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Transition in the Republic of Guinea: A critical outlook into the future

6th December 2010


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The Republic of Guinea, a West African state, is on the verge of making history. It is on the road towards a return to democratic governance following the first round of elections held in June 2010 and the second round on 7 November 2010 (the results of which were not yet available during the development of this paper). If these elections are successful, the country will notice the first democratic leadership since independence. This implies that the country has not had a democratic transfer of power since it gained independence from France in 1958; it has been ruled by the military since 1984. These elections will mark a new transition process in the country, which is rich in bauxite, gold, diamonds and other natural resources. But the question here remains: to what extent can the state stay free from civil unrest in its march towards democracy, and what does its future portend?

As such, this article will examine the transition process underway in the country, and its implications for the future of the country. Apart from being influenced by the long years of authoritarian rule, the country has still got to battle with issues of ethnic unrest and blood shedding. The brutal nature of the military regimes may have also created lasting negative legacies within the state – extra judicial killings, unlawful detentions and torture of the opposition, massive massacres of pro-democracy protesters and the ethnic division even within the military – and this continues to remain a huge challenge, especially with the presence of natural resources that have the capacity of fuelling a different quest at state capture. The elections have also shown the resurgence of ethno-politics and analysts fear that the country may be heading for a civil war because these issues are capable of creating a strategic and/or security dilemma.


A brief background

Guinea gained its independence in 1958 from France with Ahmed Sekou Toure as its first president. Although a liberation activist against France, Toure’s leadership was guilty of anti-democratic tendencies. First was his revolutionary socialist agenda, noted in his romance with the Soviet Union, and then his attack on political opponents characterised by mass torture and execution of the opposition. His Government lasted for 24 years until his death in 1984. At his death, the military, led by General Lansana Conte, took over and established a dictatorship after an election that was widely criticized for its irregularities. Conte remained in power until his death in December 2008. The present military junta took over within hours of Conte’s death and have remained in power until most recently, when it agreed to hand over power to a democratically-elected Government. General Sekouba Konate, the Interim Head of the ‘Junta’, who came to power in December 2009, promised to hold democratic elections and also to uphold the results – an election that was hoped to be the first free and fair presidential elections 52 years.


The first round of the presidential elections was held in 27 June 2010. These elections themselves recorded a whole lot of violent upheavals, and though the country is still on course to establish democratic governance, it remains faced with many issues of security and political instability, since ethnicity and the struggle for state control can exacerbate the situation and possibly incite a civil war. A second round of elections was scheduled for 19 September, but was postponed to 24 October. This second election round was finally held on 7 November 2010 due to the political impasse created within the state caused by ethnic rivalry that animated many of the civil violence and military brutality. The candidates for the elections appear to be linked to different ethnic factions, and voting behaviours also appear to be tilted towards the same lines. In this light then, fear that the result of the elections, if concluded, may open a Pandora Box of civil and tribal clashes in the country is rampant. However, before an examination of that possibility, it is important to look at the legacies of authoritarianism in the polity.

Authoritarian legacies in Guinea

Going back in time to the post-independence era, authoritarianism has coloured leadership in the Conakry-led Guinean state. Spanning the Ahmed Sekou Toure era, through to General Conte’s regime, down to Captain Camara’s-led ‘Junta’ and even the present Konate Interim Government, the state has experienced gross human rights issues. An examination of the political trends in the state shows that the army has been engaged in a lot of civil and human rights violations as well as crimes against humanity. There have been incidents of stifling of opposition parties and pro-democracy activists have been unlawfully detained and tortured. Many have been assassinated, killed or jailed illegally. Corruption, too, has been on the rise, while the economic situation has continued to deteriorate. The poverty rate has increased to a point where the minimum life expectancy in Guinea is 56 and 60 years (for men and women respectively) and people live on less than US$ 1 per day.(2)

While analyzing studies of political transitions in Africa, Eghosa Osaghae emphasised the need to pay particular attention to the ignoble role of the military in politics in Africa as a whole.(3) His averment is that Western studies of political transitions in Africa are skewed and narrow, and this points to the glary fact that they seem to neglect the specific importance of military interference in politics, that has been characterised by crowding out democratic institutions and structures, stifling of the opposition and applying repressive strategies, that in the long run, hamper the enthronement of strong states in Africa. It is argued that colonialism played a huge role in repressive states and ethno-regional violent clashes in Africa.(4)

This emerged from the type of rule where by the colonial masters employed force in their approach towards entrenching their hegemony and created a system of patronage networks that ensured the redistribution of national revenue along those lines. This, in turn, guaranteed a system that worked against democratic consolidation, as repression was used to silence all opposition in the post-colonial state. The result was bourgeoning gate-keeper states(5) in Africa where rulers saw themselves as keepers of the national treasury and used the same system to run individual, tribal and patronage agendas, as opposed to contributing to the overall socio-economic goals for the state. In fact, these states, which were linked to Western or Communist blocs in the great battle for supremacy, gave immense power to rulers in the Cold War era, hence the high-handedness of rulers in many of these states.

