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ISS TODAY OP-ED

Ecowas support crucial for Guinea’s peaceful transition and local conflict resolution drives

Ecowas support crucial for Guinea’s peaceful transition and local conflict resolution drives
The Chiefs of Defence Staff from Ecowas countries salute at the start of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Ecowas Committee of Chief of Defence Staff on the Political Situation in the Republic of Niger, at the Defence headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria on 2 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/STR)

Restoring a civilian government in Niger is important, but so too are the transitions in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea. 

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) seems focused on restoring constitutional order in Niger since the 26 July coup that ousted president Mohamed Bazoum. At the same time, the regional bloc must ensure that other transitions progress peacefully – including in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, which also recently experienced coups.  

At the 9 July summit in Guinea-Bissau’s capital, Ecowas leaders noted the difficulties of mediation in member states undergoing political transition. They called for a “reassessment of mediation efforts” and appointed Beninese president Patrice Talon to lead the resumption of dialogue between Ecowas and these countries.

In Burkina Faso and Mali, the timelines for the transitions have been slipping. By contrast, on 29 September, Guinea’s transition authorities re-affirmed their commitment to respect the two-year deadline agreed with Ecowas. However, efforts to stabilise the country in the long term risk being undermined by deep-seated rifts between the transition authorities and certain stakeholders.

These tensions were visible during the protests organised by the Forces vives de la Guinée (FVG), which gathers the main political parties and civil society organisations, and has called for an “inclusive transition”. The protest took place on 5 September — exactly two years after the coup which saw the National Committee of Reconciliation and Development (CNRD) assume power. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Guinea’s President Alpha Condé apparently toppled in coup

The protests highlighted the lack of clarity on the implementation of the 10-point transition agreement signed in December 2022 with Ecowas. The agreement is considered a blueprint for a return to constitutional order and long-term political stability in Guinea. In addition to abiding by the transitional timetable, the authorities promised not to participate in the upcoming elections, in accordance with the transitional charter. But the FVG still fears the timetable won’t be respected. 

There are several other concerns. FVG members question the usefulness and the timing of the first two points on the timetable. These are the general population and housing census, and the civil status administrative census. The former is needed to design and implement socio-economic development policies, and the latter will generate a reliable computerised civil status registry. The compilation of a new electoral register will be based on this data. 

While the transitional authorities want the two censuses to be held before the electoral process starts, several political forces are calling for a revision of the existing register instead, which will take less time.

Referendum and elections friction

There are also divisions over the organisation of a constitutional referendum and local, legislative and presidential elections by the end of the transition in December 2024. Beyond the technical and operational difficulties of meeting this deadline, several political and civil society actors are unhappy with the idea of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation organising and overseeing the elections. They feel these processes should be run by an independent electoral commission for better transparency. 

The situation is compounded by a breakdown in dialogue between the FVG and the transitional authorities, which is creating political tension. The main members of the FVG didn’t partake in the 2022 dialogue, and the Prime Minister’s Office supported by three facilitators and religious leaders, tried to reconcile the different positions. 

The authorities also made apparent overtures by lifting the judicial supervision orders on several political leaders of the FVG and releasing leaders from the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution.

However, some of the government’s actions have fuelled the perception of a regime intent on silencing all dissenting voices. Political actors cite the Court of Repression of Economic and Financial Offences as a tool for neutralising potential rivals to the governing CNRD. The court was set up in December 2021 to combat the embezzlement of public funds, corruption and money laundering, among others.

The FVG is demanding the return to Guinea of leading political figures — Sidya Touré and Cellou Dalein Diallo — who left the country and are currently based in Abidjan and Dakar respectively. It is also calling for the release of detainees held by the same court, most of whom were key figures in the Alpha Condé regime.

Finally, several stakeholders interviewed by the Institute for Security Studies noted that the authorities’ high budget of $600-million for the transition process was obstructing support from international partners. Some had requested a detailed breakdown to enable them to determine which aspects of the transition they could fund. Thus far, only $40-million has been mobilised by the transitional authorities. This could mean the transition misses its 24-month deadline. 

Ecowas announced that a technical committee would be sent to Conakry to assess the implementation of the framework agreement and support the drafting of a detailed budget. This is an opportunity to address key challenges and boost the transition process. The mission is important as it could lead to the timetable being adjusted.

Several stakeholders, including FVG members, have called for a revised timetable that could eliminate the census and combine the legislative and presidential elections. The next civilian leadership team would then organise local elections. 

But Ecowas is yet to confirm the dates for the technical committee’s trip and that of the high-level mission. This despite the organisation’s vital role in keeping the transition on track following the breakdown in dialogue between the authorities and a large section of the political class. 

Ecowas should step up its efforts to restore a climate of trust between the FVG and the transition authorities. Only an inclusive and consensual framework can deliver a peaceful transition in Guinea. DM

Paulin Maurice Toupane, Senior Researcher and Aïssatou Kanté, Researcher, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin.

This article is part of a series on preventing coups in West Africa and the Sahel. Research for the article is funded by Irish Aid and the Bosch Foundation. 

First published by ISS Today.

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