Guinea Country Report 2020
After a history of disastrous political and economic development, Guinea has made major progress in recent years in a number of respects. The armed forces have lost much of their political character and civilian control is firm compared to the previous 35 years. The natural resource economy is booming and economic diversification is underway. Guinea doubled its production of bauxite between 2016 and 2017 and is on the way to double it again by 2019. Politics has become much less erratic; the state is much more predictable, and its institutions work in a more regular fashion. Nonetheless, corruption remains endemic and personal presidential control is still the dominant political pattern. While the two presidential and one legislative election since the end of military rule in 2010 definitely constitute progress, Guinean democracy is still in its infancy. Both the party in power and the opposition tend to treat elections as giving the winning party control over a machinery for distributing the national wealth to themselves and their supporters. Relations between government, on the one side, and opposition and civil society, on the other, remain acrimonious and, while elections were not outright rigged, the process showed significant irregularities. Yet political violence has decreased, and the country is more stable.
During the review period, major investments were undertaken in six bauxite concessions. Reform of fisheries is proceeding, and a Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement with the EU was signed. Economic growth is promising, major fiscal and economic indicators are healthy, and the Ebola-induced crisis of 2013 to 2015 is fully overcome. Yet economic growth is based on mining. Revenues essentially accrue to companies and the state, and most Guineans hardly benefit from growth. The fuel price subsidy was abolished, supporting the state budget, but increasing the cost of living for most Guineans, and teachers’ salaries were raised.
Political contention again focused on the holding of elections. In 2017, the opposition organized major protests against the long delay in local elections. The government handled these protests in a less confrontational way than in the past, authorized the rallies, and security forces exercised restraint. A major strike organized by the teachers’ union in 2017 was dealt with in a less accommodating way, with the union leader being arrested and sympathetic media stations shut down. Local elections, the first since 2005, were eventually held in February 2018, with candidates belonging to the governing RPG obtaining more than 50% of the seats in local assemblies. The legislative elections scheduled for September 2018 were postponed and no new date announced. The previous legislative elections had been delayed by the government for three years. Further, it seems increasingly likely that President Condé will seek a third term in office, for which the constitution in its current form does not provide.
While positive overall, Guinea’s progress remains mixed. Achievements in economic growth, the capacity of state institutions and civilian control of the armed forces are substantial. However, ordinary citizens see few benefits from growing GDP and democratization is not following at the same pace.
In late pre-colonial times, much of Guinea’s territory was organized into Islamic states, especially in the Fouta Djalon mountains and in Upper Guinea. The coastal and forest regions were divided into a number of smaller-scale political entities. France took an imperialistic interest in Guinea at the end of the 19th century. In Upper Guinea, which borders the old kingdom of Mali, agricultural produce such as peanuts and cotton could be grown; these would secure a connection to Senegal, Western Sudan (present-day Mali), and the Sahel regions. The French met armed resistance from leaders such as Almamy Samori Touré and Yaya Diallo.
Under French control, Guinea was an agricultural colony and considered one of France’s most valuable overseas possessions. The bauxite mining sector started being developed towards the end of colonial rule but began to dominate the economy only after independence in 1958. The colonial state further nurtured the formation of an indigenous class of public sector employees that became the kernel of Guinea’s national movement. After World War II, a socialist trade union movement led by Sékou Touré mobilized various social groups to demand self-government. On September 28, 1958, Guinea voted against General de Gaulle’s referendum on membership in a Communauté Française that would have encompassed all of French West Africa. France severed all relations with Guinea, which declared independence on October 2, 1958, under President Sékou Touré.
As the Cold War raged, Guinea pursued a socialist vision of development in an era of transformation. Touré became one of the foremost leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement and sought to eliminate the deficiencies of the colonial period, particularly in infrastructure and basic needs; he also wanted to end the country’s dependence on Europe and proposed the formation of a United States of Africa with Ghana and Mali. Guinea developed into a totalitarian state with strong isolationist features, but maintained relatively strong relations with the Soviet Union, the United States and West Germany. Sékou Touré’s regime (first republic until 1982, second republic with a new constitution until 1984) became infamous for its torture camps where numerous real and imagined opponents were detained and died. Sékou Touré’s Guinea also became notorious worldwide for its succession of real and invented coup attempts – among them the “Coup Peulh,” ascribed to a whole ethnic group. Like current President Condé, Sékou Touré was Malinké and the current ethnopolitical divide is partly inherited from the Touré era.
After Sékou Touré’s death in 1984, the military seized power under Colonel Lansana Conté. After the Cold War, a new multiparty constitution (third republic) was introduced in 1991 with a formal orientation toward democracy and a market economy. A party system emerged that was to a significant degree ethnically structured. It included the currently ruling Rassemblement du people de Guinée (RPG), predominantly composed of Malinké. The governing party was dominated by President Conté’s Soussou. Peulh and Malinké are the largest ethnic groups and the associated parties nowadays dominate politics. Greater opportunities for private business saw wealthy businesspeople emerge who were largely dependent on corrupt relations to the government. President Conté and his family used their political power to personally benefit from many of the new business opportunities. Overall, economic growth remained disappointingly low. President Conté never created a genuine democracy – that is, one that would allow for a change of power. Manipulated elections, oppression and intimidation poisoned the political climate. Donor funds did not translate into improved economic development. After rigged parliamentary and presidential elections in 2002 and 2003, respectively, Guinea’s economy began to severely deteriorate, a situation aggravated by President Conté’s illness. Guinea became successively a major transit hub in the shipment of cocaine from Latin America to Europe.
