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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > West Africa > Guinea > Guinea: Change on Hold

Guinea: Change on Hold

Africa Briefing N°49 8 Nov 2007


Ten months after an unprecedented popular revolt shook the 23-year regime of President Lansana Conté and more than a half year after a new government was formed, Guinea’s stability is as fragile as ever. The honeymoon of Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté, the ex-diplomat entrusted with producing “change”, is over. The movement that brought him to office is deeply fragmented, creating opportunities for Conté and his clan to regain control. To prevent more bloodshed and counter-revolution, Kouyaté urgently needs to demonstrate that he means to work for a democratic and peaceful transition, and he needs help, especially from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), donors and the two states, the U.S. and France, with ties to the unreformed army.

The protestors in the streets in January and February 2007 (between 137 and 183 died; over 1,500 were wounded) demanded radical change and felt they had won a significant victory when Conté agreed to name an independent prime minister, who would pick his own government. But the mood today is grim. Although inflation has slowed, initial enthusiasm has been replaced with doubt over the capabilities and will of the new government to break with the Conté system and alleviate daily economic difficulties.

It is premature to judge Kouyaté a failure but he has yet to send strong signals that his way of governing is a real break with the past. The Conté clan and its supporters have not accepted their defeat and are manoeuvring to regain full power, not least by playing on popular disappointments to provoke divisions between the actors in the “February revolution”: trade unions, civil society organisations and opposition parties. It is Conté, however, who remains the prime obstacle to improvement in the lives of Guineans. The agreement that ended the February crisis left him as the constitutional leader; he must sign all decrees and can and does easily stall government action. Kouyaté’s office does not exist in the constitution, and he has only the powers the president delegates.

Free, fair and transparent legislative elections are needed within the next six months to begin the true process of dismantling the Conté system by democratic means. In the meantime, however, Kouyaté, democratic forces and the international community need to take a number of steps in order to revive the dynamic of change:

  • Kouyaté should broaden his government’s base by setting up a national dialogue with the trade unions, civil society and parties so as to agree on the reform agenda and exert collective pressure on Conté to comply with the letter and spirit of the agreement he signed on 27 January 2007.
  • Kouyaté should restructure the cabinet, appoint staff solely for competence, operate transparently, including responding to allegations that challenge the government’s integrity, and launch an information campaign to explain his emergency program, including what can and cannot be achieved in the short run.
  • To begin to end impunity, the government should make necessary resources available to the independent commission of inquiry on the violence during the strikes of June 2006 and January-February 2007, including a mixed brigade of police and gendarmerie and technical support from the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It should also set an early date for the visit of the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, planned since March 2007.
  • To contain the danger the army represents, the government should open a dialogue with it on security sector reform; urgently evaluate training and material needs of the police and gendarmerie so they can maintain order without more killings of unarmed civilians in the event of new mass demonstrations; and ask ECOWAS for police and gendarmerie to support the mixed brigade for the commission of inquiry and a military mission to observe Guinean security forces during elections.
  • France and the U.S., within existing cooperation agreements with Guinean security forces, should support the training and equipment of police and gendarmerie to enhance their capacity to maintain order without recourse to lethal force.
  • Donors should fulfil their pledges made at the July 2007 forum for Guinea’s partners; provide additional funding to help prepare the elections; and support the government’s appeal to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for reliable financing during the 2007-2010 period.

Without such measures, Guinea’s crisis is likely to return, quite possibly in the form of less orderly demonstrations than early in the year, which could easily tip the country back into violence and set the stage for restoration of the discredited Conté regime or a coup.

Dakar/Brussels, 8 November 2007

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