Monday, December 7, 2009

The Failing State of Guinea

According to eminent international legal expert Daniel Thürer of the University of Zurich, "Failing States are invariably the product of a collapse of the power structures providing political support for law and order, a process generally triggered and accompanied by anarchic forms of internal violence." The decline of the Republic of Guinea is a classic case of a failing state that is alarmingly close to being a definitive failure.

The country began its independence in 1958 by severing ties with France, the former colonial power, and aligning itself with the Soviet Union in a disastrous socialist experiment. Under the first president, Ahmed Sekou Touré, thousands of people disappeared, many tortured and eventually executed. The political opposition was devastated. Gradually, the country was isolated. Despite being among the world’s leaders in bauxite production, most Guineans lived in (and still live in) abject poverty on less than US$1 a day.

Sekou Touré was overthrown by a military coup led by Lansana Conté in 1984, but while the socialist experiment was abandoned, there was no lessening of poverty. Moreover, acute economic problems grew, made worse by the instability of its neighbors and a large number of refugees that include Liberian rebels. For years, there was political infighting within the government about a successor to the seemingly perpetually ailing Conté. Ethnic tensions made electoral politics all but impossible to bring to full fruition.

After the death of Conté last year, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara emerged as the leader of a bloodless military coup, and Guineans were initially relieved to hear his promises that he would not run for elections, which he promised after a two-year transitional period. Unfortunately, Camara showed himself to be overly sensitive to criticism and went back on his word about running for president. The September massacre of more than 150 peaceful demonstrators and the mass gang rape of dozens of women shocked the world.

However brutal the incident and its aftermath were, even more frightening developments threaten a collapse of the Guinean state. Camara claimed to not be in full control of his forces. While this may have initially seemed like an excuse for what happened in September, those who have followed Guinea recall that President Conté also experienced problems with a rebellious military. Camara’s allegation was seemingly further confirmed last week when he was shot during a clash between his bodyguards and forces aligned with Lieutenant Aboubacar Diakité, who is now on the run after having failed to kill Camara. The Guinean leader was taken to a Saudi Arabian hospital late last week with a serious head wound.

As it turns out, Camara apparently had been the spokesperson for the 2008 coup and elevated himself over a general and other senior officers. It appears they were willing to allow him to fill the role of “head of state” as a caretaker until a proper successor could be found, but Camara seems to have overstepped his boundaries. In addition to his change of heart on holding onto power, there are indications that Camara intended to identify scapegoats within the military to take the blame for the massacre and mass rapes.
Diakité was said to be directing the massacre and likely feared being offered up as a sacrifice.

Meanwhile, the military is reportedly dividing into ethnic factions, and high-ranking officers are traveling in protected convoys between military bases and other locations. Camara’s absence from the country has sparked fears of yet another coup attempt and further instability.

Guinea currently is subject to European Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) arms embargos and is the subject of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry examination of the evidence surrounding the massacre and rapes. In fact, the presence of the investigators may have sparked last week’s coup attempt.

Longstanding internal military and ethnic tensions look to deepen as Guinea’s military government remains at the center of an international political storm. Meanwhile, the suffering of the people of Guinea worsens – to the extent that is possible.

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