Beginning in the 1990s, Guinea was affected by civil wars in neighboring Sierra Leone (1991 – 2002), Liberia (1989 – 2003) and Côte d’Ivoire (2002 – 2011). At times, there were more than one million refugees in the country of eight million. While increasing pressure on local resources, the refugees set in motion international mechanisms that provided important assistance and created a low-wage sector increasing local productivity. By 2006, most refugees had left Guinea or integrated into its population. An attack by Liberian government forces and associated groups in late 2000 was quickly repelled, but entailed severe destruction in some parts of the border region.
Conté finally died in office at the end of 2008. Captain Moussa Dadis Camara and a group of lower-ranking officers took power in a coup. Initially welcomed, they ruled in an increasingly erratic and authoritarian manner that cost them all support. The abuses culminated in a major massacre. Opposition groups had assembled at a protest gathering in the national stadium on September 28, 2009 and were assaulted by an army squad composed of close confidantes of Camara. In the process, 158 civilians were killed, more than 100 women raped and well above 1,000 injured. A disproportionate share of the protesters were Peulh and the event had ethnic undertones. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity was ongoing in December 2009 when Dadis Camara’s aide de camp, Sidiki “Toumba” Diakité, shot Camara in the head out of anger at being made to take the blame for the massacre.
The implosion of the junta quickly led to Guinea’s freest multiparty presidential elections to date in 2010 (followed by legislative elections in 2013). These elections were hotly contested, with candidates Alpha Condé (RPG) and Cellou Dalein Diallo of the Peulh-dominated Union des forces démocratiques de Guinée (UFDG) going to the second round. Condé was declared the winner amid claims from Diallo and his supporters that the elections had been rigged. Alpha Condé was a historically high-profile opposition leader. Having already opposed Sékou Touré, he was sentenced to death in absentia in 1970 and lived much of his life as a university professor in France, where he became a prominent and well-connected member of the Parti socialiste.
During his first term, Condé gradually restored some order to the economy and reinstated civilian control of the military. At the end of that term, the West African Ebola epidemic of 2013 to 2014 hit Guinea and its neighbors Sierra Leone and Liberia. While the epidemic entailed an economic crisis, Guinea was much less hard hit than its neighbors and the situation quickly normalized after Ebola was fully eradicated in the region in 2015. While state capacity has increased and the economy developed well under Condé, relations with the opposition remained acrimonious. Democratization is still in its infancy, and Condé has postponed legislative and local elections repeatedly until the political situation would be favorable for the RPG. Alpha Condé was re-elected in presidential elections in 2015.
Police and gendarmerie capacity is limited, yet the state security forces are in a position to establish control when challenged. There is sporadic banditry on remote roads and gang crime in major cities. Gangs are occasionally linked to political actors from both the opposition and the government and may use violence on their behalf. In recent years, opposition-organized rallies and union-organized strikes repeatedly turned violent. Against this background, major, but largely peaceful opposition rallies to press for local elections in August and September 2017 indicate significant progress. Yet, confrontations following disputes about the results of the local elections, which were held in February 2018, left at least a dozen protesters dead. During clashes in the context of a strike by schoolteachers in March 2018, at least four persons were killed in Conakry. Citizens and security forces sporadically clash in Guinea’s mining towns, where the contrast between wealthy and poor areas is particularly visible and locals frequently have to bear the environmental and other burdens of extractive industries. Riots were also seen during protests against rising fuel prices in mid-2018 when the government cut its subsidy.
The large majority of the population accepts the nation-state as legitimate, yet political cleavages between ethnically structured parties are pronounced. Almost all Guineans recognize the prerogatives and institutions of the state, even if they oppose the individuals filling particular posts, including the presidency. There is a definite sense of national identity with strong anti-colonial elements and pride in being the first African country to have gained independence from France.
Guinea is a largely Muslim country. Exact numbers are not available, but around 85% of the population is Muslim, around 8% is Christians and around 7% adheres to traditional African religions (but syncretism is common). The Guinean state and society recognize the principle of secularism. Religious dogmas have only a minor influence on the legal order and political institutions. The state, however, has historically been anxious to maintain control over religious authorities, who were often integrated into patronage systems. In addition, politicians must consider that most voters and citizens are devout Muslims (or adherents to other faiths).
The state provides basic services, including education, health care (e.g., vaccinations) and policing beyond the capital. Services are often inconsistent and citizens complain that they are forced to pay for services they consider to be entitlements. In 2015, 77% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 20% to improved sanitation.
