Skip to content

Guinean Struggle for Democracy: Paul-Andre Wilton

September 3, 2009

Paul-Andre Wilton is a Program Assistant for SFCG Africa

Power to the People: Struggles for Democracy and Electricity in Guinea

On his latest album – Radio Libre – the Ivorian musician Tiken Jah Fakoly sings about the nightly power cuts in the Guinean capital, and the stoical response of the local people. “Conakry: Electricity;” he muses, “Everyone has their turn – like going to the hairdressers.”

SFCG team at a radio station in Macenta, Guinea

SFCG team at a radio station in Macenta, Guinea

His song, both humorous and sad also captures another key sentiment among the Guinean people: awareness. Things should be a lot better in this country and people know it.

“I’m sick of hearing about how things are going well in Burkina Faso, or Mali,” said one participant at an SFCG governance training in June, “we should be one of the richest countries in the region. In Guinea it’s always about good plans, but we never get the results, and we all know why.”

The “why” is a history of state corruption, nepotism and a massive theft of public finances by the ruling elite.  In January 2007, this exploded into popular protests and a national strike, which led to clashes with security forces and left more than 100 dead. The word on everyone’s lips then was ‘Changement!’ – (change).

It was what people desperately wanted but could not get. And then suddenly in December last year things did change – or so it seemed. The old president who represented the worst of the country for over two decades died in his sleep, and the military took power in a coup.

Since then, the question everyone has been trying to answer is whether the change is real or simply cosmetic. The military junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara took power promising only a caretaker government with plans to organize free elections before the end of 2010 and a hand over to civilian rule.

Overview of Macenta, Guinea

Overview of Macenta, Guinea

Facing an outcry from the international community and resistance from the new political parties, a revised timetable for elections before the end of this year was proposed by civil society and accepted by the government in March, but since then very little has happened to make these elections a reality.

Instead, the government has focused on raising concerns about security, first by highlighting the very real networks of drug traffickers that had corroded the state over the past decade then talking up the threat from foreign back rebel groups, and even Al-Qaida. So far none of these claims have been verified by independent observers.

The choice between security and elections, increasingly discussed in Guinea, is a false one. There is a fear in Guinea that if a civilian government to take charge, the army would fracture into splinter groups, each looking to collude with drug traffickers for easy money, or worse—arm themselves and lunge for power bringing to Guinea the type of long and brutal civil war that nearly destroyed her neighbors in the region.

This threat is real, but without a government that is accountable to the people, there is no guarantee that the security and safety of the people can be ensured, and there is no recourse to remove a government that chooses not to put the best interests of the population first.

Legitimacy is not just important because it opens a country up to international financial support as seems to be the thought among African rulers, but it is crucial because it means a government has the mandate to carry out reforms, often against the interests of powerful individuals and groups.

Moreover, it means the priorities for change have been validated for action, conferring power and moral authority on the government to get things done. For governments to be legitimate however, elections alone are not enough.

What is also required is a real choice, an informed electorate, and public and private institutions strong enough to ensure that the choices favored by the people are realized.

SFCG in Guinea is heavily involved in helping prepare the country for elections and so has a clear position when it comes to the question of whether polls should occur and how they should take place. Our preference is for dialogue between the civil society and the state so that a realistic timetable for a transition to democracy can be agreed upon and fears that the junta will hold onto power can be allayed.

This is not, however, just about a conversation between elites. In my time here I have been struck by how hungry ordinary people around the country are for real political debate. A boom in private radio over the past three years has created new opportunities for public discourse and SFCG and other NGOs have worked hard to ensure that the space and information exists for ordinary voices to be heard discussing the challenges their country faces.

Crowds returning from a Pro Government rally in N'Zerekore July 4, 2009

Crowds returning from a Pro Government rally in N'Zerekore July 4, 2009

Guineans need little encouragement to take part. Working in the forest city of N’Zérékoré recently, I heard an animated discussion between young men drinking coffee on the day of a large government rally.

While one was praising the new president for being a strong man ‘sent by god’, others were pointing out that whatever his personal abilities, the country needed a civilian government to focus on development, leaving the military to focus on doing the job they’re hired to do.

Apart from the depth of the debate, what impressed me most was the manner in which it was conducted. The men often passionately disagreed with another, but nonetheless gave each other the time to express themselves. One even took it upon himself to play the role of moderator, hushing those who would interrupt someone before they had a chance to explain their point of view.

What this showed me was, just as the United States was infused with a burst of energy around the 2008 presidential elections, Guinea is ready for a revitalised political life. The comparison between the situations is not lost on Guineans either. Like in much of Africa, Obama has become a folk hero, with restaurants, cafes, hair salons and bars all named after him. No Guinean politician can claim to have that kind of popular appeal just yet.

Real frustrations remain about the quality of the political class, riddled with cronies of the former president and dizzyingly hard to fathom with over 80 political parties to sort through. Nevertheless what is clear is that after long years of dictatorship the public knows it’s time for them to have their say about the direction their country takes. The lights have come back on, “Conakry: Electricity”…this time its Guinea’s turn.

About these ads
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa Shochat permalink
    September 4, 2009 7:23 pm

    Great words PA! Thanks for sharing this with us! Lisa

  2. Quentin Kanyatsi permalink
    September 10, 2009 5:47 am

    Hi PA, This is great! I like the way you highlight everything going on here in a very short text. That’s really you and that’s why we are already missing you a lot in Guinea. I wish you were here again to share with me at the end of the day one flag!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers