Guinea’s 2020 presidential elections, a crisis in the making?
Guinea, a West-African country that has rarely made international headlines, found itself in the international spotlight in 2013 during the Ebola outbreak. While the international community currently has its eyes riveted toward its Malian neighbour, the socio-political and security situation of Guinea is going unnoticed. The explosive nature of the country resides in a political culture characterized by violence and a military with antecedents of human rights abuses and criminality. In the absence of effective measures to address Guinea’s challenges, the ability of the Guinean people to resist these long-standing structural factors of violence is likely to be challenged in the run-up to the 2020 elections.
A challenging political context
Since its independence in 1958, Guinea has been trapped in a spiral of despotism under Ahmed Sékou Touré (1958-1984), and military rule embodied by Lansana Conté (1984-2008). Despite the introduction of political pluralism by Conté in 1992, the former president lifted presidential term limits and rigged every presidential election until his death. The first free and fair elections in Guinea’s history took place only in 2010. However, political parties missed the opportunity to alter the political structure in place in the country. As a result, the political system remains characterized by unilateralism, corruption and predation.
At the heart of the issue lies the excessive personalisation and ethnic-based nature of most Guinean political parties. Instead of promoting the provision of public goods and national development, parties serve as vehicles for personal advancement and patronage. The weak political and institutional structures in Guinea favour identity politics, cronyism and personal interests.
Parties continue to be constituted along support movements of one individual or group of individuals based on regions, ethnicity and the defense of partisan interests. For instance, the Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinée  relies on the Malinke electorate in Upper Guinea whereas the Union des Forces de Guinée (UFDG) has a stronghold among the Fulani community in the Fouta Djallon massif in Central Guinea. Competition for power within and between political parties can quickly escalate, which was the case earlier this year when the battle between the UFDG leader Cellou Dalein Diallo and his vice-president Bah Oury for the control of the party degenerated into gun shots, causing the death of a journalist by a stray bullet.
This fatal event is unfortunately not surprising in this country where political violence is a persistent practice. When looking at the history of Guinea, political violence appears to be the main approach to acquire, manage and challenge power. For instance, Sékou Touré maintained the country for 26 years under a climate of fear and repression and forced an important part of the political, intellectual and economic elite to exile. Political violence in Guinea has several effects, including the reinforcement of a culture of impunity, the use of ethnicity as a mobilising factor to stimulate groups to acts of political violence, making electoral participation a risky political exercise.
The armed forces: a driver of insecurity
Due to its legacy of autocracy and military rule, political and military affairs are closely intertwined in Guinea. President Sékou Touré subsequently purged the Guinean military and replaced a number of officers with poorly trained staff while creating his own private militia in parallel (trained by the Cubans). His successor, the General/President Conté militarised the political and administrative structures of the country, allowing officials from his own ethnic group to enrich themselves with the attribution of public procurements. By the time Alpha Condé came to power, the Guinean military had suffered through several decades of politicization and human resource degradation, arguably rendering it Africa’s least professional and non-operational force.
Unsurprisingly, insubordination, absenteeism and negligence are the order of the day. Unfortunately, the Guinean army has over time become a factor of insecurity to the population rather than the reverse. A particular corrosive aspect in this regard is the engagement of Guinean military officers in criminal activities such as drug trafficking. The extent of this was revealed in 2009 when Captain Dadis Camara, the leader of the political transition, launched a “diligent” campaign against corruption and drug traffickers. As part of his daily talks on state television named “Dadis show”, Camara interrogated and obtained confessions from several high-level suspects of trafficking including the son of the former president Lansana Conté, the brother of the ex-first lady, and senior police, army and customs officials.  These confessions have not, however, led to meaningful prosecutions and high-level suspects continue to enjoy protection and act with impunity.
The international community, in particular UNDP, has been active in supporting justice and security sector reform efforts in Guinea. The organisation provides technical and financial support in different areas including sexual and gender based violence, community policing and community security. Moreover, Guinea is currently a troop contributing country of the UN mission in Mali, which might be beneficial to the professionalization of the army. Despite these different efforts, the reform of an army with a long track-record of criminality, ethnic and generational cleavages, corruption and human rights abuses remains a major challenge in Guinea. Although some military units have been properly trained and equipped over the past few years, these are largely limited to the presidential security force. The core of the army remains underpaid and operates under poor conditions, which has resulted in several mutinies. Worse, the army’s politicization means that it may play a role in electoral violence in 2020, just as it did in 2010 when it massacred over 150 people during an opposition rally against Camara’s presidential candidacy.