Guinea held open multiparty presidential elections in 2010 and 2015 and legislative elections in 2013. While the result of the 2015 elections, in which President Condé was confirmed, is likely to represent the electorate’s choice, EU observers noted major deficiencies that raise doubts about the integrity of the process. As noted before, elections are not outright rigged but administrative and other irregularities, such as vote buying and unclear voter registrars, are present. Local elections had unconstitutionally been delayed since 2005, which became a major point of contention between the opposition and the government. The elections were eventually held in February 2018 and the RPG won more than half of the local seats. Legislative elections were supposed to be held in September 2018, but delayed. Given significant dissatisfaction with the government and internal strife within the RPG, the opposition is likely to increase its share of seats, which would make it more difficult for the president to have legislative backing.
The government is elected democratically and elected officials have considerable ability to govern Guinea. Because of the strong presidential character of the government, legislators and local officials representing opposition parties have limited ability to exercise their power. A potential anti-democratic veto actor is obviously the military that controlled the country for decades. The military is less of a political force than it used to be but still enjoys great influence. Some senior military officers continue to entertain links with cocaine-trafficking networks and use their influence to protect their business interests.
Guinea’s constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. The government generally respects freedom of association, but opposition demonstrations have frequently been met with force. International observers such as the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International have reported excessive and often lethal use of force by security forces. Several activists were killed in demonstrations leading up to the 2015 elections. While the numbers killed or injured have been far lower than under past administrations, they remain in the high double digits for the Condé government since its December 2010 inauguration.
In addition, as reported by the U.S. State Department, the law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character and any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires 72-working-hours advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits local authorities to prohibit a demonstration or meeting if they believe it poses a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occur.
Despite a long history of muzzling the press, the Guinean constitution ensures freedom of expression. Guinea has only one state-owned television station, but private radio has grown rapidly since being legalized in 2006. According to foreign observers such as the U.S. State Department, independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media, however, had limited reach due to the low literacy rate and the high cost of newspapers. For many, radio remained the most important source of information and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. However, libel laws, censorship and harassment have all been used in the period under investigation against Guinean journalists, though many continue to risk the consequences. Call-in radio programs and print newspapers are often deeply critical of the president and his administration. The U.S. State Department reports numerous limitations on press freedom, including the penalizing of stations and journalists who broadcast reports critical of government officials, their policies and conduct. In the review period, hostility towards the media has been stepped up. In November 2018, the president forbade journalist from talking to organizers of the teachers’ strike. Government forces shut down two radio stations that defied the order, reportedly manhandling reporters and vandalizing equipment in the process. Other radio stations and the popular online news website aminata.com were closed temporarily for having attracted the wrath of the government with regard to other matters.
Guinea’s constitution stipulates the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers. Under the socialist (1958 - 1984), Conté (1984 – 2008) and Camara (2008 – 2010) governments, such separation was not or rarely upheld in practice. Under Alpha Condé, the sitting president, a legislature was elected in 2013. New legislative elections were supposed to be held in September 2018 but were postponed.
As of January 31, 2019, Condé’s Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) party holds 53 of 114 seats in parliament. Other member parties of the Arc-en-ciel alliance account for another seven seats. The Union démocratique de Guinée of businessman Mamadou Sylla withdrew from the coalition in January 2017, costing it four seats. An informal alliance with the Union des forces républicaines of former Prime Minister Sydia Touré, established in August 2018, added 10 seats and restored an effective government majority.
In general, there is a tendency for the presidency to dominate the legislature, although the ruling RPG does not command an absolute majority in the National Assembly which partially balances this dominance. The judiciary, together with a weak legislature, struggles to act as a check on the executive.
On paper (i.e. in the constitution), the judiciary is independent and has the right to interpret and review existing laws. However, in reality, the judiciary is not fully independent, but less controlled by the executive at present than has been the case for most of Guinea’s history. In March 2018, concerns were raised when eight judges on the Constitutional Court deposed their president. The court president had publicly opposed a change to the constitution to allow a third term for President Condé, and the opposition interpreted the events as politically orchestrated. High levels of corruption frequently undermine the administration of justice.
Officeholders who benefit illegally from their positions are perceived as getting away with their crimes without consequences. Officeholders who break the law are typically moved out of government rather than prosecuted. The Guinean press is attentive to wrongdoing, so abusers of public office are likely to at least be publicly shamed. President Condé is perceived as still being beholden to many of the interest groups who helped him to power and as either uninterested in or unable to punish those who illegally enrich themselves. Corrupt members of the government can often return to official positions after a moratorium or are directly transferred to a different position.
A former minister of fisheries, in office when the EU decided to ban Guinean fish imports because of lack of action to stop illegal fishing, has occupied several senior positions since. In 2017, he was nominated by the president for a leadership position in the regulatory body for advertising. The new prime minster nominated in May 2018 held the same position under President Conté and is tainted by his once close association with the authoritarian leader, despite eventually falling out with him.
Three military officers accused of having played senior roles in the massacre of September 28, 2009, in which about 150 persons were killed, continue to be influential in the Condé government. The process against Lieutenant Diakité, who was extradited from Senegal in March 2017 for his involvement, has not yet begun.