In the Republic of Guinea, the military ‘Junta’ exemplifies one of these gate-keeper states, but the seeds sown by the French assimilation policy and centralised administrative unit was harvested first in the Government of Toure, who adopted a new constitution soon after independence whereby only a single political party – Parti Democratique de Guinée (PDG) – was recognised and held all seats in the Assemblée Nationale (the National Assembly).(6) Through this means, autocracy, despotism and authoritarianism was entrenched in the name of socialism, thus bringing to full force an era of socio-political madness where repression and socio-economic mismanagement bourgeoned. The army, it seems, took a cue from this post-colonial element and, upon taking over power in 1984, entrenched the authoritarian and oppressive ruling mechanism in the Guinean society.

The United Nations (UN) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been investigating human rights abuses and crimes against humanity committed by successive military regimes after Toure. Among these was a January 2007 incident that saw many Guineans – over 100 people – killed by military bullets due to demonstrations along the streets during a general workers’ strike. This incident occurred under the Conte’s leadership. The next was the grievous 28 September 2009 incident in the country’s national football stadium where the army raped and opened fire on many pro-democracy demonstrators, protesting against Captain Camara’s desire to run in his proposed January 2010 elections. This bloodbath received a worldwide denouncement, and there have been consistent calls from international organisations and civil rights group for a full investigation to be launched and the culprits – i.e. the Junta leader as the most culpable – to face justice for committing crimes against humanity.

Besides these two bloody incidents, another case of interest is the response of security forces to incidents that followed the first round of elections in June 2010. It was reported by the UN Commission on Human Rights that “security forces [were] using excess force in clashes with demonstrators … as a crisis over a delayed election in the junta-ruled … state deepened.”(7) This event was also characterised by the use of live ammunitions against protesters, resulting in the killing and maiming of civilians. These incidents illustrate the height of military repressive mechanisms against pro-democracy forces. This is alongside the waves of attacks against pro-democracy activists in the country who have been imprisoned, assassinated or tortured.

Elections and the (proposed) transition to democracy

The Head of the Interim Military Junta has promised to hold elections and stick to the results, thus paving the way for a transition into a democracy. This is laudable, and with the first round of elections over and the Junta’s insistence on committing to the terms of its promise shown in the scheduling and rescheduling of the second round, it seems that Guineans are looking right now at the future of a democratic state. This future, however, has to be anticipated from the spectacle of the political incidents that have occurred, especially during and after the first round of elections which reportedly was not free from violence and civil strife.

There were four political parties at the beginning of the 2010 elections – Sidya Toure’s Union of Republican Forces (UFR), Cellou Dilein Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), Lansana Kouyate’s National Party for Hope and Development (PEDN) and Alpha Conde’s Rally of the Guinean People (RPG).(8) However, after the first round of elections, two major contenders stood out – the former Prime Minister, Cellou Diallo and the opposition leader of RPG, Alpha Condo – the former leading with 43.7% of votes, while the latter had 18.2%.(9) Events got sour after the elections and all through to the delayed second round, with accusations of different kinds from opposing camps that are openly divided along ethnic lines. While Diallo alleged that he was wilfully denied outright victory at the polls, Conde’s supporters argued that the former tribal businessman had poisoned their supporters. In this way, antagonism increased and ethnic tension and clashes thus created an intense political atmosphere in the state.

During the second round of elections, no cases of violence in the country were reported; however, analysts still believe that a time-bomb is ticking, waiting to blow. This is against the backdrop of the early results, announced by the head of the election commission, the Malian General Siaka Toumany Sangare, which pitched Alpha Conde ahead of his rival, Cellou Diallo, in two of five communes in the capital, Conakary, and in another three cities. Conde has “obtained 68.08% and 51.06% respectively in the communes of Kaloun and Dixim in Conarkry, while Diallo only managed 30.91% and 48.24% in the same ... electoral districts.”(10) International observers noted only minor incidents of irregularity during Sunday's voting(11) and supporters of Diallo are calling for the results there to be annulled. But one wonders how long it will last before violence starts if the loosing parties refuse to accept election results.