The 2020 elections as a critical test for Guinea
In the past, presidential elections in Guinea have been characterised by massive frauds, boycotts, arrests and imprisonments. The 2015 presidential elections were uncontested due to the general expectation that Alpha Condé would be re-elected for a second mandate. Looking ahead, the peaceful conduct of the 2020 elections will mostly depend on three factors. First, the outcome of the current dialogue between the government and the opposition on the creation of a new electoral register. Second, the role of the international community to continue to closely monitor the political process. Third, the government’s ability to deliver results with its post-Ebola recovery plan, determining the level of satisfaction with and legitimacy of the current government.
On the other hand, there are two risks that threaten the electoral process in 2020. The first risk is the political mobilisation of voters based on ethno-regional affiliations, which might produce episodes of violence. The dissatisfaction of the Fulani community with what it perceives as political ostracism is a source of concern. Although it represents the main intellectual, economic and religious power, the Fulani group is perceived as a threat by other communities. The 2010 elections illustrated that trend well. Despite the gap created by Cellou Dallein Diallo in the first round (a Fulani who won 44 percent of the votes against 18 percent for Condé), Condé won the second round with 52 percent of the votes. The issue surrounding the political participation of the Fulani will undoubtedly re-emerge in the next elections as there is a growing sentiment that it is their turn to take charge of the country. 
The second risk is the discrediting of the electoral process as a result of an open struggle between the main political parties about the control over the national electoral commission. An eventual disagreement between the government and the opposition over the composition of the commission is likely to delegitimize the electoral process as well as facilitate the contestation of results. In these circumstances, elections become a drawn-out and violent affair with further negative impacts on Guinea’s economy and social cohesion. In a similar vein, an attempt by Alpha Condé to amend the constitution to enable him to run for a third term, would undoubtedly trigger mass protests that could turn violent. A bad omen is this regard is that President Condé stated during a press conference that it is for the Guinean people to decide on his political future.  If he actually goes through with this Guineans might ultimately turn to look for other sources of authority and advancement in the longer-run.
It is imperative for Guinea to address its long heritage of bad governance, elite predation and dysfunctional security forces if it wants to consolidate democracy, peace and social cohesion. Guinea is a country with considerable assets including abundant mineral and water resources and a dynamic diaspora. The current dialogue between the government and the opposition is the ideal moment for the political class to draw lessons from the past and move forward as a nation. It is an opportunity not to be missed.
 Bah, O., comment on `La difficile émergence d’institutions politiques en Guinée – Partie 1 : Le temps des leçons´ Gbassikolo, comment posted 11 January 2016, http://www.gbassikolo.com/5204-la-difficile-emergence-d-institutions-politiques-en-guinee-partie-1-le-temps-des-lecons-ourouro-bah.html
 Party of the current President Alpha Condé.
 For more information, please check : http://www.jeuneafrique.com/301685/politique/journaliste-tue-guinee-17-militants-de-lopposition-garde-a-vue-2/
 Barry, B., `La Guinée: Les violences politiques en Guinée : une pratique constante´, in: Déterminants des conflits et nouvelles formes de prévention. Prévention des crises et promotion de la paix Volume III, ed. J-P. Vettovaglia, 2013, 338.
 Barry, M.A., L’Armée Guinéenne: Comment et pour quoi faire?, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2009.
 Berghezan, G., Panorama du Panorama du trafic de cocaïne en Afrique de l’Ouest, Brussels, Groupe d’Information de Recherche sur la Paix et la Sécurité, 2012, 16, http://archive.grip.org/fr/siteweb/images/RAPPORTS/2012/Rapport%202012-6.pdf
 For more information, please check the annual reports of the UNDP Global Rule of Law Programme. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/crisis-prevention-and-recovery/rule-of-law-global-programme-annual-report-20110/
 International Crisis Group, Guinea: Reforming an Army, Report N°164/Africa, September 2010, p.i
 Barry, M.A., L’Armée Guinéenne: Comment et pour quoi faire?, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2009.
 Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme, Guinée-Conakry: 1 An Après Le Massacre Du 28 Septembre 2009 Nouveau Pouvoir, Espoir De Justice?, N° 456f, Septembre 2010, https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/Guineedcona546fconjOGDH.pdf (accessed October 2016)
 The international community is comprised of the United Nations, European Union, International Organisation of La Francophonie and the Embassies of France and the United States. These organisations have an observer role in the current political dialogue.
 International Crisis Group, Guinea’s Other Emergency: Organising Elections, Report N°106/Africa, December 2014, 1.
 Personal interview, Diallo, M. The Hague, Netherlands, 27 September 2016.
 Barry, D., `Guinée: le débat autour d’un éventuel 3e mandat d’Alpha Condé fait rage,´ Jeune Afrique, 18 May 2016, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/326542/politique/guinee-debat-autour-dun-eventuel-3e-mandat-dalpha-conde-rage/