Civil rights are guaranteed by law but only partially respected in practice. Conditions in Guinean prisons are harsh to the point of being life-threatening and security forces continue to be accused of rape, torture and using excessive force. In the review period, the government closed down several media stations. Seeking judicial redress against such practices is often futile. Security forces have, however, become more disciplined under President Condé.
According to a human rights report by the U.S. State Department, the law does not provide women with the same legal status and rights as men, including on inheritance, property, employment, credit and divorce. The labor code adopted in February 2014 prohibits gender discrimination in hiring. Women nevertheless routinely experienced discrimination in employment, pay and education. Customary law discriminates against women and sometimes takes precedence over statutory law, particularly in rural areas. Clitoridectomy is performed on about 97% of women, the second highest number in the world after Somalia, and widely accepted in society. Ethnic discrimination may extend to the courts.
The principal democratic institutions exist and, with local elections held in 2018 after repeated delays, continue to exist. Yet the postponement of legislative elections scheduled for 2018 epitomizes the fragility of the democratic process. Deficiencies also extend to the executive and the legislative branch at the national level. There are tendencies for the presidency and the executive to dominate. The opposition has very few opportunities to have an impact in parliament, and the legislature hardly fulfills its monitoring function.
Democratic institutions are rhetorically accepted by the main political actors, and their strategies for obtaining power largely focus on winning elections and assuming positions in these institutions. The repeated delays of legislative and communal elections by the government demonstrate that timely elections are subordinate to interests in power. Deficiencies in the previous elections also raise doubts over the democratic commitment of political actors. Overall, democracy is not yet firmly rooted in Guinean political culture and authoritarian elements are evident. The military’s commitment to democracy is particularly in doubt. Having witnessed politically and economically disastrous military leaderships, members of society see the armed forces as widely discredited as a political actor. During the review period, indications that President Condé will seek to amend the constitution and stand for a third term have accumulated.
The political party system is relatively stable, with the three biggest parties (i.e., Alpha Condé’s RPG, Cellou Dalein Diallo’s UFDG, and Sidya Touré’s UFR) all having existed for over a decade. Political parties are, however, highly personalized and their existence may be dependent on their leaders. The ethnic polarization between the two largest groups, Peulh and Malinké, however, is historically reflected in the party system. The RPG and UFDG have tended to treat the two largest ethnic groups as ready-made electoral constituencies, but other parties, including the UFR have more even support in all regions of the country. The tendency toward ethnic parties has resulted in significant polarization between (though not within) parties, including electoral violence.
The RPG, UFDG and UFR altogether gained more than 80% of the vote in the 2013 legislative elections, with Condé’s RPG securing almost 50%. This result was broadly replicated in the 2015 presidential elections among the presidential candidates from these parties.
Guinea has relatively strong unions and professional organizations. Though controlled by the one-party state during the socialist period, they have been independent and outspoken for at least a decade. Civil society groups must constantly seek patronage from international donors or local actors, risking political cooptation. At key moments over the past decade, disparate groups have worked together, counterbalancing tendencies toward polarization, mirroring the political divide. Organizations representing formal sector employees are relatively strong, while those representing more marginal interests have great difficulty making themselves heard.
According to the latest results from Afrobarometer, released in February 2019, support for democracy has somewhat decreased but is still above African average: 76% (in 2015: 82%) prefer democracy to any other kind of government, while 72% reject military rule.
At the same time, 44% (in 2015: 43%) prefer democracy and reject all kinds of other autocratic rule (that is, including a presidential dictatorship, a one-party system and military rule). This is called “democratic demand” by Afrobarometer. While this is a relatively high number in cross-country comparison (African average: 42%), only 23% are satisfied with the actual performance of democracy in the country, down from 33% in 2015.
Many years of authoritarian rule, which included pressure on citizens to inform against their neighbors and relatives, eroded relations of trust. Trust may also have decreased as a result of rising ethnic tensions, especially between Peulh and Malinké. High levels of poverty also mean that many Guineans have to compete with one another for scarce material and political goods. Despite this, there is a strong sense of national unity and identity in Guinea, partly forged by many years of isolation and deprivation. Many Guineans belong to civic and cultural organizations. Exact data from opinion polls on social trust and other pertinent indicators is unavailable, dated or unreliable.
Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world. It markedly improved its rank since the last review period and now is 175 out of 189 countries assessed by the United Nations’ Human Development Report. Like other post-socialist countries, Guinea has a relatively low Gini coefficient (33.7), indicating moderate income inequality. A very large percentage of Guineans (70.3%) live in poverty. Opportunities are concentrated in the capital and the economy is partly ethnically structured, with Peulh having a relatively strong position in the more profitable sectors. The minority groups from Guinée Forestière are least well connected to the modern economy and the state. Women are relatively well-represented in the workforce, another legacy of the socialist era, when women were actively promoted in schools and workplaces. However, both girls and boys are held back by the failing education system, which provides the average Guinean student with only 2.4 years of schooling. There is no quantitative data available on gender inequality. However, according to international sources such as the U.S. State Department, women continue to suffer from disadvantages, sometimes due to traditional or religious attitudes within the population.
