a struggle between its four major ethno-regional blocs. In the first round, most politicians started by organising their own communities. The second round — during which ethnic rhetoric built steadily on all sides — was a scarcely disguised debate on supposed Peul domination, with Condé, a Malinké, attributing hegemonic ambitions to that community from which his opponent and the main opposition party leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, comes. Although the security forces were responsible for the worst violence, political mobilisation along ethnic lines sparked clashes and claimed victims. Organisational weaknesses of the electoral process fed these tensions by allowing mutual accusations of fraud at every stage.
The new government has done little to cope with this grim legacy and been slow to organise the legislative elections, which are indispensable for completing the institutional arrangements required by the constitution. It kept quiet for months about the elections procedure, until, on 15 September, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) suggested they be held on 29 December 2011. However, the authorities had already begun to overhaul the electoral register, made changes to the INEC and redefined the division of labour between it and the territorial administration ministry. The National Transition Council (an interim legislative body) and civil society tried to mediate, and under domestic and international pressure, the authorities finally called for consultations and abandoned the creation of a new electoral register. The initiation of a dialogue has not so far enabled any agreement on the bones of contention: the composition and functioning of the INEC, the electoral register and the elections date.
The suspicions generated by the electoral system risk accentuating tensions in certain areas and leading to inter-communal violence. This could in turn spark reprisals elsewhere in the country or provoke a brutal reaction from an army that 19 July showed is still divided about the return to a civilian government capable of putting an end to crude activities of illicit enrichment. It is also split by factionalism, partly along ethnic lines. Further delaying the elections is not an option: it would only worsen tensions and suspicions, and a national assembly based on a popular mandate is urgently needed in order to restore balance in the political system and take further steps toward democracy. Because another period of electoral instability could endanger the young Guinean democracy, the government and the opposition must discuss electoral arrangements at the highest level, and all political actors must refrain from stirring up inter-ethnic tensions.
The international community, which partly withdrew after Condé came to power, must accompany this final stage of the transition, providing guarantees for the legislative elections as it did for the presidential election. The Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the UN must reinvest vigorously in Guinea to preserve the gains acquired since the demise of Lansana Conté’s regime in December 2008 and the removal of the military junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in January 2010. Unfortunately, the democratic transition in Guinea is not irreversible.
To President Condé:
- Engage in direct and periodic political dialogue with the leaders of the most important parties (those that received more than a certain percentage of the votes in the first round of the presidential election, 5 per cent, for example), at least until the legislative assembly is in place.
- Refrain from ambiguous and dangerous rhetoric accusing unidentified citizens of “sabotaging” government actions; avoid misusing his prestige as an opponent of authoritarian regimes as justification to avoid the political debate that is indispensable for a democratic system; and take a clear public stand against the ethnically-laden provocative speeches by some of his allies and supporters.
- Avoid any political statement which may be understood as interfering with the judicial process for investigating the 19 July attack.
To the Guinean Government:
- Work with opposition parties, especially the Union of Guinean Democratic Forces (Union des forces démocratiques de Guinée, UFDG) and the Union of Republican Forces (Union des forces républicaines, UFR), to seek a genuine consensus about the electoral process, including the calendar, the voters register and the Electoral Commission.
- Continue to accept the National Transition Council (NTC) as a legitimate legislative partner until the National Assembly starts functioning, as set out in the constitution.
- Prepare draft organic bills on the institutions required by the constitution, especially the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Court and the Economic and Social Council.
- Guarantee the freedom to demonstrate, a constitutional right.
- Continue efforts to promote good governance and implement commitments made to this effect, notably publication of mining contracts and asset declarations by the president and ministers.
- Continue the fight against impunity by both:
- increasing the resources available to the judges investigating the massacre of 28 September 2009 and ensuring independence and fairness of the judicial process, as well as witness protection; and
- continuing efforts to punish abuses of power committed routinely by members of the security forces.
- Proceed expeditiously with security sector reform, including by transforming strategic plans into concrete actions and by taking into account all the security actors, among which the almost 6,000 young men recruited by Moussa Dadis Camara.
To the opposition parties:
- Accept government proposals for dialogue on the electoral process and other important issues without insisting that strict observance of the constitution is the answer to all the country’s problems.
- Play a constructive role in the NTC and use this forum to defend their positions.
- Cease questioning the legitimacy of President Condé’s election.
- Take a clear, public position against the escalation of ethnic tensions promoted by some of their supporters.
To the Independent National Electoral Commission:
- Prepare, in cooperation with civil society, a code of conduct to be signed by all political parties contesting the elections, committing them to refrain from any comment that risks stirring up inter-communal tensions during the campaign, and ensure it is widely available to citizens.
To the National Transition Council:
- Continue to fulfil the legislative role attributed to it by the constitution, including by adopting organic bills on the institutions required by the constitution, in particular the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Court and the Economic and Social Council, independently of whether the government takes the initiative or not.
To Guinean civil society:
- Watch and contribute to the establishment of a code of conduct that must be prepared by the INEC and create an independent observatory, possibly in association with the Independent National Human Rights Institution, to monitor the respect of the above-mentioned code, the treatment of ethnic issues in the media and political life, document abuses and publish regular reports.
- Create an independent observatory, possibly in association with the Independent National Human Rights Institution, on impunity, with representatives of civil society, jurists, military and ex-military personnel, to monitor judicial cases involving members of the defence and security forces and publish regular reports.
To Guinea’s international partners, especially the Group of Friends of Guinea:
- Reaffirm their availability and vigilance regarding completion of the transition, especially monitoring of the legislative elections, notably by:
- convening rapidly a Group of Friends meeting with member states’ foreign ministers and member organisations’ high-level representatives in Conakry;
- continuing regular meetings with the ambassadors of the main political actors.
To the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, the President of the ECOWAS Commission and the President of the African Union Commission:
- Continue to the establishment of the National Assembly the prominent political role they played before the presidential election, including by:
- resuming the offer to mediate, which they did successfully until the presidential elections, this time with the objective of facilitating dialogue between the president and his opponents; and helping the government and the main political parties to reach an agreement on the Independent National Electoral Commission, the electoral agenda and register, as well as on the role of international guarantors;
- preparing, with other relevant actors in the UN system, a technical assistance mission for the elections; and
- allowing General Sékouba Konaté, whose role in the first stage of the transition was unanimously welcomed and who now has important responsibilities in the African Union, to demonstrate his continuing commitment to the transition, especially through meetings with President Condé.
To the UN Secretary-General Special Representative for West Africa:
- Take on entirely the coordination of international efforts in support of security sector reform, liaising with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), as the Guinean authorities requested to the UN, through the rapid establishment of the permanent coordination mechanism necessary to attract and preserve donors’ trust in pursuance of the reform.
To the President of the Commission of the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS):
- Mobilise, as of now, the necessary means to send an election monitoring mission, which would be deployed in all regions of Guinea before and after the legislative elections.
To the UN Peacebuilding Commission:
- Work with the government to define a calendar for priority tasks, especially security sector reform and national reconciliation.
International Crisis Group