Guinea's Dark Clouds
By Tom Kamara
Oct 10, 2000
As Guineans celebrated Independence from France 42 years ago on September 28, the foreboding of anarchy's dark clouds hung over them. Incessant incursions from the twin collapsed states of mayhem, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have left over 300 Guineans dead and close to 30,000 displaced, sent a message to Guineans that their dancing may be short lived as they brace for more uncertainties.
President Lansana Conte, in power since seizing power after the death of looming patriarch Sekou Toure in 1985, warned Guineans of the dire security problems ahead. And if neighboring Sierra Leone is the barometer of what is to come, then Gen. Conte's problems are just beginning. The spillover of Liberia's war to feeble and corrupt Sierra Leone led to rapid falls of Governments, six in all since the war began. Without foreign involvement, the current Government would have long since disappeared, replaced by ruthless rebels the world would have lived with as "Excellencies" since this is Africa, their "Lost Continent." Thus the nightmare for Guineans, insulated for years from the burning fires of anarchy and genocide around them, is that they must now prepare themselves to confront the storm of chaos and death with all the attendant political, social economic woes. They can no longer sleep without the specter of horror and national disintegration haunting them.
The major components for exacerbating disintegration are in place: economic problems, a restless Opposition with an imprisoned leader, ethnic scrambles for power. All these factors, present in all developing societies, are less fatal without corridors of armed operations---Liberia and Sierra Leone. Then there is Burkina Faso, now a net exporter of destabilization, extending its fangs of destabilization into Guinea while Blaise Compaore's rebellion-backing regime remains one of the favorites in Europe for bilateral development aid because it practices "good governance."
The strategy for Guinea's destabilization, hatched from Liberia and Sierra Leone, is built around waging unmitigated terror against the civilian population. This in turn will brew resentment and disenchantment against the Government, with calls for negotiations, peace treaties, which lead to more deaths and destructions and national collapse that benefit transnational criminals interested in minerals and other shady economic deals. The plan may not be to take and occupy territory, since this is a difficult military venture. It is geared to making the country ungovernable, creating a political vacuum. With refugee camps spread around border areas, infiltration is an easy affair. The result has been tension between Guineans and refugees, the latter accused of harboring the attackers. Over 1,000 Guineans from the towns of Formoreya and Daraghabe have already fled their homes, angrily burning down refugees camps located there. The strategy encompasses staging internal coups as externally backed dissidents stepped up their terror. Socioeconomic chasms heightened by the war then present the illusion that those that caused economic decay hold the keys to progress. Leaders a la Sankoh or Taylor will emerge for a brutal power contest that peace treaties and talks will find difficult to end. Society sinks into irredeemable depth of tragedy and poverty.
The sadness is that this Gospel of doom is being fulfilled. Population movement towards economically depressed urban areas, as peasants are uprooted from the land and subjected to the humiliation, degradation, and uncertainty to relief aid, has begun. Looting of relief organizations, the trademark of Taylor's rebels, is spreading. Six weeks of repeated incursions have forced the UNHCR to begin lobbying for $13.3m from reluctant donors to relocate 125,000 refugees from border areas. Soon, food production will suffer, as relief food, where available, flood rural areas once self-sufficient and feeding urban centers. Guinea, one of the Africa's poorest countries, cannot possibly sustain a prolonged hit and run war with an invisible enemy.
Currently hosting the largest number of refugees in Africa, the country could soon become a refugee-producing state. And unlike Sierra Leone with a benevolent colonial master Blair's Britain, this former French colony stands alone since it has never considered itself a pampered baby of Paris. To show its determination for its lonely, difficult, but proud path, its people voted 95% to say no to continued French ties when many French colonies were vying to remain in the French orbit with all the perceived benefits. This nationalist path robs it of a "godfather" in today's global power configuration in which survival of weak states is determined by the conscience of a caring power. Britain has made all the difference in Sierra Leone. Australia led the way in East Timor. The EU ensured that the Kosovars got an honorable peace. Finally, the West ensured that Milosevic got off the backs of Serbs by overtly backing the Opposition.
