Guinea: Change or Chaos
Africa Report N°121
14 Feb 2007
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The 12 February 2007 declaration of siege and establishment of a permanent curfew and martial law by President Lansana Conté after three days of renewed violence has brought Guinea to the verge of disaster. Towns throughout the country rallied to the general strike launched on 10 January, turning it into an unprecedented popular protest against the Conté regime. The repression of the demonstrations – over 100 dead in total since January – and the nomination of Eugène Camara, a close Conté associate – as prime minister have shown the regime will do anything to ensure its survival. The international community, which has been largely quiet and absent, needs to react urgently to help produce real change if chaos that could well spread beyond Guinea’s borders is to be prevented.
Weakened by illness, Conté clings to his privileges, showing more interest in his extensive agricultural estates than the fate of the country. Receiving conflicting advice from sycophants obsessed by presidential succession and safeguarding their own material interests, he has responded to the rebellious trade unions with a mixture of carelessness, clumsiness and violence. His consent on 27 January to delegate powers to a prime minister who would be head of government and the decree he issued four days later setting out the powers of that office do not mean he will actually withdraw and that the system of rule Guineans have rejected will end soon. Nor do they remove the question of responsibility for the January and February slaughter of unarmed demonstrators.
The choice of Camara on 9 February was a tragic mistake that was received in the country as a provocation. It was promptly followed first by riots, and then by renewed violent repression. Red-berets of the presidential guard and anti-riot police fired live rounds at people but prevented neither looting nor the systematic destruction of state symbols, including property belonging to members of the government, the presidential entourage and others associated with Conté’s regime.
Guinea now faces two possible scenarios. There is still a chance, though a diminishing one, for a negotiated solution involving key Guinean, regional and wider international actors. Alternatively, if the Conté regime continues to rely on military repression, it could rapidly bring Guinea to a dramatic spiral of violence: full popular insurgency, with increasing chaos that is likely to stimulate a bloody, military take-over, leading in turn to a possible civil war comparable to those that have torn apart its neighbours in the past decade with uncontrollable consequences.
If it comes to that, the troubles are unlikely to stop at the city limits of Conakry or even the country’s frontiers. Chaos in Guinea’s Forest Region, bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire, could well destabilise one or more of those frail countries. Likewise, politically unstable Guinea-Bissau could suffer if its president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, seeks to support his long-time friend, Conté.
Western governments as well as multinational firms that benefit from the country’s natural resources value political quiet but they would be making a serious mistake if this led them to support, even by passivity, an effort to retain the Conté system (with or without its creator). Guinean actors and the international community urgently need to cooperate to implement an action plan that brings about change and prevents an escalation of violence.
1. Support a negotiated exit strategy to the crisis and call for an end to the looting of public and private property, the settling of scores and all other violence of the sort that accompanied the riots of 9 February 2007.
2. Ask religious leaders (the Guinea Christian Council and the imam of Fayçal Mosque) to resume dialogue with the government and mediate with President Conté, the military hierarchy and the trade union leadership, an end to the crisis based on the following five points:
a) immediate suspension of martial law, curfew and all violence carried out by the security forces, as well as immediate withdrawal of the presidential guard from the streets of Conakry;
b) immediate replacement of Eugène Camara with a prime minister chosen from a list to be approved by the trade unions;
c) constitutional guarantees on the prime minister’s powers;
d) agreement to hold a national dialogue to decide the nation’s future as soon as possible; and
e) a broadcast by President Conté to the nation confirming these commitments.
3. Negotiate with the regime a constitutional amendment that:
a) guarantees the powers and competencies of the prime minister (head of government); and
b) makes the prime minister (head of government) the constitutional successor of the president if the latter is incapacitated, while further specifying that in such a case he or she will be ineligible to stand for any election organised under the interim presidency.
4. Establish without delay a national dialogue to determine the economic and political priorities of the new government and that addresses, specifically:
a) economic measures to be taken immediately to guarantee a social truce;
b) postponement for several months of the legislative elections presently scheduled for June 2007 to allow for better preparation, with active support from the European Union and the UN, to be followed by a thorough constitutional review by the new National Assembly and, finally, presidential elections; and
c) creation of a working group on security sector reform, composed of civilians and military officers, to redefine the role of security forces in a democratic state and set up efficient mechanisms for their civilian control.
5. Demand that the mandate of the national commission which, as provided in the 27 January 2007 agreement, is to investigate the actions of the security forces in that month’s demonstrations, be expanded to include the latest actions and that its report be published by the end of March 2007.
6. Accept the political settlement as outlined in the five points above, including in particular the appointment of a new prime minister acceptable to all sides.
7. Publicly condemn the recent killings perpetrated by the security forces, which call into question in particular the responsibility of President Conté; the chief of the general staff, General Kerfalla Camara; his deputy, General Arafan Camara; the chief of staff of the gendarmerie, General Jacques Touré; the national police general director, Mohamed Sékouba Bangoura; and the president’s son, Captain Ousmane Conté.
8. Invite John Agyekum Kufuor, president of Ghana and head of the AU, to engage with President Conté in order to persuade him to implement the 27 January 2007 agreement in word and spirit and to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the powers and competencies of the new prime minister and the holding of a national dialogue.
9. Create an international contact croup on Guinea, composed of representatives of the AU, ECOWAS and the UN Secretary-General, to:
a) monitor implementation of the 27 January 2007 agreement and alert the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council as necessary, with a view to their taking prompt actions should the situation deteriorate; and
b) coordinate international support for a Guinean working group on security sector reform.
10. Offer and insist upon the participation of international experts mandated by ECOWAS and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the investigation to be conducted by the commission of inquiry pursuant to the 27 January 2007 agreement.
11. Place Guinea urgently on the agenda of the Security Council, in order initially to produce a statement supporting President Kufuor’s efforts to negotiate an end to the crisis.
12. Organise a round table of donors, including France, the UK, Germany, the U.S., Japan, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN Development Program, to meet with the new Guinean government and define the modalities for emergency financial and technical assistance in the fields of economic governance and institutional reform.
13. Use privileged channels of communication gained through bilateral military cooperation to send a strong message to Guinean army officers that:
a) a military takeover of government in any form would be unacceptable;
b) individual responsibility must be established for the actions of the security forces during the January and February demonstrations; and
c) they should support efforts to devise and implement security sector reform, with external assistance.
Dakar/Brussels, 14 February 2007