Against the background of historically hardly differentiated political and economic spheres, market access has become significantly freer under the Condé government. Connections of major established businesspeople to the opposition have increased incentives for the government to more broadly distribute opportunities. Yet political considerations and corruption continue to distort opportunities, including the allocation of government contracts. The new investment law of 2015 stipulates equal treatment of domestic and foreign investors, though with some legal exceptions possible, and allows for the full repatriation of profits. In the 2018 Doing Business report, Guinea ranks 153 out of 190 countries. Starting a business in Guinea takes 15 days and six procedures at a cost of 38.2 % of GNI per capita. The Starting a Business score is 83.9 out of 100 (ranked at 111 out of 190). Foreigners may not hold more than 40% of shares in broadcast media. The government allows limited fluctuations in the value of the Guinean franc, but stabilizes it.
Guinea has a long history of state monopolies, both under the socialist government (1958 –1984) and under the post-socialist government, in which the president, the Guinean army and various cronies controlled large portions of the economy (importation of rice, cement, large-scale construction). There is some regulation to prevent monopolies in Guinea, but enforcement and investigative capacity is low. Cellular telecommunications are competitive and the financial sector is open, offering Guinean customers more services. Overall, the concentration of economic power with a few well-connected businesspeople has declined in recent years.
With an average most favored nation tariff of 12.1%, Guinea does not erect significant tariff barriers. Yet, it scores well below the African average in the “trading across borders” category in the Cost of Doing Business index, which refers to the costs in terms of time and finances required for documentary compliance. The government aims to achieve self-sufficiency in food production to save foreign exchange for capital goods. Government policy discourages export of locally grown staple foods. (Against the background of rising international fuel prices, the government increased the price of fuel, which had been subsidized, by 25% percent in 2018. The subsidy had entailed significant government expenditures, fuel smuggling and facilitated corrupt practices). Guinea has been a WTO member since 1996 and liberalized its economic policy, including foreign trade, in recent years. The WTO’s 2018 review of Guinea’s trade policy evaluates recent changes as very positive.
The banking system was characterized by a state monopoly under socialism and gradually liberalized over the course of the 1990s and 2000s. There is little de facto supervision. The financial sector remains underdeveloped according to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom and continues to provide a very limited range of services. Many people still rely on informal lending and have no bank accounts.
Most economic activity remains outside the formal banking sector and there are fewer than ten commercial banks. The banking sector is dominated by two French companies and the Togo-based Ecobank. Local SMEs are severely underserviced by the international brands. Regional banks such as Ecobank operate in Guinea, but the banking system and capital markets are still poorly differentiated. In 2017, the ratio of non-performing loans stood at 10.7% and the bank capital to assets ratio at 11.9%.
Previous governments routinely printed money to overcome funding shortfalls and Guinea repeatedly suffered inflation rates around 20%. Monetary policy has become more orthodox under the Condé government and inflation declined significantly to a long-term low of 8.2% in 2016. The Banque Centrale de la République de Guinée (BCRG), the central bank, has adopted a prudent monetary policy stance, with a gradual tightening in response to rising inflationary pressures and to raise foreign exchange reserves.
During the review period, the boom in the mining sector with associated Dutch Disease effects and high international oil prices pushed the inflation rate slightly up, to 8.9% in 2017. The government seeks to reduce this figure, but with limited success thus far.
The Guinean franc has correspondingly lost value relative to the U.S. dollar over the years. The government allows the Guinean franc to float within limits with interventions to stabilize it. Government intervention into the exchange rate is a subject of discussion with the IMF and Guinea is expected to successively reduce its intervention. Data on the real effective exchange rate is not available.
With public debt at 42.9% and a fiscal deficit of about 0.5% of GDP in 2017, fundamental fiscal indicators look healthy. The Condé government has generally been successful in promoting macroeconomic stability despite severe external shocks. In September 2017, the government signed a 20-year agreement with China for a loan of $20 billion in exchange for bauxite concessions in the Boffa area. It further secured an Extended Credit Facility with the IMF for $170 million for 2017 to 2020. The current account deficit has widened significantly to about 8.5% of GDP in 2018, but this is largely due to the development of new mines and associated extensive capital goods imports. As a consequence of the investments, exports are expected to rise in future and compensate for the current deficit.
Property rights and regulations on acquisition, use and sale are well defined, but such rules are not always enforced. The Heritage Foundation has assessed property rights to not be effectively protected. Although both foreigners and citizens have the right to own property and businesses, enforcement of these rights depended on a corrupt and inefficient legal and administrative system. In addition, land sales and business contracts generally lack transparency. The pervasive impunity and corruption of public institutions additionally hampers the effective protection of private property.
In principle, private companies are legally allowed and can operate in the country. They are also viewed as important engines of growth; legal safeguards exist but are limited, given the constraints on the rule of law, especially by private and ethnic favoritism, as well as a deficient judiciary. Asylum-seekers from Guinea often claim that their (small) businesses have been harassed by businesspeople close to the ruling UFDG.
