Drug Trafficking and the Political Transition in Guinea

23rd April 2010 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

After the death of the ailing president Lansana Conté in Guinea in December 2008, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara ascended to power in this country through a bloodless coup. He and his military junta (the National Council for Democracy and Development) then declared their determination to combat corruption and drug trafficking, which had infested Guinean body politics. Guinea had over the years become a major drug hub due to the state of lawlessness that characterised the dying years of the Conté regime (2003-2008). For this reason, the Guinean masses, political actors and the wider international community hailed this declaration and applauded it. However, Dadis Camara has been out of power since December 2009 and his successor Sékouba Konaté now places less emphasis on drug trafficking and the fight against corruption than on the process to elect a civilian government in Guinea.

 

The infiltration of the political space by drug dealers is a serious security matter in West Africa and would need consistent and long-term attention by both researchers and policy-makers. Over the years, drug trafficking and drug consumption in West Africa have risen sharply.

 

Though it might appear marginal compared to what is at stake for Guinea's political transition, drug trafficking has been widespread in recent years. It has involved both Guineans and ‘foreigners' based in the country (e.g. Lebanese traders) and those passing through. To these local and ‘regional' actors, one could also add Latin American drug cartels who are increasingly using the region as a transit point for their drugs en route to Europe. All the aforementioned actors have not only made of Guinea a country through which drugs transit but also a country where drugs are sometimes produced and even consumed.

 

Thus, the raids Dadis Camara carried out during his brief but intense stay in power led to the identification of many business and political actors, including Lansana Conté's own family members, as being or having been important role players in the drug trade taking place in Guinea. When Ousmane Conté, one of the defunct president's sons, was arrested and later interrogated on national television in February 2009, he confessed to have used diplomatic passports and pouches in order to carry drugs to Europe. This highlighted the political dimension of the business and how deep-rooted it had become in the country.

 

The way in which Ousmane's case was handled clearly sent a message about the intentions of Dadis Camara to do away with drug traffickers. Over the months, however, the drive behind this crusade seemed to be waning, and seems to have been totally abandoned since Dadis left power following an assassination attempt on his life in December 2009.

Whether or not Dadis Camara's message discouraged drug traffickers remains another issue which only time could tell. Meanwhile, time and circumstances did not allow an assessment of where Camara's fight against drug barons could have led the country. In retrospect, it could be argued that Dadis' war on drugs was part of the "Dadis show" just as it can be argued that it could have been aimed at cleaning up the Guinean society.

 

On the one hand, his initiative on drugs could have been aimed at widening his support base as a military leader at a time when the African Union and the wider international community have adopted a zero tolerance attitude vis-à-vis unconstitutional changes of government. This can be illustrated by the fact that he reneged on his initial promise to lead a neutral transition through his declaration that there was nothing that prevented him from standing for elections as a candidate. And one could indeed argue that this change of mind - preoccupying himself with political campaigns to remain in power - had a significant impact and led to its halt even before his downfall. Many Guineans and international actors that had applauded his stance on drug trafficking became disillusioned.

 

On the other hand, his endeavour could have actually been an act of political will from a leader who truly wanted to change the society he lives in.

 

Though in view of the circumstances at the time and the possibility of him standing for the elections, it seems that Camara's intentions leaned more towards the first option.

 

His successor Konaté, who appears not to want to cling to power, now devotes his time to the election process and handing over power to an elected government. Could his decision to relinquish power be the reason why he would want to leave such a task to the future elected government when the time comes? This in itself calls for cautious optimism. The post-transition challenges might be so overwhelming that effective substantial attention might not be devoted to drug trafficking and corruption.

 

Whichever the case might be, Konaté is seemingly determined to organise a smooth transition for the country and to leave power after the presidential elections whose first round has been scheduled for 27 June 2010. Indeed, most of the institutions needed for that have been in place and are seriously working in their various fields, including the transitional national council that is sitting en lieu of an elected parliament.

 

However, as much as his disinterest in power is commendable, Konaté not putting drug trafficking and corruption on his list of priorities might give more room to the revival and the mushrooming of more narco-trafficking activities.

 


The next president or government will have to consider this problem as a priority and, above all, will need the support of law enforcement agents in combating the durg barons. With their support, citizens and state officials who are involved in drug trafficking can be easily traced, whereas without their support both officials and security forces could thrive on drug trade without any limitation, as it is now the case in neighbouring Guinea Bissau.


Written by: Sylvie Reine Loua, Research Intern, African Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Pretoria office