National and international pressure is urgently needed to ensure a return to civilian rule in Guinea, a country rich in natural resources but struggling to come to terms with the legacy of 50 years of dictatorship.
Guinea: The Transition Has Only Just Begun, the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, says the junta that took control on 23 December 2008, hours after the long-time, authoritarian President Lansana Conté died, is in danger of resorting to repressive measures of its own, as its popular support dives along with the economy. Since there is also a risk of a counter-coup from dissatisfied army elements, a democratic transition at best faces a long and difficult road.
Conté left a legacy of abusive security forces, a collapsed economy and a lack of trust among a divided civil society and quarrelsome political parties. Many people, fearing open civil strife, welcomed the junta as a least-worst option. It has spent more than two months consolidating its grip on power by replacing dozens of administrators with its own supporters.
“Some of the new leaders are sincere when they say they want to clean up Conté era corruption”, says Richard Moncrieff, Crisis Group's West Africa Project Director. “But some have been accused of serious Human Rights abuses. And none know how to run a country”.
Although the junta, led by Moussa Dadis Camara, a captain, has said it is willing to hand over to a civilian president, most of the key posts in the government named on 14 January are held by the military. The junta's governance style is unlikely to be sustainable, but power may prove too attractive for the soldiers to give up voluntarily.
A return to civilian rule, at least by year's end, is paramount. Ideally this should be through free and fair elections, but some in the junta may try to delay. To prevent further entrenchment of the military in politics, discussions must start now on establishing a civilian transitional leadership, in case the elections are not held on schedule by the end of 2009.
Guinean civil society and political parties, alongside the international community, must stimulate this process. Donors can hasten the junta's release of power by making aid conditional on its leaving by year's end, even if elections have not yet been held. Meanwhile, it is vital to start the work of creating stable governing institutions soon – before rivalry over the country's rich resources turns violent.
“The transition can succeed”, says Francois Grignon, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director, “but the junta will need to show good faith, hard work and political sensitivity to prevent it and the army splintering, including on ethnic lines, and to avoid an impatient public again taking to the streets”.