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Guinea faces difficult political transition

Guinea is entering a delicate transition due to end within six months with the first democratic presidential elections since 1958, now that junta chief Moussa Dadis Camara has bowed out.

After more than half a century of autocratic regimes, initially civilian and then military, the West African country has an historic chance to take a big step towards democracy under an accord signed in Burkina Faso last week.

But the challenges to be overcome, notably how to get the military back into barracks, call for prudence.

After the long reign (1958 to 1984) of Ahmed Sekou Toure, the “father of independence” who turned from progressive leader to bloody dictator, the army took power under General Lansana Conte (1984 to 2008).

Camara mounted a new coup on Conte’s death on December 23 2008, but was shot and seriously wounded by his aide de camp less than a year later.

“It’s the number one problem because the army is not republican,” Thierno Maadjou Sow, president of the Guinean Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights (OGDH) said. Within the armed forces, “groups are instruments at the service of the authorities and they don’t want to quit”.

The plan agreed in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, on Friday provides for Camara’s continued “convalescence” abroad pending elections within six months.

It also stipulates that the authorities during the transition — junta members and “active” personnel in the defence and security forces — can play no part in the planned election.

But the mention of “active” personnel implies that soldiers who have left the army can be candidates.

The accord, mediated by Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, needs to bind an army which, though it has remained the backbone of successive regimes, is riven with deep divisions that are political, ethnic and between young and old.

The second challenge is what to do with Camara, who is currently in Burkina Faso following treatment for his wounds in Morocco. The Ouagadougou accord stipulates that he will remain “in convalescence”, and on Sunday he confirmed: “I need to rest, thus a sustained convalescence.”

But he added, “I am free to spend [the convalescence] where I like.” In the same hesitant speech, after calling for calm among his supporters, he said, “I will be among you soon.”

Camara appeared thin, speaking with difficulty, and had a long scar on the right-hand side of his skull. Following the attempt on his life, General Sekouba Konate took over as head of the junta.

Among others, Camara has been named by a UN inquiry panel as a suspect in the massacre of more than 150 opposition demonstrators during a rally in a Conakry stadium on September 28, which plunged Guinea into crisis.

The United Nations has accused troops that also injured hundreds of others and raped women and young girls of “crimes against humanity”.

In October, the prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court in The Hague opened a preliminary investigation to decide whether crimes within its remit had been committed.

The other main problem is how to organise “free and fair” polls, as provided for in the Ouagadougou accord, within just six months. In the past, all elections — presidential and parliamentary — have been strongly challenged or even boycotted by the opposition.

The timing also means that the vote could come right in the middle of the rainy season, which would lead to logistical difficulties.

Moreover, in the provinces, senior administrative officials such as governors, district administrators and their deputies, are “in the hands of the authorities”, according to Sow. “We need to change all the personnel, but where to find the men and who is going to choose them?” he asked. — AFP

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