Guinea: Breaking the Dictatorship Domino Effect

The December 2009 shooting of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the former self-proclaimed President of Guinea, was perhaps a grave warning to those individuals who would seek to grab power through illegitimate means. Captain Moussa Dadis Camara came to power briefly by way of military coup after the death of long-time President/Dictator Lansana Conté in December 2008. Initially promising a peaceful transfer to democratic rule through the implementation of elections (that did not include him as a candidate), the wayward Camara began to demonstrate a fever that only those presented with an opportunity for supreme power can demonstrate, and it soon became apparent that Captain Dadis Camara would indeed stand for election. However, his days proved numbered and another transitional military regime soon took over, once again promising democracy without the meddling of overambitious military leaders. Guinea has never seen democracy; the late Lansana Conté grabbed power through a military coup and then ruled for over 24 years, without substantial opposition, denying liberal reforms and changing the constitution as he pleased. Fortunately, Conté’s death, combined with Camara’s dramatic and short-lived power grab, have provided enough of a political vacuum for Guineans to potentially establish, for the very first time, a real democratic government. However, the success of this undertaking will depend entirely upon the country’s ability to hold free and fair elections, whose outcome produces competent, selfless and principled leadership.

In December 2008, Guinea’s long-time dictator, Lansana Conté died after suffering a long illness, which was kept mostly secret from the Guinean public. This long-anticipated event was certain to lead to some political strife, but it was largely expected that the late president’s party, the Party of Unity and Progress (PUP), would maintain its power and that the status quo would continue. However, there were also concerns that elements of the highly factionalized military would attempt a coup. These concerns proved warranted, as hours after Conté’s death, a little known army captain, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, seized power through an essentially unchallenged military coup. Camara dissolved all government institutions and union activity, citing their failure to serve the interests of the people as justification. However, Camara’s promise for a quick and legitimate return to civilian rule was soon broken, as Camara’s behavior became increasingly erratic, and it became obvious to all that Camara had no intention of relinquishing his new position. Perhaps the final straw for many was the September 2009 brutal military attack against civilians protesting Camara’s continued rule. Camara’s forces as well as other rogue factions of the military shot and killed unarmed civilians, gang-raped and mutilated women and injured hundreds of others that tried to flee the horrific attack. In December 2009, Camara was shot in the head in what was an attempted assassination by a fellow officer and was forced to leave the country. It was then that General Sekouba Konaté, an associate of Camara’s, took over interim leadership of the government, quickly negotiating a return to civilian rule through presidential elections, set to occur on June 27th 2010 (results are pending).

Under Guinea’s constitution in effect at the time of Lansana Conté’s death, in the case of the president’s death, the president of the National Assembly will assume the presidency until new elections are held, which must be organized within 60 days. After Conté’s death, the President of the National Assembly, Aboubacar Somparé, along with Military Chief of Staff General Diarra Camara and Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré, called upon the president of the Supreme Court to note the presidential vacancy and to apply the appropriate constitutional provisions. Although such a transition would have been legitimate, powerful political forces were already conspiring behind the scenes to ensure that Somparé did not assume power. Somparé, though initially chosen by Conté to serve as President of the National Assembly, had apparently fallen out of favor with the President and was reportedly unpopular with the army and with leaders within his own party, the PUP. More specifically, it had been reported that relations between Somparé and the Secretary-General of PUP, Sékou Konaté (not to be confused with General Sékouba Konaté, current transitional President), were strained. Somparé also faced opposition from Fodé Bangoura, Conté’s personal aide, who had practically run the country during the few years prior to Conté’s death, while Conté was gravely ill. Both Sékou Konaté and Fode Bangoura viewed Aboubacar Somparé as a political threat. All three men were likely vying to be the PUP’s next presidential candidate, and prior to the coup, it seemed as though this power struggle would dominate the future political landscape. However, with elections now out of the direct hands of Conté and the PUP, the party cannot afford disunion, particularly since the Guinean public has now been provided, through the upcoming June 27th elections, the opportunity to punish the PUP for 24 years of corrupt and oppressive rule. Recognizing such, many of the main players of the PUP, including Somparé and Konaté, reconciled, and the decision was made to allow Somparé to run as the PUP’s presidential candidate.