Moreover, private companies coexist in Guinea with habits and expectations inherited from the socialist period: a preference for a strong state responsible for a large share of employment and welfare provision. The state, however, is weak and poorly funded and thus not able to satisfy these expectations.
Social safety nets are rudimentary and cover only a limited number of risks for relatively few beneficiaries. The Caisse Nationale de Sécurité Sociale (CNSS; National Fund for Social Security) is the government body responsible for providing social welfare, but is inadequately funded. The majority of the population is at risk of poverty. People often must rely on extended family networks and private charity for social security. Yet life expectancy has continuously increased over the past 10 years and was 60 years in 2016. The percentage of GDP spent on health has risen from 1.3% to 2.7% under Condé, while GDP has recorded high growth rates of some 5% on average, despite the recession caused by the Ebola epidemic in 2013 to 2014.
There remains significant gender inequality in Guinea, though socialist era policies promoted women. Literacy rates for males were 38% and females 23%, according to the 2016 issue of World Bank Development Indicators. While female students attend primary school at 90% the frequency of males, this ratio falls to 50% in tertiary education. Still, it is important to contextualize this by noting that fewer than 11% of Guineans attend tertiary educational institutions. Alongside these educational disparities, it remains the case that women have consistently made up 45% of the workforce. There is no pronounced ethnic or religious denial of equal opportunity, though Guineans do complain of nepotism, ethnic and regional favoritism practiced in both the public and private sectors.
Guinea has historically been one of the world’s poorest countries. The return of stability, increasing predictability of the government and macroeconomic stabilization measures have entailed relatively high growth rates under the Condé government, although the Ebola epidemic caused three years of economic crisis. During the review period, high international bauxite prices further boosted export revenue and attracted investors. In addition to the Chinese investments in Boffa mentioned above, Chinese state-owned firm Aluminum Corporation of China announced a $500 million investment in 2017. A U.S. company is investing $1.5 billion in a bauxite mine and infrastructure at Sangaredi and expected to start production in 2019. The Compagnie des bauxites de Guinée secured funding of $1 billion to increase its productive capacity. A Sino-Singaporean company declared that it would invest $3 billion in a new railway line and alumina refinery in the Boké region. Furthermore, after a long-term decline and eventual closure in 2012, Rusal reopened the alumina refinery at Fria, after having rehabilitated the necessary railway line for exports. The process had been delayed by U.S. sanctions against the major shareholder of Rusal, an oligarch connected to Vladimir Putin, over meddling in U.S. elections. Rio Tinto sold its share of the Simandou iron ore concession, which is now almost entirely controlled by Chinese Sonangol. It will, however, only be developed if and when iron ore prices improve. With new initiatives in gold, diamonds, fisheries and agriculture, in particular, palm oil, the natural resource sector is being diversified.
With gross capital formation at 36.1% in 2017, Guinea scored an international top position in investment and wealth creation. GDP per capita rose significantly to $2,195, but revenues are largely derived from mining and mostly accrue to resource companies and the state. Per capita growth of the GDP stood at 5.5% in 2017 (and 7.7% in 2016). For most Guineans, however, income remains very low. GDP per capita in 2017 in PPP was $2,195 in 2017. Consumer price inflation was 8.9% in 2017, a relatively high figure compared to Francophone countries in the CFA zone (unlike Guinea). The question remains whether growth will substantially trickle down.
There is little awareness of ecological issues and the government does not integrate environmental goals into its tax and other policies. Guinea does conduct environmental impact studies for development and business projects, including dams and mining sites. The opening of the Kaleta hydroelectric dam in 2015 increased renewable electricity production. The government eventually succumbed to EU sanctions over its fisheries policies, started reforming the sector and signed a Sustainable Fishing Partnership Agreement with the EU in November 2018. However, the Ministry of the Environment has never seen robust budgets or politically powerful ministers at its helm. While the ministry has noted the environmental degradation caused by several mining operations, it has done little to force any changes in mining practices. As the mining sector expanded during the review period, the environmental burden of extractive activities, which consume large quantities of water and release significant toxins, has increasingly become a factor in clashes between citizens, companies and the state.
With a literacy rate of just over 30% and tertiary enrollment of 11% and universities that have been handicapped by years of neglect, the country is poorly positioned to support research and development. There is no estimate for expenditures in this area. Primary school enrollment stands at about 94%, which is significantly below developing country average. The ratio of gross enrollment for women and men also shows a skewed gender balance in the education sector: 0.8 for primary, 0.7 for secondary, and 0.4 for tertiary education. Guinea ranks low in this category among developing countries. The quality of education is often very low. The UN Education Index was low in 2017 (0.339), with little if any change in the years before.
The little data available shows government expenditure on education has risen slightly in recent years. Teachers are often not sufficiently qualified and generally underpaid, even though the government granted a 40% pay rise to end the strike in October 2017 and agreed to raise the salary three- to fourfold in the medium term. Reform is partly challenged by the politicization of the sector, which has historical roots. The government perceived the strike of 2017 as intended to promote the opposition and relations among stakeholders are difficult.
