On 28 September Guinea has made a comeback in the media, two years and a half after Lansana Conte ordered the killing of more than a 100 protestors. The hopes of a brighter future brought by Dadis Camara have disappeared with this massacre of more than 150 civilians in the Conakry stadium.
With international pressure and condemnations, Moussa Dadis Camara has finally accepted the international plan proposed by the United Nations to investigate the violence which occurred while the Guinean civil society was meeting against Dadis Camara´s presentation to the 2010 polls.
However, putting an end to Guinea’s “volatile situation” might request more. The shadows of conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leona are still in people´s minds. The country’s instability isn’t new and deeper measures need to taken to save it from becoming a “failed state” as the International Crisis Group warned.
The following events in Guinea are going to be decisive and many other factors such as the influence of China in terms of natural resources, the military dimension of the regime and risk of a regional “spill over” need to be dealt with.
Captain Camara and his promises
In the initial stages of his leadership Captain Camara legitimized his temporary presence through promises of democratic transition after Lansana´s 24 years of dictatorship. He publicly announced that he would not run for elections. “The Forces Vives, the umbrella government of opposition parties and the international community accepted the good faith of the junta on the basis of an agreed framework”.
Captain Camara proved his devotion to fight against corruption and drug trafficking forcing many of the accused, such as Ousmane Conte, the former president’s son, to confess their crimes publicly. “He even made troops from the elite presidential guard beg on their knees for forgiveness on national TV for roughing up a general in July.
Guinea’s post independence
In 1958 Ahmed Sekou Touré’s declared his rupture with France saying “we would rather have poverty in freedom than riches in slavery” . Nevertheless, it didn’t take him long to crush down political opposition against his socialist agenda. During his 26 years of power many were tortured, executed and disappeared in the Cam Boiro gulag.
Lansana Conté´s legacy wasn’t any better: “abusive security forces, collapsed economy and lack of trust among a divided civil society and quarrelsome political parties”, but the events of 28 September are particularly preoccupying for the brutality of crimes committed publicly, such as gang rape and the gunning of protestors as well as civilians in the neighborhood. But more than anything else these events have shown that “the Guinean population, desperate for democratic change and an end to economic misery, is prepared to take the streets in spite of the dangers, while the security forces are ready to use lethal force to terrify the population and maintain themselves in power.”
Natural resources and the growing role of China
Guinea has extraordinary rich soils. It possesses, among other minerals, gold, diamond, iron ore and uranium. It is also the world’s top supplier in bauxite. It grows coffee and agricultural products and has rich fishing waters. However, its people living in a country with a potential to be one of Africa’s richest countries, are still among the poorest of Western Africa
Since the events of 28 September and the international pressure imposed on the country for the violation of human rights, China seems to be strongly stepping into the Guinean market. According to Africa-Asia Confidential, “faced with growing foreign and local pressure from rival military factions, Captain Camara´s ruling clique has gone on the offensive, putting up Mines Minister Mohamed Thiam to announce that the CIF was willing to invest $7-9 bn. on oil and mining projects in Guinea, together with road building, railway and other transport projects. Thiam called it the contract of the century. The point was clear: criticism from Europe and the USA does not matter because China would be replacing Western interests in Guinea” .
The military dimension: multiple actors
The preoccupying declarations of Dadis Camara blaming party leaders for going ahead with forbidden demonstrations, but above all the accusations he made on members of his own army, confirm the country’s growing division, posing a serious risk to national stability.
The complexity of the crisis has been aggravated by the multiplicity of actors fighting for different motives and interests. Guinea´s military is experiencing fractures within the junta, the recruiting of militias, often fallowing ethnic lines and a presence of Liberians among the armed men killing protestors.
According to International Crisis Group, Dadis Camara’s position within the military looks more fragile: “For the head of the junta to openly declare that he has lost control of an army that is “holding him hostage” points to a potential general breakdown in law and order.”
Regional spill over
Even though Liberia and Sierra Leona are relatively calm, conflicts in the Mano River area have left unhealed scars and continued violence could present severe regional implications.
While Guinea has received in the past almost half a million refugees fleeing from Sierra Leone and Liberia it has also played an important role in their respective conflicts. For instance, Guinea participated in the creation of the ULIMO and LURD insurgencies in Liberia. At the border with Sierra Leone, security personnel have noticed a growing security presence since Camara came to power.
“Although senior UN officers in Liberia see no immediate security threat, they are concerned over Guinea. Security officials said, “if there are tensions…there is going to be a spill-over”.
The Guinean crisis is complex and should not be misread. It involves many actors with different agendas among which the fight for natural resources. The events of 28 September have weakened the legitimacy of a state ready to use violence against its own population in order to maintain power. Adequate measures need to be taken to stop any recurrence of violence from happening but also to help empower civil society towards a government transition, initially promised by Captain Camara. If the junta is not dismantled quickly and the situation stabilized, the entire region could face dramatic consequences.
1.- International Crisis Group, “Guinea: Military Rule Must End”, 16 October 2009, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6349&l=1