Political analysts and conflict resolution theorists posit that ethno-nationalism in its negative sense is detrimental to political stability. Ethnic differences have the potential of leading to internal conflicts, especially in an inefficient state.(12) These ethnic differences can be exacerbated when three strategic dilemmas come into play: information, lack of credible commitment and the security dilemma.(13) These impinge on ethnic rapport and can heighten the propensity of a civil war, particularly when there are political elites or ethnic entrepreneurs who cash in on these dilemmas to increase the feeling of animosity within the polity. Transposing this into the situation of the Guinea elections, it may be argued that since voting behaviour is ethnicised, the possibility of political elites to use it as a tool for creating a political impasse in the state in future may not be too farfetched.

It is also argued that the presence of natural resources as sources of rents can heighten the possibility of civil wars or internal violent conflicts in resource-rich but poor states – known as the resource curse.(14) This springs from elements of greed and grievance, authoritarian and repressive regimes and redistribution of revenue along clientele and patronage networks – of which the ethnic groups form part. Though some analysts believe that social stratification and ethnicity – ethnic hatred(15) – are not empirically valid to explain these resource wars, one cannot entirely rule out the role it plays; after all, violent crises are built upon group cohesion and ethnicity. In this sense, therefore, Guinea’s riches from its natural resource abundance can lead to a struggle for state capture. This drive can lead to a lot of ethnic factions, and the presence of potent ethnic activists, who have the capacity of mobilizing others along this line, may thus prove quite devastating for the future state of Guinea under democracy.

Safeguarding its (democratic) future: Concluding remarks

Transitions to multiparty (and even neo-liberal) democratic leadership have continually been emphasised by many of the (Western) super-powers that seek to entrench a neo-liberal legacy on the new world order since the end of the Cold War. Efforts made by Guinea towards democracy (again) are a welcome development, but lessons from a multi-ethnic natural resource-rich state like Nigeria should teach the Guinea that a constrained, free state remains constrained in a lot of ways. As the military plans to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian Government, the onus thus falls on the latter to provide effective leadership that will trickle down the length and breadth of the country. This is to safeguard against the degeneration of the state into factions of ethno-nationalists – a situation that can portend doom as was the cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone and many other African states riddled with internal civil conflicts. The time to project towards the future is now.

Written by: By Kingsley Orievulu (1)


(1) Contact Kingsley Orievulu through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Conflict & Terrorism Unit (
(2) ‘Guinea country profile’, BBC News Online, 28 October 2010,
(3) Osaghae, E., 1995. The study of political transitions in Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 22(64), pp. 183-197.
(4) Blanton, R., et al., 2001. Colonial Style and Post-Colonial Ethnic conflict in Africa. Journal of Peace Research, 38(4), pp. 473-491; Ekeh, P., 1975. Colonialism and the two publics in Africa: A theoretical statement. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 17(1), pp. 91-112.
(5) Cooper, F., 2002. Africa since 1940: The past of the present. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
(6) Vine, T.L.V., 1997. The rise and fall of constitutionalism in West Africa. The Journal of Modern African studies, 35(2), pp. 181-206.
(7) ‘Groups raise alarm on Guinea violence’, Reuters Alertnet, 26 October 2010,
(8) Sillah, A., ‘Guinea hoping for end to military misrule’, BBC News Online, 24 June 2010,
(9) Bowers, B. and Camara, O., ‘Guinea to hold elections on Nov. 7 that threatens to stoke ethnic tensions’, Bloomberg News Agency, 5 November 2010,
(10) ‘Election Commission Announces Early Second-Round Results’, All Africa Global Media Online, 11 November 2010,
(11) ‘Guinea awaits election results’, News24 Online, 9 November 2010,
(12) Young, C., 1982. Nationalising the third world: Categorical imperative or mission impossible? Polity, 15(2), pp.161-181.
(13) Lake, D. and Rothchild, D., 1996. Containing fear: The origins and management of ethnic conflict. International Security, 22(2), pp. 41-75.
(14) Collier, P. and Hoeffler, A., 1998. On economic causes of civil war. Oxford Economic Papers, 50(1998), pp. 563-573; Collier, P. and Hoeffler, A., 2002, ‘Greed and Grievance in Civil War’, The Centre for the Study of African Economies Working,; Collier, P. and Hoeffler, A., 2002. On the incidence of civil war in Africa. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 46 (1), pp. 13-28.
(15) Ibid.



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