Guinea’s current political atmosphere resembles what many other countries throughout the world experienced in the second half of the 20th century: the consolidation of democracy. After several despotic regimes since independence in 1958, Guinea elected its first civilian president, Alpha Condé, in 2010 in an election, which despite being marred by days of ethnic violence, was considered by many observers as a huge step towards democracy. Last year, Alpha Condé was reelected with a clear majority over his opponents, further validating the country’s steady progress on international indices of democratic governance. However, despite recent progress in the democratization of the country, there are still remnants of a political culture typified by the Big-Man theory of governance that was so prevalent in many African states after independence. A brief overview of the first two presidential rules in Guinea’s history provides critical insight into some of the mechanisms that have shaped the country’s domestic and foreign policies, such as the military and internal conflicts.
The 26-year rule of Ahmed Sekou Touré, Guinea’s first president, as both the head of state and head of government, was characterized by a notoriety for fierce authoritarian rule through harsh domestic policies–such as the Demystification Program aimed at eradicating indegenous religions and customs–and violent suppression of opposition, all in an apparent attempt to strengthen the Guinean national identity. Following his death in 1984, the military staged a coup and the country entered a near 25-year military rule under Col. Lansana Conté. Hence the emergence of a legacy of autocratic rule and internal conflicts that plagued Guinea’s political institutions up until 2010.
Lansana Conté’s rule embodied a shifting in the dynamics of governance in Sub-Saharan Africa that was mainly driven by international pressure and the need to open up Guinean economy in order to take full advantage of one of the richest mineral reserves in the world. Although the National Assembly did not exert any significant power that was able to keep Touré–primarily since it was controlled by Touré’s Democratic Party of Guinea, the country’s only legal party–Conté replaced it with a military committee tasked to “promote democracy” and further exacerbated accountability by changing the constitution to allow unlimited 7-year presidential terms. While horizontal accountability was clearly non-existent, vertical accountability also took a few blows during the early years of Conté’s rule. There was severe suppression of any opposition and political parties were banned. Surprisingly though, at the turn of the century, there was a shift in the political atmosphere. Bowing to international pressure, Conté allowed for multi-parti elections, which were nevertheless marred by electoral fraud and intimidation. Moreover, Guinea’s increased involvement in Francophone West Africa in the latter years of Conté’s rule as well as the country’s eventual conformity with the more liberal trade patterns more common among other countries in the region led to a gradual move towards political and economic liberalization and more transparency in Guinea’s political institutions,.
The evidence for neopatrimonialism in Guinea today is as ambiguous as determining the appropriate usage of the term; though, one could make compelling arguments for the existence of neopatrimonialism during the previous regimes. Many soldiers in the last military junta in 2008 were receiving $30,000-40,000 in salaries, while the country’s GNP per capita is less than $600. The current president, Alpha Condé, has promised continued trasnparency; however, he had aslo postponed legislative elections indefinitely when he was first elected, signifying a continued autocratic rule. In contrast, elections resumed in 2013 signaling democratic consolidation.