About Bacar Somparé is a career politician, who has worked for the Guinean government for over thirty years; he is very much a part of the PUP establishment and his reconciliation with some of the more corrupt members of the PUP should be worrying. This lack of independence will only ensure that the PUP establishment, if reinstalled, will continue to maintain the status quo, stymieing reform so that its members can continue to profit both politically and economically. Former Conté allies such as Mamadou Sylla are also lurking about, seeking to secure their position in the next government. Sylla, the controversial former Honorary President of the PUP, is a powerful and corrupt businessman and politician, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison in 2006, only to be freed from jail personally by Conté shortly afterwards. Sylla began as a major rice retailer, but then ventured into arms importing, becoming the army’s main supplier and eventually one of Guinea’s wealthiest business leaders. During this time, he formed a close relationship with Conté, using his money and influence to support Conté’s illegitimate 2001 referendum to abolish term limits. In turn, Sylla was heavily rewarded, not only with major government contracts, but with increased political influence and access, as well as immunity from prosecution (although he was convicted for embezzlement in 2006, he was immediately released, and soon after proclaimed honorary president of PUP). Under both Moussa Dadis Camara and the new transitional regime, Sylla has lost a significant amount of his political influence; just last year he had some of his property confiscated and had to stand before the anti-corruption audit commission. However, he is still a threat to the formation of a democratic government, as he struggles to regain lost political power. Sylla has formed a new political party, the Democratic Union of Guinea (UDG), and although it is highly unlikely that he will win, Sylla is currently one of twenty-four candidates vying for the presidency.

Similar to many other African elections, Guineans will face a host of familiar names on the presidential ballot, as leaders who have worked to exploit the country scramble to recycle themselves in wake of the political shuffle. Many of Conté’s former ministers have also found a place on the ballot including former Youth Minister Fodé Soumah, former Prime Minister Sidya Touré (now President of opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea), former Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté, who in his short stint dared to challenge Conté and was eventually sacked, and another former Prime Minister, reformist Cellou Dalein Diallo, who was also sacked following an attempt to reshuffle the government. Diallo failed to implement his reform strategy due mostly to significant opposition within the government and military power structure. In 2006, Conté signed a decree allowing Diallo to take control of key ministerial portfolios including the economy, finance, international cooperation and planning. Under this government reshuffle, which would have been key to implementing reform, Diallo would have appointed seven new ministers and ousted twelve current ministers. However, before the decree could be implemented, Bangoura and his government allies had it reversed and Diallo subsequently removed from office, with the approval of the ailing Conté. Bangoura had claimed that Diallo had overstepped his power, but it was apparent that Bangoura and his corrupt associates throughout the government and military felt threatened by the potential for reform and so conspired against Diallo, incapacitating him politically. Soon after being ousted, Diallo joined the opposition and became President of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG); he was one of hundreds of people injured by military forces during the September 2009 protests in Conakry. He may have proven himself to be enough of an outsider of the former Conté regime to gain significant support amongst the populace; however, it remains unclear whether his previous attempt at government overhaul was a selfless act in the name of reform, or a selfish bid to secure more power.

Perhaps the purist of the major candidates is Alpha Condé, the opposition leader who is strongly believed to have won the 1993 election. He is considered ‘pure’ in that he has never taken part in the economic exploitation of the country, something which PUP members engaged in rather freely during their reign. Condé has stood as a presidential candidate in every subsequent election since 1993, except for the 2003 election, during which time, Condé was barred from running. Shortly after the 1998 presidential elections, Condé had been falsely tried and convicted of plotting a coup against Conté. After serving almost two years in prison, Conté agreed to release Condé from jail in 2001 under the condition that he never again engage in political activities, but Condé immediately left the country so that he could resume his position as President of the People’s Rally for Guinea Party (RPG). Condé spent the next four years running a sophisticated, international campaign in support of democratic reform in Guinea, and then returned to the country in 2005 to assist the RPG in municipal elections, but instead chose to boycott them. Condé is perhaps the most credible of the 24 presidential candidates, having never been part of Conté’s regime. Although Condé’s lack of association with the previous government is considered a huge advantage, it is also a cause of criticism. Condé has never held a senior political position; he does not have significant political experience. Hence, some critics question his ability to hold such a high-level position. But with Condé as president, an absolute overhaul of government is certainly guaranteed and most would argue that is exactly what the country needs at this stage: an entirely new government devoid of any autocratic remnants.

