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12 January 2009 | Feature Article

West African democracy: black-sheeping Guinea

The suspension of Guinea by ECOWAS for the overthrow of a constitutional regime by its military, signals the fact that the West African region takes democracy, as development and stability vehicle, seriously.

Ever since the military coup in Mauritania last August and the coup attempt in Guinea Bissau, the issue of democratic consolidation in West Africa has become a worrying issue. In this regard, the December 7 and 28 and January 2 general elections in Ghana, viewed as the region's democratic star, was seen as a test case for the West African region which stability is still suspect, as it struggles for democratic consolidation.

Democracy may not be consolidated yet in the region but the ECOWAS move is ennobled by the sordid realization that the long-running suffering of Guineans at the hands of frightening military juntas and dreadful one-party systems have to stop and tie Guinea, a black-sheep, to the region's emerging democratic ethos.

As part of black-sheeping Guinea, the African Union had also suspended Guinea – and so have been some section of the international community. Such view of Guinea comes against the backdrop that much of its politics have been primitive. Even in a West Africa where for long military coups and one-party systems hold sway, almost all the countries are on the democratic path, amid various trends. But Guinea, for the past 50 years, refuses to wean itself from the military junta and one-party mentality, scurrying the country on perpetual instability, misgovernment, and worsening poverty.

Why should a President Lansana Conte dying lead to the military staging a coup, throwing any constitutional procedure to resolve any transition process away. It doesn't matter whether Guinea has weak institutions, of which it has; the rule of law has to take its cause as a matter of stability. It may sound heartbreaking but that's Guinea, where for the past 50 years, it hasn't seen anything democratic. The Guinean event isn't African; it's noticeably Guinean with its own eccentricities. Guinea, like a kid, refuses to grow up and join the West African democratic trend. The era of what happens in one African country viewed as indicative of the rest is no more.

Guinea is politically a sick country and need to be cured by Ecowas, the AU and the international community by forcing it to take bitter medicine of the rule of law and democratic freedoms. Like one suffering from autism, Guinea has been repeating the same primitive political behaviour again and again for the past 50 years as if it's entrapped in a crab hole. Ecowas is cutting Guinea off as part of its cure in a region that for long is known as the sick spot of Africa and the poorest region in the world.

This brings to mind not necessarily Guinea and West Africa but more narrowly Guinea and Ghana that virtually started on the same path, and are viewed as brothers. Ghana is increasingly growing democracy, freedoms, the rule of law, and garnering global respect. Some may ask, but Guinea and Ghana are pals. Yes, they are but Guinea hasn't weaned itself from the disorderly politics. While Ghana is rightly growing democracy and freedoms, Guinea hasn't, and instability, dreadful one-party systems, threatening military juntas, unfreedoms, fears, harassment, threats of civil war, and collapsing institutions are still dangling on its messed-up head.

While Ghana is progressively learning from its years of misgovernment, Guinea appears held back and should be seen simultaneously in its own environment and its leaders/elites, who lack confidence, unique lack of common sense. Despite starting on promising note on October 2, 1958, at the cost of the immediate termination of all French assistance, when first President Ahmed Sékou Touré took a famous exceptional path and called the bluff of French President Charles de Gaulle's referendum given French colonies the choice between immediate independence or retaining their colonial status.

With independence, Guinea pursued a mixture Soviet-type radical socialism and Pan Africanism without any hint of flexibility in its development process. Ghana had done so but has quickly moved on big time. While Ghana experienced 21 years of military juntas and 6 years of one-party systems and has moved on, driving enviable democratic culture, Guinea is still enmeshed in almost 50 years of military juntas and one-party systems with the shocking December 23, 2008 military coup that enlarges its misgovernment at a time when democratic and reformist trends are observable in West Africa.

Toure effectively shut Guinea out from the rest of world's progress. Practically, that started Guinea's befuddled state under the brutally tyrannical grip of Toure who suppressed democratic aspirations and effectively asphyxiated progress. Disturbing ethnicity became the order of the day, and is still smoudering, deflating Guinea's Pan-Africanism image, and seeing Toure, a Mandingo, effectively killing and scattering the increasingly progressive Fulah ethnic group, who form about 40 percent of the Guinean population.

Till he died in 1984, Toure didn't demonstrate any understanding of Guinea despite his pretensions. There were virtually no institutional growth and the country, for the past 50 years, was increasingly decomposing in the face puny leaders/elites. Guinea endangered itself, the country mired in some sort of perpetual chaos. In development-speak, from scratch, Guinea was paralyzed, its soul choked, its development engines jammed. For long, Guinea has been a depressed nation, its innate pride and “African Personality” ruined, and now-and-then Guineans struggling to free themselves from this state of suspended animatronics.

