A year after taking power in a bloodless coup, and a month after an assassination attempt on the coup leader by his own aide, Guinea’s military appears ready to hand over power to civilians.
On Tuesday, military junta spokesman Idriss Cherif announced from the capital of Conakry that the junta leaders had selected Jean-Marie Dore, a prominent opposition leader, as interim prime minister ahead of elections within the next six months. On Tuesday, from Burkina Faso, coup leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara spoke publicly for the first time since the attempt on his life to say he backed the transition to civilian rule. His earlier suggestion that he could run for office triggered demonstrations that led to a September massacre by the military.
The shift to civilian rule is a dramatic turnaround for a country that appeared to be headed toward more conflict just a month ago, after junta leader Camara was shot in the head by his aide-de-camp.
“There has been a remarkable change on the ground,” says Mohamed Jalloh, a Guinea expert for the International Crisis Group in Dakar, Senegal. He calls the selection of Mr. Dore, who belongs to the same ethnic group and province as Capt. Camara, a “strategic choice,” because it will prevent sympathizers of Camara from feeling cut out of power by the traditional ruling elite in Conakry.
The seemingly peaceful resolution of Guinea’s political crisis will bring relief to the West African region, which is still recovering from two deadly civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and a near-civil war in Ivory Coast, and could hardly afford another conflict that could spill over borders. Mediated by the neighboring country of Burkina Faso, Guinea’s transition to civilian rule will allow this mineral-rich nation to begin the process of healing. It might also allow victims of the crackdown in September, in which 150 opposition activists were killed by junta troops, to seek some form of justice against the perpetrators of the violence.
A United Nations spokesman in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, commended the efforts of Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Campaore, who mediated the transition to civilian rule, and also applauded “the spirit of compromise and sacrifice exhibited by all parties and their willingness to place the interest of the nation above all other considerations.”
Guinea – the world’s largest source of bauxite, an aluminum ore – has been under great stress since Sept. 29, when troops shot, tortured, and raped hundreds of protesters at a demonstration in Conakry. A UN report into the September massacre, while not officially released, points the finger of blame at Camara’s aide-de-camp, Lt. Tumba, the same man who shot Camara in December.
Even with civilian rule, Guinea will face the risk of violence during elections. Security analysts say that Camara over his past year in power organized a private militia of perhaps 2,000 battle-hardened and unemployed young men from the Forest Region, many of whom served as child soldiers in the nearby conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In a previous bout of violence in 1991, Guineans from the Forest Region slaughtered thousands of members of the Malinke ethnic group.
“That is a conflict risk,” says Mr. Jalloh. “You have the training of irregulars outside of the military, and building an ethnic militia.” This is what makes the selection of Dore, a Guinean from Forest Region so important, he adds. “Jean-Marie Dore is from the Forest Region of Guinea, the same region that Dadis comes from, and he’s from the same ethnic group as Dadis, so this is an indication that they are not putting Forest Region away from power.”