A week after the assassination attempt against Guinea's military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara has failed, uncertainty reigns in the country. Camara came to power in a bloodless coup on December 23 last year, after the death of dictator Lansana Conte, who had led the country since 1984. The junta leader was shot and wounded on 3 December by his aide de camp, Aboubacar Sidiki Diakite, in an alleged bid to seize power. Camara was later evacuated to Morocco, where he has been treated for head wounds.
Five days after the incident took place, on 8 December, a Guinean minister told state television that his country's military rulers have decided to suspend their participation in talks on Guinea's crisis until injured junta chief returns to work. But Camara is said to be in a ‘difficult' condition and his return to home is not imminent. Moroccan officials have said Camara was stable after an operation to treat "trauma of the cranium" but they have not given details on when he could be discharged from hospital. His absence in Conakry has left behind a power vacuum and a divided military in the troubled West African country. Defence Minister Sekouba Konate has now taken over as junta chief but uncertainty grows with the risk of instability in Guinea spreading across a historically volatile region.
When the CNDD junta came to power in a bloodless coup on 23 December 2008, it initially assured the domestic population and the international community that it would reform the institutions of government and eliminate corruption. True to form and in keeping with dictatorial double-speak, Captain Camara declared himself ‘president of the republic' the day after the coup. Camara stated that he had no intention of clinging to power and assured his bemused audience that he would convene elections in 2010 after, what is now, the customary two-year transitional period. The junta has utilised the last one year in power to consolidate its position and has systematically replaced numerous administrators in government with its own supporters. Consequently, the majority of the key posts in the government established on 14 January 2009 are held by fellow military cadres.
What tipped in the deterioration of the situation in Guinea is caused by the actions of the Guinean armed forces that led to the death of innocent 150 civilians at a peaceful rally in the capital Conakry. A demonstration organised in on 28 September 2009 to protest the prospect of Captain Camara to contest the presidential elections scheduled for 31 January 2010, became a killing field when Guinean security forces opened fire on the gathering of people. According to the UN and human rights groups more than 150 people were killed, 1,200 people were injured and numerous women were reportedly raped. The military junta contests this number and claims that 56 people were killed. Analysts suggest that following the stadium killings, Camara's grip on power appears increasingly tenuous and there are reports of increasing divisions within the leadership of the junta, particularly following the 3 December incident. Camara is reluctant to step down, apparently stating that his position will simply be usurped by someone else in the military.
At present, gunshots are heard in the capital Conakry as soldiers loyal to Camara pursue those linked to his would-be assassin. Earlier after the 28 September 2009 incident, Guinea's military leader had banned all ‘subversive' gatherings. Guinea's national civil society coalition, Les Forces Vives, is currently divided on their way forward. Since the botched assassination trucks full of heavily armed soldiers have swept through Conakry and into the countryside looking for suspects. There have been reports of multiple arrests, torture and killings. Many Guineans fear that if Camara dies this will leave a power vacuum in the military leadership which could provoke infighting, spilling over into more atrocities on civilians. On the other hand they also fear that his return could bring tough military rule with the possibility that he may behaves angrily.
Such developments could lead to a situation where developments become increasingly detrimental not only for Guinea but also to the wider sub-region. First, the ‘uncontrollable' elements within the country's armed forces could push for a more hard-line position with dire consequences for the citizenry including human rights violations. That will further push the CNDD to resist external pressure and refuse to respect the timetable for a transition to the restoration of constitutional order. Secondly, Captain Camara could cancel or renege on his assurance and contest the presidency, casting doubt on any short-term resolution of the domestic crisis. The recent attempt on the life of the junta leader may exacerbate dissent and disagreement within the military and security apparatus which may end in a bloody counter-coup. In the most unlikely prospect also, Guinea could try to convene national elections, not as required and stipulated by the AU and the international community not before the end of 2009 but sometime in 2010.
In the short-term, therefore, the ongoing confrontation and repression in Guinea casts serious doubt on the prospects for restoring peace and stability in the country in the short-term. The current situation remains volatile notably following the comments by the President of the military junta suggesting that it was not ready to relinquish power. There are concerns that the power struggle will be further magnified by ethnic polarization. The assassination bid aimed at the first Guinean leader from the minority Guerze tribe has indeed raised concerns that ethnic and regional divisions in the country could deepen. Historically, most of the violent ethnic conflicts in Guinea's recent past have involved the Peul, who make up about 40 percent of the country and who have never been in power. In 1993, open violence broke out between the Peul and the Sousou amid accusations the Peul were trying to overthrow President Sekou Toure, who had both Sousou and Malinke parents. The Guerze are related to the Kpelle, the largest ethnic group in Liberia, itself recovering from years of war.
Regionally also, the future stability of Guinea is vital in order to provide a modicum of tranquility in the West Africa region which was ravaged by the scourge of conflict in the last two decades. By 2000, half a million refugees who were fleeing from the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia established their camps in Guinea. This increased the strain on the country's meager social and economic resources. The refugee presence has also heightened suspicion within Guniea's junta about the potential for border incursions and external attempts to destabilize the country. Uniquely, there are ‘foreign' soldiers within the Guinean military, drawn from neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, which does not augur well for internal cohesion and military discipline. Organised crime has taken advantage of this cacophony of chaos to further extend its clandestine drug production activities further exacerbating instability in Guinea. The potential for deepening divisions remains and could spread beyond Guinea's borders to neighbouring Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, experts say.
So far the dynamics in Guinea has generated varied responses from important actors and is progressively increasing. Immediately after the coup last year, both the AU and ECOWAS have also suspended Guinea's membership of their respective organisations. Also the AU Peace and Security Council which met at the level of Heads of State and Government, in Abuja, Nigeria, on 29 October requested the AU Commission to take the necessary measures to implement targeted sanctions against the CNDD-led government. On 13 December ECOWAS chief Mohammed Ibn Chambas called for a special force to be sent to Guinea to protect civilians. His comments came at the start of the ninth meeting of the International Contact Group on Guinea, ICG-G, which includes the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union as well as ECOWAS.
But now is time caution is needed in responding to Guinea's crisis. Any escalation in the country's internal power struggle would transform a volatile situation into an even more acerbic and dangerous one given the ethnic divisions that exist in the country. This suggests that the situation in Guinea is precarious and that there are no guarantees that either the period leading to the proposed presidential election or its aftermath will be peaceful. Careful pressure is needed on the CNDD's leadership to formalize the commitment it made, on its own volition, not to extend the election date beyond January 2010, or try to contest the presidency. The international mediation effort being led by President Compaoré of neighboring Burkina Faso could also work with vigour before the further entrenchment of military power. Given the current trajectories, however, encouraging the military to find a proper role to play in the restoration of civilian democratic rule appears a job easier said than done.
Written by: Alemayehu Behabtu, Researcher, PSC Report Programme (PRP), ISS Addis Ababa Office