Unfortunately, Guinea may soon be a victim of "African solutions to African problems." Barely three years after West African peacekeeping troops left Liberia in virtual ignominy as Taylor applied his presidential powers to humiliate them, they are wanted again as referees to save Guinea from Liberia's contagious disease of terror. They are expected to solve the border war by policing densely forested borders almost impossible to monitor. Nigeria's President Obasanjo, now claiming better understanding of the situation after talking with a Guinean delegation, says he intends to intervene. But the key questions are, who, within a region plagued with economic calamities, is prepared to write off the check for the troops? Even if the check is available, where will the troops come from and how equipped and reliable are they? However appealing such a proposal, falling back on ECOWAS troops as the insurance for peace in a messy region, is a messy idea pregnant with all the uncertainties. Their performance in Liberia and Sierra Leone is far from enviable. What ECOWAS left behind in Liberia, which they called a "democratically elected government and peace", has resulted in the spread of instability and understandable xenophobia - a warning against a repeat of this paradigm for peace. Guinea was one of the prime actors in the ECOWAS peace theatre. Now, stuck with a border war and increasing refugee numbers, intolerance of foreigners is rising. Declares President Lansana Conte after incessant border attacks by rebels operating from Liberia and Sierra Leone:
"I have always said that without peace, nothing can be built. At the moment, our country is confronted with serious security problems resulting from fratricidal wars in the neighbouring countries that have been going on for more than 10 years.
"The presence of some 1 million refugees on our territory, coupled with the economic, financial and social consequences, have led to organized crime, banditry, arms and drugs trafficking and prostitution, which encourage the spread of AIDS in the country. With these regular incursions across our borders, armed gangs kill and massacre our peaceful population, causing serious destruction of property. The latest attacks on Macenta, Kindia, and Forecariah by soldiers from Liberia and Sierra Leone were particularly deadly. We have called on subregional, regional and international organizations to take all necessary measures to put an end to these attacks on Guinea."
But signals and warnings of Guinea's place in the domino of anarchy have long been on the wall, and the Guinean authorities cannot claim surprise. The presence of Guinean dissidents, including the late President Sekou Toure's son Ahmed Toure, and the dissident soldier Zumanigui, among Charles Taylor's assortment of rebels from around Africa, was well publicized. The imprisoned Opposition leader Alpha Konde, said to have a lot in common with Taylor in terms of opportunism and vile, was long rumoured to have had contacts with the Liberian warlord. Neighbouring troop contributing countries to ECOMOG ---Guinea and Sierra Leone---were long marked for reprisals for their role in the Liberian war and for delaying Taylor's claims to power, unlike distant Nigeria and Ghana.
Thus when Defense Minister Daniel Chea warned during the early days of the incursions that Liberia would take the war into Guinea, he already had the stones in his hands. Undoubtedly, Guinea is now faced with fighting a two frontal war directed and sustained from Liberia. From Sierra Leone is the RUF, under direct control of the Liberian authorities however hard they deny. Most parts of the Sierra Leone-Guinea border are ruled by the RUF, and staging sporadic raids into Guinea from their forests hideouts is an easy affair. One of the frontlines, the commercial town of Forecariah, is just 75 kilometers within reach of Conakry, making it an easy launch pad since the RUF occupies the Kambia and surrounding areas along the main Freetown-Conakry road. Liberian territory is also at their disposal. Taylor's Defense Minister made no secrets of their plan to export their war to Guinea when he announced that, "We will spoil it so that the Ecowas and the international community can fix it." And, indeed, Nigeria is again spearheading West African efforts to "fix it." A military observer team, made of troops from The Gambia, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal are expected to be deployed, while another useless meeting of treacherous Taylor and Conte has been announced.
Containing rebel attacks along such vast and jungle territory, inhabited by the same ethnic groups and families that cut across porous and indistinguishable borders, the legacy of colonial enclosures, is tasking even for the best trained and equipped army. The hit and run raids, launched from safe bases in Liberia and Sierra Leone, are tapping the nerves of Guinean officers as they lose men. "We shall avenge our comrades come what mayEven if that means bombing Freetown," the AFP quoted an angry officer as vowing at the hospital in the regional centre, Forecariah, where the bodies of his comrades troops had been brought to the morgue before burial. This is a ghastly warning for Freetown, a city, which has seen repeated rebel attacks in the past few years and which the Guinean Army, along with Nigerians and Ghana defended against the RUF.
Peace and stability in the region will not be the result of treaties and promises. Conte and Taylor have signed a number of treaties before, some engineered by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the man who gave Sierra Leone the diamond-for-peace failed Lome Agreement. These previous Agreements between a scheming Taylor and a vulnerable Conte did not stop the suspicion and the incursions. They will not do so now.