Guinea’s Complex Political Nexus: Threat to Regional Stability

By  | 17 December 2009 at 22:04 | 767 views

If any one should argue that state collapse and widespread political instability in Guinea would destabilize the sub-region, such an argument would fall right on the nexus of West Africa’s turbulent political spectrum.

The mineral and agricultural resource country serves as not only a bread basket of the sub-region through its agricultural products, but also a bastion of trade and ethnic interconnectedness across the western peninsula of the African continent. Through its Futa Jalon Mountains, Guinea also provides a source of waterway to West Africa’s three major rivers namely; The River Gambia, The River Senegal and The Niger River.

State collapse in Guinea would disrupt trade and the flow of agricultural products in a region already affected by the worst global economic crisis since the great depression. A prolonged conflict in the country may also affect the water ways of West Africa’s three major rivers (The Gambia, Senegal and Niger). Although these three major rivers have natural sources from the Futa Jalon Mountains, it is important not to underestimate the potentials of disrupting mechanisms by factions, combatants and even civilians in a crisis situation. Regional policy makers must therefore note the importance of these three major rivers in the socio-economic development of the region, thus providing transportation, irrigation and agriculture, and facilitating the fishing activities of the people.

Apart from the potentials of trade disruptions and threats to the three major rivers of the sub-region, Guinea’s dangerous ethnic divisions should make the situation an serious matter of concern for all sub-regional and continental policy makers. The country has over two dozen ethnic groups. According to a study of Guinea’s ethnic composition, among the country’s two dozen ethnic groups, three predominate: the Fulani,Malinké, and Soussou.

The Fulani (sometimes called Peul), perhaps the largest single group (40% of the population), live mainly in the Futa Jallon. The Malinké (referred to as Mandingo) and related peoples of the Mandé group (30%) live in eastern Guinea and are concentrated around Kankan, Beyla, and Kouroussa. The Soussou (20%), with related groups, are centered farther west and along the coast in the areas around Conakry, Forécariah, and Kindia. Related to them are the Dialonké, living farther east in Middle Guinea and western Upper Guinea. Smaller tribes make up the remaining 10% of the population. Toward the southeast, in the Guinea Highlands near the borders of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, are various Kru or peripheral Mandé groups; among them are the Kissi around Quéckédou, the Toma around Macenta, and the Koranko near Kissidougou. Notable among the 3,500 or so non-Africans are Lebanese and Syrians.

Ethnicity in Guinean politics played a pivotal role since the attainment of independence in 1960. It is worth understanding that the country’s first elected President, Sekou Toure who ruled the country with an iron fist until his death, came from the predominant Mandingo tribe. The late Sekou Toure’s viciousness towards the Fulani, the Soussou and other ethnic groups was well known and never forgotten.

The composition of late General Conte’s military council that toppled the government of Sekou Toure, of predominantly officers from the Soussou, the Fulani, and other tribes is a living testament to that reality. The late General Lansana Conte followed a similar trajectory throughout his long reign over the battered West African nation. With the minority Soussou as the core of Guinea’s military elite, the military coup that propelled erratic Captain Dadis Camara to power brought to light the complexities of Guinea’s political nexus.

Coming from the Mandingo tribe, Captain Camara’s plan of announcing his intention of running for political office was met with stiff resistance. In addition, reports indicate that the country’s ethnic divisions made the situation worse, as the Fulani tribe strongly believes that it is their time to take over the helm of Guinean state affairs. Whether true or false, the September 30, 2009 killings, torture and raping of mostly Fulani women at a pro-democracy stand –off speak volumes. Policy makers must therefore understand that Guinea’s political crisis, pregnant with dangerous divisions along ethnic lines could accelerate state collapse, which has the potential of spreading to neighboring countries with deeply rooted family ties. That is another reason why Guinea’s political crisis is a threat to regional stability.