With so much at stake, it is imperative that the upcoming presidential election produce a reformist government that is legitimately democratic. This begins with the current regime holding free and fair elections that allow for unrestricted campaigning and electoral access for both the candidates and voters. Thus far, political campaigning has proceeded without disruption and although Camara is still trying to impose his influence in absentia, no military leaders have attempted to stand for the presidency. The transitional military regime continues to ensure its cooperation in establishing a democratic government and has provided security for candidates campaigning throughout the country. The National Independent Election Commission (NIEC) continues to work under a tight deadline to ensure widespread voter registration, and the appropriate election logistics. Fortunately, the US-based Carter Center, ECOWAS and a host of individual countries are also providing support to the NIEC in the form of technical assistance and election monitors, and most organizations have praised the efforts of all those involved, noting the progress that has been made thus far.

A lot of this progress toward achieving sustainable democracy can be attributed to Interim President General Sekouba Konaté, who since his inception has stayed continuously committed to his promise of democratic governance through credible elections. Upon taking over the presidency, General Sékouba Konaté immediately held a vote amongst opposition political parties, the unions and the military junta to find a suitable civilian interim prime minister, which led to the appointment by Konaté of long-time opposition leader, Jean-Marie Doré to the post. Konaté also launched a reconciliation campaign across the country, involving all political parties, the unions and the military. The president has called upon the nation to look past their differences and has asked for the public’s forgiveness; he has also promised an end to impunity and justice for victims of violence and poverty. General Sékouba Konaté continues to reiterate his commitment to, and faith in, the June 27th election and has so far managed successfully to maintain unity amongst fractious and restless military elements, which is no easy feat. The International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) commends Interim President Sekouba Konaté for his ongoing commitment to a peaceful transition to legitimate democratic rule. Prior to General Sékouba Konaté’s leadership, Guinea was on the precipice of losing a unique opportunity: a chance at real democracy. In his new found role as President, General Sékouba Konaté took action to ensure that the country would return to civilian governance. President Konaté has successfully promoted dialogue between all parties involved, thwarted ongoing threats and attempts at election subversion and ultimately fulfilled his promise to hold free and fair elections. The IIJD hopes that President Konaté will serve as a model to other African leaders and that the recognition of his actions will encourage others to follow in his footsteps.

Although the presidential election seems a bit rushed, there is a sense of urgency that they must proceed without further delay. Guinea currently does not have a legitimate, functioning government; it is at the moment ruled by a makeshift regime that cannot be allowed to root itself any deeper within the political power structure. In addition, with the country heavily factionalized, leaving a political vacuum of such size is dangerous; there are too many parties seeking to exploit the current political disorder, hence the pressing need for a legitimately elected government. The IIJD calls upon all parties involved to engage in the electoral process in a responsible manner and to respect the will of the people, whatever the outcome. What Guineans have here is a momentous opportunity to take ownership of their government, as well as their country’s resources, and for the first time since gaining independence in 1958, to experience real freedom. Only a strong institutional foundation can foster and sustain current gains, and it pertains to Guineans to seize this opportunity to ensure that profound and appropriate reforms are conducted. They deserve government institutions that empower them and nurture their right to shape their future. There is a renewed hope amongst Guineans that their lives are likely to change for the better as a result of these elections, and it is this enthusiasm that may very well be the key to ensuring such an outcome. The power is now in the hands of Guinea’s citizens to elect a leader that will empower them in return and provide them with a long anticipated and much deserved reprieve from decades of suffering they endured at the hands of a dictator.