December 31, 2008

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, examines the military takeover of power in the West African nation of Guinea following the death last week of the country’s longtime ruler, President Lansana Conté.

According to Dr. Pham, there is a juridical question about whether General Conté, who ruled his country with an iron fist for nearly a quarter of a century since seizing power himself in a 1984 coup d’état, even left any legal succession:

According to the Guinean constitution, last amended in a farcical referendum which I had the opportunity witness in December 2001, upon a vacancy in the presidential office, the president of the National Assembly is supposed to assume the role of acting head of state until elections for a new chief executive are organized within sixty days. The problem, however, was that constitutional order was such a low priority under the iron-fisted Conté regime that the last legislative poll, which resulted in the ruling Parti de l’unité et du progress (PUP, “Party of Unity and Progress”) “winning” 85 of the 114 seats in the National Assembly, was held in June 2002. Since the constitution stipulates that the term of the legislature is four years and contains no provisions for extensions, there was no legal parliament at the time of the old dictator’s death, notwithstanding the December 23 appearance of National Assembly president El Hadj Aboubacar Somparé on state television to announce the passing.

Aside from the juridical question of whether there was even a legal parliament for him to be the presiding officer of, Somparé was and is a nonentity who enjoys little support within the PUP, much less political legitimacy in wider Guinean society.

Thus, he notes, “not surprisingly, others sensed Somparé’s weakness and acted quickly, perhaps either anticipating the possible chaos which could ensue from a prolonged power vacuum…or fearing a continuation of the notoriously corrupt hegemony of the clique that had surrounded General Conté,” resulting in the takeover by the thirty-two-member Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement (CNDD, “National Council for Democracy and Development”) headed by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

Reviewing both some of the positive first steps taken by the new regime—including the appointment of a civilian prime minister close to the country’s labor unions, the promise of elections, and the diplomatic outreach to reassure its West African neighbors—as well as the challenges it still faces, Dr. Pham concludes:

Recognizing perhaps better than most what is stake, Guinea’s immediate neighbors in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have begun to cautiously engage with the new regime…

The United States, the European Union, and other responsible stakeholders in the international community would do well to follow the West Africans’ lead, responding constructively to the appeal made by Captain Camara this past Tuesday in a meeting with the diplomatic corps and other international representatives in Conakry: “ We made a coup d’état without bloodshed. We made it to avoid a civil war because of the dissension that followed the death of the head of state. We ask you then to accompany us in this transition to end in elections as soon as possible .” Guinea may have indeed just avoided a deluge; it is in the interests of the international community to help keep it that way.

To read the full text of the article, “Guinea Avoids the Deluge—At Least for Now,” click here.