Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Guinea Conakry and the Meaning of Democratic Reform

The colonially engineered nation-state of Guinea in West Africa has faced decades of authoritarian leadership and ethnic conflict ever since independence from French-rule in 1958. After a coup led by Moussa Dadis Camara in 2008, there was much enthusiasm about a break with that past. Then, on a day which will live in infamy, September 28, 2009, a protest against Camara's military junta turned violent when at least a hundred and fifty-six people were shot dead and women gang-raped in the streets. You can see and hear an audio slide-show in the New Yorker on the history. A video of the ensuing political crisis is below.

Today, Guinea is headed for a reportedly "free, transparent and credible" election on June 27, 2010, that will usher in a civilian controlled government. A list of presidential front-runners in the election are already announced. The Guinean military has sworn that it will not interfere in the election process. A Guinean diplomat happily told Reuters,"for now, the army has remained out of the political process."

But is it really possible? Has Guinea, after years of brutal dictatorship finally entered into the paradise of a Western approved multiparty democracy? A timely analysis in Foreign Policy magazine warns that transition from military to civilian rule will in no way challenge Guinea's kleptocracy (rule by thieves)---a system in which multinationals and elites work with the military behind the scenes to ensure the safe extraction of resources.
"No one doubts that the military, through its affiliated networks of businessmen and political allies, will continue to overshadow the running of any elected regime. Guinea is the world's largest bauxite exporter and home to vast iron ore deposits, and possibly even oil reserves -- all of which the military is keenly aware."
The challenge therefore is to understand just how much democracy Guineans can expect after the polls on the 27th? If a sign of democracy is how much Guinea's people directly share in the fruits of the nation's wealth, signs are so far not looking positive. After all, the free-flow of Guinea's mineral resources in past have not in anyway improved the social and economic lives of the country's majority poor population. According to U.S. sources, when economic growth rose slightly in 2006-08, due to increases in global demand and commodity prices on world markets the standard of living fell. Guinea remains among the poorest countries in the world despite its rich natural resources.

Another historical problem in Guinea is the habit among the state to utilize political violence against opposition movements and political parties (often along ethnic-lines). And while a transition to a nominally civilian government represents the opportunity for a serious change, the amount continuing military intrusion in economic and political affairs is a warning sign. The Foreign Policy article lists the continuing influence of the military as a warning sign for future violence along ethnic or religious lines.
"Most alarmingly, serious splits have emerged within military circles. Last year, Camara brought in Israeli mercenaries to train as many as 10,000 new recruits for the army. They came mostly from Camara's ethnic Geurzé tribe in the isolated Forestiere region....Over the last few weeks, ethno-religious clashes have killed several people in Forestiere amid fears that Camara may be stirring up trouble ahead of the polls."
I recently listened to a piercing analysis in a Brecht forum podcast on Western military and judicial influence in the African continent. One speaker noted toward the end of the discussion the fact that forms of natural resource extraction conspicuously match political structures in Africa. Guinea is a text-book case of this phenomena even during significant moments of regime change as we are about to witness later this month. What does democratic reform mean in a state like Guinea where the political structure is configured for the cheap extraction of the country's mineral resources rather than endogenous social development of its citizens?

No comments:

Post a Comment