Guinea faces many challenges to pushing forward reforms. Deep poverty, poor education, an unskilled labor force, the reliance on natural resources, endemic corruption, ethnopolitical polarization, weak infrastructure amplify one another. The country also suffers from decades of poor economic policies and human rights violations, especially during the socialist era and subsequent military regimes. The Condé government has made substantial progress in setting the foundation for economic predictability and growth, but most of Guinea’s structural challenges will take decades to overcome.
Civil society in Guinea has been valiant and there are many civic associations, but they are challenged by the same massive structural constraints that face all members of Guinean society. In addition to economic and infrastructural constraints, a history of authoritarianism has eroded trust among Guineans and the practice of arbitrary violence by security forces has instilled fear. Despite this, Guineans have regularly fought for justice and often been able to recognize (and demand) the collective good, even when it competed with the short-term interests of a subset of society. Much of this sense that “we are Guineans first and members of a religion or an ethnicity only second,” was developed during the Sékou Touré period between 1958 and 1984.
Ethnopolitical polarization between the two strongest groups organized in the UFDG and the RPG, respectively, is elevated. During the transition to a democratic regime, the political situation was volatile and stakes perceived as high. Yet an atmosphere of normalcy has returned and political rhetoric and actions have calmed in recent years, leading to fewer clashes between party supporters or between supporters and security forces.
Guinea further has experienced serious intercommunal clashes, with the most recent major hostilities taking place in Forested Guinea in 2013, killing about 500. Since that time, such clashes have become fewer in number and lower in intensity. Small-scale clashes between protesters and the government occur regularly and in various parts of the country. As the Condé government has gradually become more present in the work of day-to-day governance and exerted greater control over the security forces, the potential for instability has subsided.
The government has set clear priorities under President Condé, a major change from the previous two administrations. Establishing civilian control over the military, strengthening government capacity, reestablishing macroeconomic stability and creating an environment conducive to foreign investment (especially in the mining sector) have been the top priorities of the government. The Condé government has made significant progress in the priority areas. The progress however resulted less from institutional innovations (e.g., evidence-based policymaking, regular impact assessment) than the will of the leadership. While progress certainly strengthened democratization and market democracy, prioritizing including and respecting opposition is less pronounced.
Other issues, including providing health and education to citizens and tamping down on corruption, have seen less progress and are still in desperate need of policy reforms.
The government has been determined and well able to implement its own policies. It has clearly articulated priorities and plans for achieving them, something not much seen in Guinea since the end of the socialist period in 1984. Much needed reforms of the military, reintroduction of an economic policy framework after several years of chaotic pillage, and construction of hydroelectric dams to provide electricity to Guinea and the wider region have all moved forward. Guinea reached the HIPC decision point in 2012; the cancellation of some of its debt has strengthened economic prospects. The Ebola outbreak was a devastating and unexpected blow, exposing how fragile Guinea’s progress out of its recent, chaotic past has been. Guinea’s health system was shown to be weak and underfunded and trust between citizens and government also appeared tenuous.
The Guinean government under President Condé has shown some flexibility and ability to innovate. In the political realm, President Condé appears to be more conciliatory than during his first term, perhaps partly because of learning and partly because he has effectively weakened his strongest rivals. A major learning effect could be seen in the process of developing the mining code. On the economic side, the government has evolved from a major focus on the mining sector to tackle other economic sectors and expand state services. The progress, especially compared to previous administrations, is, as noted above, not due to institutional innovations but because of the personal orientation of the leadership.
The government’s record on efficient use of resources is mixed. Cronyism in the public sector, unqualified staff and pervasive corruption mean that significant resources are not productively used. Yet, overall, government policy is much sounder than in previous governments. Levels of debt and the fiscal deficit remain within manageable limits. Given the structural constraints on government efficiency, there were hardly any alternatives to a concentration on major priorities, even if this meant considerable waste in other sectors. As stated above, the government has achieved significant progress in its priority areas. The state, however, is still highly centralized, despite the elections of local councils during the review period, while the central state is overburdened with handling many local issues.
Government policy is largely coherent. This is facilitated by a focus on a limited number of objectives. It has mostly privileged macroeconomic stability over welfare concerns (e.g., when scrapping fuel subsidies in 2018), despite significant political backlash. The fuel price rise was strategically postponed until after the local elections were held to reconcile conflicting interests in votes and fiscal capacities. Where spending is politically motivated, expenditures remain limited. The president further has skillfully weakened the political power of the military, while maintaining the support of its security forces.
Domestically, President Condé established a National Audit Commission in June 2011, in addition to the already existing (but moribund) National Anti-Corruption Commission, National Anti-Corruption Agency and Auditing Committee for Oversight of Strategic Sectors of the Economy. The Agence Nationale de la Promotion de la Bonne Gouvernance et de Lutte contre la Corruption (ANLC), created in 2004, is the only state agency focused solely on fighting corruption. It is an autonomous agency but reports directly to the president.