With the looming dangers of escalation on ethnic grounds, Guinea’s geographic location also usheres in a paradigm of refugee exodus from the civil wars that ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory-Coast over the years. The country today is home to thousands of West African citizens who flee for persecution from the wars of neighboring sister countries. The reports codifying the active participation of former fighters from Liberia in the recent waves of political uprisings must therefore not be under – estimated. A widespread political instability that has the potential of re-arming refugees and former fighters from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast could have a spill over effect that could re-ignite the war flames of those post conflict nations. Policy makers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the African Union (AU) must therefore be cognizant of the fact that a widespread violent political instability in Guinea has the potential of having a lasting negative impact on the already political gains in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

In view of the volatile political situation of the West African nation that is threatening regional stability, peace and security, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) must act swiftly and boldly in preventing another blood bath in the sub-region. Even though the Guinean junta has rejected military intervention on principles of sovereignty, non-interference, transgressing such diplomatic doctrines in the quest of collective responsibility to protect citizens, and prevent regional instability could not happen at any better time. The outgoing ECOWAS Secretary General, Chambas, could not have said it better in his bid to find a political solution to the crisis in Guinea. In his latest rounds of engagements, Secretary Chambas opined that an "order and security" force would ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance, restore constitutional legality, defend Guinea’s territorial integrity, and play a role in guaranteeing peace and security.

Arguments by the ECOWAS Secretary General fall along the right trajectory of any decision regarding the Guinean situation. Deploying an order and security force in Guinea is no act of war –with or without the permission of the ruling junta, but the fulfillment of a moral obligation to protect life and prevent the volatile political situation in Guinea from ushering widespread regional instability.

ECOWAS, in collaboration with the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN) must maintain firmness with the junta, just as happened with the renegade leader Abu-Bakr in the Comoros Islands two years ago. It is important to further understand that the legitimacy of any military intervention in Guinea falls under the international doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect. Under the responsibility to protect, it is acknowledged that, the primary responsibility rests with the state concerned and that it is only if the state is unable or unwilling to fulfill this responsibility, or is itself the perpetrator, that it becomes the responsibility of the international community to act in its place.

The Responsibility to Protect means not just the responsibility to react, “but also the responsibility to prevent” and the responsibility to rebuild as well. It directs our attention to the costs and results of actions versus no action, and provides conceptual, normative and operational linkages between forms of assistance.

The raping, torture and widespread human rights abuses in Guinea must be the alarm bell for both regional authorities and the international community. In the midst of divisions within the armed and security forces, a regional “order and security force,” and a Transitional Civilian Authority will be key to Guinea’s political, social and economic stability. The military must be obligated to stay out of politics for a successful containment of the political impasse looming over the resource rich West African nation. An international military and civilian mission in Guinea would restore security for the people and protect the Transitional Civilian Authority that must lead the country to elections.

China’s role in the pursuit of Africa’s vast mineral resources has also become no hidden agenda. It should be noted that China recently signed multi –million dollar mining deals with the Guinean junta, and how that will shape the political machinations and engagements of the junta is yet to be known. According to Saliou Samb and Richard Valdmanis of Reuters news, the deal, signed before the political crisis sparked by a botched Dec. 3 assassination bid on junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara, was initially valued at $7-9 billion and seen as a lifeline to a government facing international isolation. Nevertheless, the wording of the accord stipulates that even the initial deposit cannot be touched by the junta, according to the sources, while any future revenues depend on whether the West African state can return to some sense of stability. "They have made a deposit of $100 million into the central bank, but we cannot touch it," said a Guinean central bank source who requested anonymity.

With millions of dollars in the pipeline for the ruling junta, many are skeptical that the junta may use the Chinese linkage as a means to hanging on to power. However, with China opening up to global concerns and outcries, how long the junta will continue to be a developmental partner remains a very good question.

The African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), the United States (US), and the European Union (EU) and China must therefore support efforts by ECOWAS in finding a lasting solution to the Guinean political impasse. Those efforts include deploying an “Order and Security Force,” and the propelling of a Transitional Civilian Authority to the helm of Guinean state of affairs.

One can only hope that all stake holders of Guinea’s political landscape will support the aforementioned concrete actions in containing the complex political nexus of the battered West African nation. It is indeed a threat to regional stability. What else could one say?

*The author, a former Gambia army lieutenant, is an independent researcher, analyst and consultant. He also produces The Sword of Truth at . He can be reached at