Guinea: Military Rule Must End
Africa Briefing N°66
16 Oct 2009
The killing of at least 160 participants in a peaceful demonstration, the rape of many women protestors, and the arrest of political leaders by security forces in Conakry on 28 September 2009 showed starkly the dangers that continued military rule poses to Guinea’s stability and to a region where three fragile countries are only just recovering from civil wars. The military junta, the National Council for Democracy and Development (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement, CNDD), is denying its evident responsibility and playing for time by offering what it calls a “national union government” to opposition parties. But with the mood on the streets hardening against the junta, worse trouble is likely unless combined domestic and international pressure is applied to force the soldiers from power.
The international community swiftly condemned the killings and demanded an immediate investigation. On 2 October, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) named President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso to mediate the crisis. The killings came only ten days after the African Union (AU) had stated its intention to place sanctions on the junta if its leader, Dadis Camara, did not confirm in writing by 17 October that neither he nor any member of the CNDD will stand in presidential elections that are now scheduled for 31 January 2010.
The violence came amid rising tensions connected to Dadis Camara’s apparent determination to seek the presidency and followed a breakdown in dialogue over the democratic transition process. The junta had blocked creation of a National Transitional Council (Conseil national de transition, CNT), the large consultative body that was to be a key element in the transition process as agreed in March, and temporarily banned political discussions on state media. Political party and civil society leaders had become targets of military intimidation and harassment. The breakdown in dialogue reinforced a belief that the streets were the only available space for the people to express views on the transition process.
Since taking control in December 2008 within hours of the death of Guinea’s long-time autocrat, Lansana Conté, the army has steadily tightened its grip on power. It has militarised the public administration, used state resources to establish CNDD support groups across the country and formed ethnic militias. It has fuelled tensions most notably in the highly volatile southern region, Guinée Forestière, where it has gathered thousands of ex-combatants and former volunteers with combat experience. While the army has a collective interest in staying in power, the militia recruitment attests to the mistrust between junta leaders and other sections of the military. This is of great concern, since any violent breakdown within the military could mean civil war for Guinea and destabilise its neighbours via refugee flows into Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, arms flow into Côte d’Ivoire, and cross-border movements of ex-combatants and refugee communities along the Liberian and Sierra Leone frontiers.
The tragic events of 28 September underline the necessity of crafting an exit strategy for the junta, so as to rescue the democratic transition and establish the conditions necessary for free and fair elections. The next steps are:
The junta should take into account that the large majority of citizens will not accept another military regime, and its attempt to remain in power is likely to plunge the country into civil war or anarchy. It should stand aside now and make way for a civilian transitional government that includes a large representation from the Forces Vives – the umbrella group of opposition parties and civil society – and accept the ECOWAS offer to mediate negotiation of a dignified exit for itself.
Members of the junta should explicitly and irrevocably drop any plans to stand for elections in any form and accept the terms of a comprehensive security sector reform process. This involves in the first place returning to barracks and taking measures to enforce discipline and address impunity among the troops. This could pave the way for more comprehensive security sector reform, including professionalising the army and creating a more capable civilian police force.
President Compaoré’s mediation on behalf of ECOWAS should focus on obtaining acceptance by the CNDD of the AU election ultimatum and designing the terms for top officers’ departure from power.
ECOWAS should consider sending a military mission to Guinea, possibly at chief of staff level, to assess the requirements for stabilising the country, disarming all militias, providing security for the elections and launching a comprehensive program of security sector reform. This mission could also include a civilian political monitoring component.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings should consider conducting an urgent mission to Guinea with a view to beginning forensic investigations into the 28 September events, and other international partners should provide financial and political support to national human rights organisations that are collecting information on the ground about the crimes committed.
If the junta digs in, the international community should isolate the junta regime, starting by imposing tough targeted sanctions on CNDD members and their key supporters. The AU and concerned partners such as France, the U.S. and the European Union (EU) should simultaneously offer help to neighbouring countries for implementation of the sanctions and start contingency planning with ECOWAS forces for a rapid regional military intervention should Guinea slide into further violence.
Dakar/Brussels, 16 October 2009