GUINEA--- A Friend or Foe to Liberia's Future Progress?

By Alex Redd

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 9, 2005


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The Republic of Guinea was once Liberia’s closest ally in keeping the political idealism of Pan-Africanism - ranging from economic interests to the promotion of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU). But what has happened with respect to this next door neighbor’s role in Liberian politics since the 1990s? Has Guinea been a good neighbour or a bad neighbour? With Guinea’s integral role in the geo-political direction of Liberia, what are future implications and impact that may likely effect Liberia’s progress toward a stable democracy? This article is intended to provide critical analysis on the current Guinean government of President Lansana Conte, as well as the country’s future chaotic geo-political impact it may have on post-war Liberia.

Toward disintegration

Guinea has been a stable country in recent years than Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Cote d’Ivoire, but latest report by The International Crisis Group (ICG), a think tank, says Guinea may become another "West Africa’s next failed state". The country is wobbling under its President General Lansana Conte, who is rarely seen in public. International political observers are wondering who is really in control of the country. Mr. Conte, 71, and an ailing diabetic, has long been aiding and abetting insurgent activities of short-lived rebel groups such as ULIMO and LURD since the 1990s. There may be multitude of reasons or interpretations about why Guinea is a stench in its neighbor’s backyard.

A half-hearted argument may arise that Mr. Conte’s sponsorship of these rebel groups to wage war in neighbouring Liberia sprung out of the brutal way and manner in which members of the Mandingo tribe, an Islamic religious sect, which values and beliefs resonate with the Guinean leader, were treated. Other political pundits may conclude that Guinea’s role is solely intended to safeguard its sovereign border from intruding forces such as the then notorious NPFL of Mr. Charles Taylor.

Whatever way the argument may play out, it was apparent during the height of the Liberian civil war the Mandingo and Krahn tribal groups were victims to former Liberian ruler, Charles Taylor’s rebel forces. It would also go down in history that the Gio and Mano tribal groups experienced similar inhumane treatment under regime of the late Samuel Doe. When Mr. Taylor formally gripped state power in 1997, he later angered his neighbors, however, by sponsoring revolts in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.

To retaliate for Mr. Taylor’s intrusions on their territory, the Guinean and Ivorian governments backed two rebel groups in Liberia, the erstwhile ULIMO-K and ULIMO-J, a metamorphosis of LURD and MODEL. The rebels’ military success, aided by international trade sanction and American pressure, was what prompted Mr. Taylor to stand down to flee like a whipped dog into exile. Had Mr. Taylor not done so, he might have ended up like the late Samuel Doe. As Liberia and Sierra Leone grope toward a faltering progress for stable democracy, it is worth noting that Guinea is seen as baffling, and the country may eventually create another humanitarian and political crisis for Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Mr. Conte seized power through a military coup in 1984 following the death of his predecessor, Ahmed Sekou Toure. Mr. Conte’s rhetorical promise of democracy and economic reform has proven futile with two decades of military dictatorship. Last January, his presidential motorcade was fired upon while entering Conakry. Accusing fingers were being pointed at outsiders, with particular reference to Mr. Conte’s implacable enemy, Mr. Taylor, though it later appeared that it might have been an insider’s job. A well-known lieutenant of the Guinean army, Mamadouba "Toto" Camara, was arrested in February and jailed ever since. It is being widely rumored that insurgents are training in a dense Guinean forest, with the aim to get rid of President Lansana Conte’s government.

Who are the insurgents and its financiers? The name of Liberian indicted ruler, Charles Taylor emerged, a claim that the current ECOWAS chief Nigerian peace mediator, Abdul Abubakar vehemently denied in Monrovia as mere speculations without any ironclad proof. As the Guinean dictator’s declining health condition poses a great risk to the country’s future stability, political analysts widely believe that Guinea’s most respectful institution, the army, might well take control but the army itself has its own internal underpinnings. Top officials of Mr. Conte’s political Party of Unity and Progress are squabbling to possibly replace him. If power struggle goes unabated without fitfully filling Mr. Conte’s apparent vacuum, things may well turn ugly.

The country’s population of about 8 million people and its geo-political strata may certainly disintegrate into chaos. Liberia and Sierra Leone would then experience exodus of Guinean refugees as well as the magnitude of humanitarian crisis and political tremor. Guinea has abundant natural resources in gold and iron ore and, according to research by The Economist, Guinea sits on "one-third of the world’s proven bauxite reserves" but its economy is as bad as its politics. The black market probably accounts for four-fifths of its economy. It is reported in The Economist that most of Guinea’s 8 million people are dirt-poor with few that have access to decent sewage and electricity. The education and healthcare sectors are in dismal condition.

Its tariffs and regulations on import and export goods and services are less transparent, and it is unknown how much top businessmen that are close to the president, pay in taxes. In the midst of all this, one is left to worry about how disastrous it would be if Guinea were to crumble. Nevertheless, the country is a generous host to hundreds and thousands of refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Iviore. But the country has been a hotbed for training and aiding of insurgents in its Forestire region and served as a conduit for weapons that killed thousands of Liberian civilians. If Guinea were to implode, should Liberia and Sierra Leone look so kindly upon Guinea to help it re-establish stability? It may become a bitter pill for Sierra Leoneans to swallow given the way and manner in which Guinea still occupies a slice of their country called Yenga.

A serpent in the closet?

As it has shown, Guinea continues to meddle in its neighbors’ politics over the years and, most recently, in the affairs of Guinea Bissau. Mr. Conte supports the Ivorian government of Laurent Gbagbo while Gbagbo in turn gives helping hand to MODEL, which is mainly composed of the Liberian Krahn tribal group. President Gbagbo’s links to Liberia date back to the late Liberian president, Samuel Doe. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the relationship between Liberia and the late Ivorian president Houphouet-Boigny declined dramatically when Mr. Doe came to power. President Gbagbo was able to capitalize on this when he looked for money to bolster his opposition to Houphouet-Boigny’s one-party rule.

Up to date, it is reported by the ICG that two top former ministers of the former Doe regime, who are also backbones to MODEL, are said to have strong ties with the Gbagbo government and individuals in Gbagbo’s political party, the Front Populaire Ivorien. Peace remains elusive in the Ivory Coast as the country is now torn in half by civil strife with rebel-held north and the Gbagbo government controlled-south. Guinea, a key player in tinkering with the geo-political direction of its war ravaged neighbors, would allow historians to ponder on how to define its dictator, Lansana Conte’s legacy of unchecked power, fame, money or, perhaps, anarchy.

Guinea, bordered by Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, has been directly and, perhaps, indirectly shaken by the impact of coups, civil wars and economic crises. The country may soon slip into the kind of internal strife that has plagued many of its neighbors. With the current looming political uncertainty, Guinea somewhat appears to be like a huge serpent waiting in the closet to bite and spill its poisonous ingredients on its neighbors’ progress toward order and democracy.

The author, Alex Redd, is currently a graduate Fellow studying Counseling Psychology at the Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison and formerly a Liberian journalist