Unless Guinea’s main political actors agree on organising the pending legislative elections, there is a risk inter-communal tensions could spark violence that opens the army’s way back to power.
Guinea : Putting the Transition Back on Track, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, warns that President Alpha Condé’s unilateral effort to overhaul the electoral system has gained little praise, and that with his party’s gloomy prospects for the legislative elections, suspicion is increasing.
“The legacy of Condé’s election is cause for some concern because it gave new impetus to the idea that Guinea’s history is a struggle between its four major ethno-regional blocs”, says Vincent Foucher, Crisis Group’s Senior West Africa Analyst. “Moreover, Condé has done too little too late to promote reconciliation and dialogue with the active opposition”.
Condé’s accession to power in 2010 provided an extraordinary opportunity to end 50 years of authoritarianism and economic stagnation, but his government faces immense challenges with limited means. The authorities show willingness to provide good economic and financial governance, but strict budgetary discipline will depress the economy, at least in the short term.
It is worrying that dialogue with the opposition has begun only recently and with much ambiguity. Although the security forces were responsible for the worst violence during the presidential election, political mobilisation along ethnic lines sparked clashes and claimed victims. Organisational weaknesses of the electoral process fed these tensions by prompting fraud claims at every stage. The new government has done little to cope with this grim legacy, being slow to organise the legislative elections, which are indispensable for completing the institutional arrangements required by the constitution.
Because another period of electoral instability could endanger the young democracy, the government must convince the opposition to discuss electoral arrangements at the highest level, and all political actors must refrain from stirring up inter-ethnic tensions. President Condé should urgently engage in direct, periodic dialogue with the leaders of the most important parties at least until the legislative assembly is in place.
The international community, which partly withdrew after Condé came to power, must accompany this new stage of the transition, providing guarantees for the legislative elections as it did for the presidential election. The UN, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should work with the government to define a calendar for priority tasks, especially security sector reform and national reconciliation.
“Further delaying the elections is not an option: it would only worsen tensions, and a legislature based on a popular mandate is urgently needed”, says Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “To consolidate the transition toward a solid democracy, all political actors should abandon mobilisation along regional and ethnical lines”.