Decades of self-serving, unprofessional rule have left Guinea’s government structures so weak that the country, which held its first free election in more than 50 years on Sunday, will need massive foreign help to manage the transition to civilian from military rule.
Guineans, sick of repressive regimes and the chaos and violence of the most recent military junta, say their new government, whoever heads it, should first give them peace, then electricity, water, schools and roads. All of these things, they say, should be possible in a country that earns tens of millions of dollars a year from mineral exports, and has just signed two huge iron ore mining deals that could be worth billions.
Even with revenues from its natural resources, and the foreign funds that are expected to be offered if the electoral process is conducted freely and peacefully, the West African country, one of the world’s poorest, will need to overhaul its system of government if it is to deliver basic services.
“It’s a poor country that’s been badly run,” a Western diplomat in the crumbling, potholed capital Conakry said. “The real market cost of doing business here is high — infrastructure is appalling, corruption is appalling.”
New structures, designed with international financial and technical assistance, will have to be put in place if Guinea is to break with decades of poor governance. For them to work, government must transcend party and ethnic lines, the senior United Nations official in the region said.
“The state is damaged. Corruption is everywhere, a culture of corruption has been allowed to develop, but also because people are not properly paid,” the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, said. “Only an inclusive governance system … could attract sufficient international support. Guinea will need massive international support. It’s post-crisis reconstruction, 50 years of crisis,” he said.
Former President Lansana Conte took power in a 1984 coup d’etat, after which he ruled autocratically for more than two decades. The army swiftly took over when he died in late 2008.
The botched shooting of the junta chief late last year opened the door for his deputy, General Sekouba Konate, to step in and organise the return to civilian rule. But analysts warn the new leader will still have the tricky task of reforming the army, while also keeping unruly soldiers onside.
“The next president’s first task will be to put in place a competent administration,” said Guinean political analyst Youssouf Sylla. “He must build all his policies on solid institutions, capable of stablising the country and avoiding a return of the military to power,” he said.
There is considerable experience among the 24 contenders in the first round of voting, albeit in what many Guineans view as the tainted adminstration of Conte.
Two of the perceived front runners, Cellou Dalein Diallo of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) and Sidya Toure of the Union of Republican Forces (UFR) are former prime ministers. Another main contender, opposition figure Alpha Conde of the Assembly of Guinean People (RPG), is seen as part of the political establishment despite not having served in government.
“The big candidates are not new candidates, there are former ministers, former prime ministers, and they all know each other … it’s the old guard, it’s the people with power,” the diplomat said. “They all have a history and relations with each other.”
Assuming the elections are deemed a success, donors who suspended aid programmes under junta rule will return. The presidential election is widely expected to go to a July 18 run-off, after which Guinea will hold legislative elections. The president and parliamentarians will find themselves working within severe constraints in the first instance, analysts say.
“The Guinean political establishment and civil service has little capacity to organise and manage a transition and a functional government,” said Lydie Boka, manager of France-based risk consultancy StrategiCo.
“Donors will probably come to the rescue and provide funding in economic management, health sectors as well as capacity building programs (and) training in all sectors, to professionalise the civil service, which is currently in shambles. It will be a long, long process.”