It may sound surreal but such growing puzzlement saw Toure blinded from appropriating the global prosperity ideals to develop its vastly endowed mineral wealth (bauxite, oil, gold, diamonds, iron ore, uranium, among others) and its remarkable agricultural potentials. With corruption endemic and rule of law suppressed, Guineans become the poorer, as local and foreign investor are scared of the country, and at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index – at 167th rank out of 179 countries ranked with data in 2007.

Those who came after Toure were failure, showing greater misunderstanding and fright, and failing to draw from Toure's failures and Guinean conventional values. In the face of misapprehension after the death of Toure, Lansana Conté, a military general and a Soussou (who make up 20 percent of the population), assumed power in 1984, in a military coup and explosively mixed free market policies with unfreedom, brutal dictatorship and tribalism. Conte became Roman Emperor Nero, dancing through his deadly delusions, as Guinea burns behind him.

There have been multi-party elections beginning since 1993 but they are veneer. Expectedly they had negative effect on Guinea. This saw intermittent threats against the Guinean state from sections of the military, attempted rebel invasions, and deadly bickering from the opposition parties. Under Conte, Guinea had the highest number of military mutinies and violent demonstrations in West Africa. That's scary in a region already mired in long-running instabilities.

With weak grasp of Guinea and insecurities widespread, the country became addicted to instabilities – even at certain points some prime ministers and state ministers were running away from their own country in a climate of heightened insecurities. Ministers and other state officials were wheeling around Conte like buzzing insects in a state of instability. One day you are hired, the next day you fired in a rapid succession – Guinea becoming intellectually and spiritually feeble, its citizens sinking deeper into poverty and political hopelessness.

In 2005, Prime Minister François Lonseny Fall resigned and sought asylum with his family in France, citing corruption and increasing interference from Conte. Fall's successor, Cellou Dalein Diallo, was sacked on April 2006, in the face of crippling nation-wide strikes, mass demonstrations, unfreedoms, military coup attempts, and food shortages. The institutions of state were deteriorating against the backdrop of unfreedoms, deaths, scrawny elites, and, as the Greek thinker Thucydides would say, democratic stasis, where there were symptoms of perpetual disturbances of Guineans and the Guinean state.

Despite Conte's on-again, off-again agreeing to opposition demands for broader democratic reforms, he reverted to his old primordial tricks. On February 13, 2007, Conte appointed Eugene Camara as prime minister but yet Guinea was boiling under insecurities. On 26 February 2007 Conte appointed Lansana Kouyaté as prime minister but he was fired on May 23, 2008. Kouyate was replaced by Ahmed Tidiane Souaré who has been prime minister since May 2008. You've to be magician to understand all these entire rapid never-ending wheeling at Conte's State House.

Really, a confused nation and dictatorship-plagued. No country develops under such circumstances of near-permanent confusion. No doubt, Guinea has been failing for the past 50 years, riddled in immense psychological and spiritual crisis.

Perplexed, Conte imposed martial laws – it was part of his political diet. Like neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia, the fears have been that Guinea would explode into civil war – all the ingredients have been there for self-destruction. In its long smouldering civil unrests, government buildings and properties throughout the country were either looted or destroyed by angry Guineans who saw nothing good in Guinea. Guineans unequivocally called on Conté's to resign. Conte survived assassination attempts in the interim. He became used to such dangers, turning them into a healthy political game and strangely surviving them till being knocked down by diabetes on December 23, 2008.

Conte's long “illness” should have let him transit power smoothly for the good of Guineans to avoid crisis, but he did not, a disease of Africa's “Big Man” syndrome. This is against African tradition. It reveals Guinea's long shadow of insecurities even at the point of Conte's death. Conte didn't believe in Guineans and the fact that they a civilized lot. Once again, like what happened after the death of Toure and Conte, the military took over power, dismissing the normal constitutional process to resolve transition issues. Guinea remains uncivilized 50 years on, stuck in the past. Under the Guinean constitution, Aboubacar Somparé, the Speaker of Parliament, was to assume the presidency of the republic and a new presidential election was to have been held within 60 days.

You don't say this to a long disordered country and a country which institutions are tumbling, its elites feeble, and its mindset screwed up over the past 50 years. Nevertheless, six hours after the announcement of Conté's death, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, announced a coup d'état, saying that “the government and the institutions of the Republic have been dissolved… as well as political and union activity.”

You shouldn't be surprised, that's Guinea displaying its antique mindset. Guinea is still psychologically and spiritually insecure, and may need superb retooling, part of which Ecowas, the AU, the EU, United States and others are doing, as a tranquilizer to cure Guinea.

quot-img-1I have been to the great deep of the earth, occean & returned alive & i have realised that it is better to live than to die.

By: Hayfron-Benjamin Jon quot-img-1