Guinea

WARN Policy Brief: Crisis in Guinea - Popular revolt, new prime minister and challenges of a transition

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1. Introduction

Guinea is just emerging from a major crisis that claimed 139 lives (including two soldiers) and 1756 wounded and hospitalized between January and February 2007(1). For once, the country drifted towards the precipice of complete anarchy as the government refused to yield to popular demands in what was seen as a peoples' revolt. The declaration of a twelve day martial law with military authorization to shoot on sight and the ruthlessness of the measures attracted a lot of criticism and condemnation from both within and without. As the trade unions called off the general strike, the Guinean Parliament in an unprecedented move voted against President Lansana Conté's proposal for the extension of the martial law. Tension subsided when finally ailing President Conté bowed to internal and external pressure and dropped the controversial appointment of Eugène Camara as prime minister by appointing yet a new prime minister -- Lansana Kouyaté, former Executive Secretary of ECOWAS to lead the government.

The appointment of a new prime minister and the formation of a new government significantly reduced the tension in Guinea that had built up over the years. It however cannot resolve the myriads of problems and the vast destruction that accompanied the weeks of riots and violent

confrontations. The riots and destruction that targeted mostly symbols of the state (including administrative buildings and residences of senior government officials) affected 30 out of the 33 prefectures that make up the administrative map of Guinea. This policy brief analyzes the situation in Guinea, highlighting the following:

- The fundamental issues that constitute the critical accelerators of crisis (socio-economic roots of the crisis, president's worrisome health and succession issue, political impasse, forth coming legislative elections, and regional dimension of the Guinea crisis);

- The major stakeholders and their leverage on peace and conflict in Guinea;

- Possible scenarios between now and anticipated parliamentary elections earlier scheduled for June 2007;

- Options for response or recommendations.

2. Fundamental Issues & Accelerators of the Guinean Crises

The February 26 appointment of Lansana Kouyaté in the framework of the government-trade unions' dialogue to move the country forward was greeted with cautious optimism given the context of very high expectations and antecedent(2) decisions in the same vein. Nonetheless, the significance of the appointment of Lansana Kouyaté cannot be over-emphasized.

First, the move demonstrated willingness, albeit under pressure, of President Conté to cede some of his presidential responsibilities and powers. To what extent such prime ministerial powers can go in addressing the daunting problems that Guinea face today still constitutes the gloomy side of the deal. The issue becomes even more challenging when one draws inspiration from the problematic Ivorian example of power devolution from the presidency to the Prime Minister especially when such powers are not constitutionally guaranteed as is the case in Guinea now. Secondly, President Conté's decision to rescind an earlier decision appointing Eugène Camara constituted a major victory for Guinean civil society led by the trade unions whose demands for a neutral personality was firm and resolute. Thirdly, the appointment of a new prime minister and the formation of a technocratic oriented new government constitute a major victory for sub-regional diplomacy steered by the newly transformed ECOWAS Commission led by Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas and the ECOWAS Council of Elders led by the former Nigerian military leader, General (retired) Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

Despite the high expectations, key fundamental issues still remain unresolved. The section below attempts an analysis of these existing and potential conflict accelerators that may undermine the ongoing initiatives at restoring peace and stability in Guinea.

Socio-Economic roots of the crisis

Peace and stability in Guinea seriously resides in the country's ability to address the daunting socio-economic challenges. The resilience or conflict carrying capacity of the country reached breaking point when prices of basic necessities sky-rocketed to the extent that a vast majority of the country's working class no longer afforded to buy even a bag of rice, the nation's irresistible staple. This was sparked, to a greater extent, by the hike in fuel prices that orchestrated an uncontrollable ripple inflationary effect on the economy as prices of everything soared.

The soaring fuel prices have been accelerating the country's inflation rate higher and higher and the direct effect on the cost of transportation has been weighing hard on the meagre family incomes. A 50 kilogramme bag of rice that sold at 65,000 Guinea Francs (GF) in January suddenly plummeted to between 100,000 and 150,000 GF (an equivalence of 18-25 Euros). This amount represents almost 50 percent of the average meagre salary earned by Guinean civil servants. Given the large family sizes and number of dependents, each average family needs about three bags of rice a month to survive. Coupled with other exigencies like bills, heath and school needs and rents, life in Guinea has since become a nightmare for the ordinary people. On the contrary, a remarkable manifestation of riches by the nouveau riche is evident in the emergence of villas and most modern four wheel vehicles by politicians and privileged 'contractors'. The gap between the rich and the poor in Guinea that sits on one of the world's most endowed solid minerals foundation remains an irony and challenge that must be addressed adequately.

Humanitarian Crisis

The humanitarian crisis unleashed by the violent demonstrations and the energetic repression by the government forces cannot be over-emphasized. Given the fact that 30 out of the 33 prefectures were affected by the mass destruction, the immediate aftermath of the crisis has been challenging. Millions of Guineans are desperate with no money to afford basic food needs. In addition, urgent medical needs such as medicine, equipment and other facilities are grossly lacking and UNOCHA and other health providing agencies have only been able to attend to victims of violence in the two government hospitals in Conakry. The situation in other towns remains precarious as medical supplies by relief agencies ran out of stock. Compounding the matter is the reported outbreak of cholera and meningitis epidemics in some parts of the country. A humanitarian evaluation mission composed of the UN system in Guinea (OCHA, WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, WFP, UNHCR, FAO) Concern Universal, and other international relief organizations and NGOs have been coordinating efforts at assessing the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis to proffer solutions.

Notes:

(1) OCHA situation report, February 27, 2007.

(2) The experiences of Francois Fall and Cellou Dalein Diallo as Prime Ministers demonstrated a difficult context of working with a presidential entourage that refuses to obey any decisions from a powerless prime minister. So called insiders of the regime have more than once voiced out that they are answerable to the president alone.