- Conflict analysts today warned of the high risk for Guinea Conakry "becoming West Africa's next failed state." Guinea's economy was faltering, the government has nearly ceased to provide services, and in 2004, there were isolated uprisings in at least eight towns and cities in all regions of the country, the analysts warn. But there was still hope.
Guinea has been the most stable country in the troubled West African region since independence in 1958. While all neighbouring countries have experienced repeated armed conflicts, peace has been maintained in Guinea. Not even attempts by Liberia and Sierra Leonean rebels to export their conflict to Guinea were particularly successful. Now, however, as dictator Lansana Conté seems to be dying, a crisis could be looming.
The Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, today released a new report, urging Guineans and the international community to "stop Guinea's slide" into disaster. Both the government and the international community needed to focus hard on reform, the report emphasises.
As rivals intrigue over succession to the ailing and dictatorial President, Lansana Conté, Guinea's economy is faltering, the government has nearly ceased to provide services, and there have been isolated uprisings across the country. There were also a number of external threats, the Crisis Group sums up.
- The political class is preoccupied with Conté's failing health, but the steps the country must take in the next months are the same whether the President recovers or not, says Mike McGovern of the Crisis Group. "All players must push forward the agreed reform programme without reference to personalities," Mr McGovern urged.
The analysts see hope in the package of political and economic reforms recently agreed by the government. These reforms include the revision of the electoral lists, the opening of the airwaves, a guarantee of freedom of movement and association for opposition parties and the creation of an independent electoral commission.
Their implementation is however very slow and the reforms have faced stiff opposition from the vested interests that have calcified around the presidency. The report concluded that the reforms are "needed and needed now." They should be implemented before municipal elections are held in autumn and before presidential elections are held in the case of a vacancy, the analysts add.
But also the opposition should be patient, they warn. "The reform process will necessarily be painful, slow and imperfect." The opposition would have to make a leap of faith and participate in the electoral process even though progress is sure to come in fits and starts. Further, issues of military salaries and career progression must be addressed for the armed forces to back the process, the report says.
Habits formed under 47 years of authoritarianism were not easy to change overnight, the analysts warn. "Rather than opting out at the first sign of repression, opposition parties must keep pushing forward, demanding that the government make good on its promises." The media and civil society would have important roles to play in this push.
- If these reforms succeed, the looming succession battle can be resolved in a consensual manner, and Guinea could turn a corner in the following twelve to 24 months, says Nancy Soderberg of the Crisis Group. "If not, the succession could very well be bloody, and the colossal mismanagement of the last 21 years is likely to continue," she warns.
Getting it wrong in Guinea now would probably lead to situation similar to that in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau, or even worse, that in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Tension between military-backed ursurpators and the opposition could split the country among ethnic lines or open it up to the many uprooted and demobilised ex-rebels of the region, looking for a new war-ground and exploiting Guinea's rich natural resources.
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