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Comment & analysis

Challenges to democracy: The military in Guinea

Jibrin Ibrahim

2009-04-02, Issue 426

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President Dadis Camara of Guinea is an example of militariat rule in West Africa, writes Jibrin Ibrahim, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development. Camara has been avoiding elections, with claims for the need to challenge drug networks and end corruption, but, says Ibrahim, this is an agenda to legitimise his rule. The drug networks, Ibrahim suggests, are closely linked to a military ruling class that is kept in place by the state’s high expenditure on the military and its exclusion of ordinary people from politics.

I started this column with a recollection of Nigeria’s first coup and the impact of the military in ruling and ruining Nigeria.

I spent a week in Guinea, observing the antics of the new military junta, a rude reminder of the dangers of the militariat.

The Sierra Leonean political scientist, Jimmy Kandeh coined the term ‘militariat’ to describe the process of political decomposition that followed the capture of state power by young conspiratorial junior officers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Gambia.

They take over power on an anti-corruption ticket and become very corrupt themselves. They always leave a trail of blood and destruction behind them.

Like Oliver Cromwell, their political philosophy is dictatorial and sadistic – ‘Nine citizens out of ten hate me. What does it matter if the tenth alone is armed?’ Guinea has been ruled by three people since Sekou Toure said no to the French in 1958.

He was in power for 26 years from 1958 to his death. Lansana Conte took over and ruled for 24 years until his death on 22 December 2008 when Captain Dadis Camara took over – the youngest person to have ever taken power.

The Centre for Democracy and Development and the West African Civil Society Forum had organised a conference aimed at mobilising civil society in the Mano River Union (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast) for increased engagement in the search for democracy.

Guinean civil society was, however, split down the middle and many argued that Dadis Camara should be allowed more time to clean the society of the ‘narco traffickers’ that have made Guinea and Guinea Bissau major transit points for South American cocaine seeking routes to Europe.

Each night, Guineans are hooked to the television watching their young president and the head of the anti-drug agency interrogate generals accused of drug trafficking and producing pornographic films.

The high point last week was when the son of the late president, Captain Usman Conte, was humiliated on television for being a major drug dealer, covering for South Americans bringing in drugs through military air strips.

‘We need more drama,’ Guineans seem to be saying. The problem, however, is that drug trials on television with a serving president as chief interrogator are not a serious attempt to fight crime.

I was appalled when I heard President Camara shout at a general on prime TV – ‘Shut up, you don’t look like a sincere man.’ What do sincere men look like? And how can the president be both prosecutor and judge?

Meanwhile, President Camara has refused to commit himself to the calendar proposed by the international contact group to organise elections and hand over power by the end of this year.

Rather, he is asking for two years to destroy the drug gangs, unravel corruption, review the constitution, develop infrastructure, improve public morality, and the rest of that sad familiar story.

It is clearly an agenda to perpetuate his rule. Guinea has had more than its fair share of arbitrary rule. Under Sekou Toure’s 26-year rule, plots against the regime were imagined on a monthly basis and an estimated fifty thousand people were killed as suspected coup plotters.

I drove past Camp Boiro where most of these people, including Diallo Telli, first general secretary of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), were killed.

It looked so serene and innocent, located between a mosque and the general hospital. And yet, that is one of Africa’s worst sites for torture and mass murder.

Lansana Conte kept all his colleagues from the colonial army in the service and disregarded the rule that officers should retire at the age of sixty or after thirty years’ service.

Then the old generals virtually all recruited their children into the army, thus establishing a veritable and reckless military ruling class.

Just before I left Guinea, the President of Guinea Bissau, Joao ‘Nino’ Vieira was gunned down by rampaging soldiers who suspected him of being complicit in the assassination of the chief of army staff.

We should note three facts. First, both Guinea and Guinea Bissau are militarised states that devote over 40 per cent of their national budget to maintaining the army.

Secondly, both countries are prime movers of cocaine and the dealers are army generals.

Thirdly, the rank and file of the army in both countries are often not paid their salaries. They are wallowing in poverty.

Indeed, Dadis Camara built his popularity in Guinea after organising a mutiny to force the government to pay soldiers’ salaries. Militarism is not only bad for the people - it’s terrible for the army.

ECOWAS (The Economic Community of West African States) and the African Union have been putting pressure on the Guinean junta to organise elections and go back to the barracks by the end of this year. The international contact group will return to Guinea on 17th March to keep up the pressure.

Guinea needs as much pressure as possible to get the military out and the people back into politics.

* Dr Jibrin Ibrahim is a political scientist and director of the Centre for Democracy and Development.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.

Tank you for a very interesting article. I've been following what is going on in Guinea for some time now, but as often the case is with Africa and its countries, there are so many hidden pages, and this article enlightened me a bit more on Guinea.

Gustaf Redemo

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