Guinea's Golden Boy: Dore's Dangerous Balancing Act

Article excerpt

In early February 2010, the military junta in Guinea made the sudden announcement that, it would hand over power to a provisional, civilian government in anticipation of turning the country toward democratic elections this summer. The news came at the end of a long and bloody string of events in the unstable West African nation, during which military dictator Captain Moussa Dadis Camara was shot in the head and flown out of the country for medical attention. Camara has since recovered but has abstained from returning home in the midst of political instability caused by his army's bloody crackdown in September 2009.

General Sekouba Konate, now in power in Camara's stead, has made somewhat of a novel move by appointing Jean-Marie Dore, a Guinean opposition leader as prime minister of the provisional government. Guinea is a nation that has not known fair rule in its existence, and ever since its independence from the French empire in 1958, this resource-rich nation has faced poverty and political oppression. Dore faces a difficult task in trying to balance the military leaders in the junta with those of the opposition clamoring for democratic reform, as the military leaders have much to lose in the transition of power, and the army has a long history of taking the initiative in Guinean politics. Democracy in Guinea, which has no history of legitimate governance or stable institutions, may prove to be beyond the aging General Dore's abilities.

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The State Since Independence

Guinea achieved independence from France when the people voted down a referendum to join a federated system of Francophone colonies in 1958. Ahmed Sekou Toure, a local labor leader and politician, was elected president in October of 1958 with the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG), and he quickly established a harsh and uncompromising rule. The Guinean economy, already crippled from the massive withdrawal of French professionals and capital, fared little better under Toure, who fancied himself a leftist revolutionary. He crafted an exclusive socialized state marked by political repression in the place of the colonial government. Toure attempted continually to attract support from the communist bloc to bolster his long-lived but painful rule.

Amidst the brutality of this dictatorship, it is believed that tens of thousands of Guineans were victims of political violence. Thousands more were incarcerated for opposition to the government, and federal forces drove as many as one million citizens into exile. Such purges, combined with ineffective socialist policies, afflicted all aspects of Guinean life during Toure's 26 years in power. According to research at the University of Florida, life expectancy fell to 40 years while per capita GDP hovered at a diminutive US$290 during this time. Toure's rule ended only with his death in March of 1984 at the age of 62.

Yet Guinean politics were by no means stable after Toure's death and the PDG's subsequent fall from power. A few short days after the death of the dictator, the Military Committee of National Recovery (CMRN) forced its way into power in a coup d'etat headed by Lieutenant Colonel Lansana Conte. This new regime drew considerably more favor from the Western community, as Conte and the CMRN steered Guinea away from the Soviet Bloc and socialist policies.

As the new leader, Conte endorsed austerity measures and currency devaluation in Guinea to the delight of his Western audience. He rejected the nation's old constitution, declaring that he would move toward democratic reform in coming years. He managed Guinea with few formal institutions until 1990, when the CMRN formed a transitional legislature, drafted a constitution, and established a judiciary. The regime held elections in 1993, though these were widely criticized for their possible fraud. The president's party received a large majority in the multiparty elections, and this share in the government only increased in subsequent elections. …