The ANLC investigates anonymous tips concerning possible corruption cases received by the Bureau of Complaint Reception. During the review period, the government has not prosecuted any major corruption cases. Africa Mining Intelligence and a Global Witness report implicated the president and his son in corrupt practices, though the government aggressively refuted the analysis. In early 2018, France arrested the owner of the Bolloré company over the acquisition of the seaport management contracts for Guinea and Togo. A public relations firm belonging to Bolloré is accused of having underbilled Condé for election campaign services. Bolloré obtained the contracts shortly after Condé’s first election in 2010. Notwithstanding, Guinea’s status in international assessments of corruption has been improving. Overall, patrimonial relations are more centrally controlled now than in the past and the scope of officials to pursue their own private interests has declined. Most Guineans and international observers continue to see corruption as a major challenge.
Major political actors including political leaders, parties, civil society and intellectuals agree in principle on the value of democracy and a market economy. Under this rhetorical agreement, however, lie some reservations. Some see multiparty democracy as forced on the country by outside forces or feel the political culture of Guinea with its significant authoritarian elements means democracy will, at best, be necessarily limited. Yet, no actor seems to see a viable alternative to electoral democracy and political aspirants focus their strategies on success in elections.
Most major political actors subscribe to market economics as an ideal. Despite greater social cohesion, Guinea’s socialist past is widely perceived as a development failure. Even so, the Guinean experience with the market economy has often disappointed expectations for improved living standards. While the market economy is in principle accepted, many Guineans see a responsibility of the state to intervene, sometimes deeply, in the interest of development. There is discernible mistrust of international companies, particularly in the mining sector.
It is difficult to identify clear-cut anti-democratic actors. Most Guineans, including major political actors, are convinced that multiparty electoral democracy is the least bad form of government. Still, Guineans often feel let down by authorities. The army has long been seen as the most powerful spoiler and still is a difficult institution, but it is much less ambitious politically than in the past. There were no visible incidents of political influence or dissatisfaction in the period under review, as compared to Côte d’Ivoire or Gabon.
Historically, ethnicity was less of a problem: Between 1958 and 2008, there was a tacit agreement that every ethnic group and region would have representatives in government and would be able to reap the benefits that came with high office. From 2009 onward this has changed, resulting in the present ethnic schism.
The main political divide runs between two major ethnic groups, the Malinké and the Fulbe (Peulh), which are politically organized to the RPG and the UFDG, respectively. The RPG, in particular, has a support base that extends beyond its ethnic core, and the UFDG has, to some extent, been able to capitalize on the frustration of non-Peulh constituents. Generally, politics is patrimonial and determined by economic interests, and most other parties can join any alliance.
President Condé has largely kept the UFDG at a distance and often engaged it in a confrontational and intransigent manner. The primary issues at stake have been legislative and local elections, which the opposition hoped to capitalize on and which had been unconstitutionally delayed. During the review period, President Condé seems to have softened his stance and finally allowed local elections at a point in time that was politically fortuitous for his party. The UFDG seems to have lost some of its momentum. While political relations have become less confrontational, tensions between the RPG and the UFDG remain high. Beyond this, President Condé mostly handled the teacher strike of 2017 with a strong hand, having the union leader arrested and sympathetic broadcast stations closed.
President Alpha Condé has developed a reputation for maintaining a distance from civil society actors, although several former civil society actors have been incorporated into government. In late 2017, this became evident again in the confrontational handling of the teachers’ strike. While the government has not invited civil society actors to help them set a governance agenda, civil society has forced its priorities onto the Guinean scene in collaboration with international actors. Guinean human rights activists thus work closely with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Democracy activists cultivate their relationships with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the OSCE. Transparency activists work closely with Transparency International and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. In all of these cases, these national–international coalitions make their cases to the embassies of the United States, France and the EU mission, lobbying them to use their diplomatic and financial leverage to put these agendas at the center of their discussions with the Guinean government. The Condé administration is thus constrained to collaborate with civil society, if only via these international intermediaries
The previous governments of Touré, Conté and the military junta all committed serious human rights violations against their citizens. The most recent substantial event was the September 28, 2009 stadium massacre that followed the coup d’état of December 2008. When 50,000 demonstrators protesting against the new junta gathered in the national stadium, the security forces opened fire, killing at least 157, raping more than 100 women and injuring 1,253. The victims were predominantly ethnic Fulbe (Peulh) and the lack of justice for the victims is a major factor in the acrimonious relations between government and the oppositional UFDG. Eight years on, the domestic investigation into the September 2009 massacre continues. Since legal proceedings began in 2010, the panel of judges appointed to investigate the massacre has assumed work, having interviewed more than 400 victims and charged 14 suspects, including several high-level members of the security forces. In 2015 included the charging of former coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara and his then-vice president, Mamadouba Toto Camara. Yet three officers implicated continue to occupy senior positions in the Condé government. The process against Lieutenant Toumba Diakité, who was extradited from Senegal in March 2017, has not started and hardly any substantial progress has been made in the investigation, which looks increasingly cosmetic. Brutal repression had been specifically directed against Peulh under Sékou Touré. As a consequence, there is a deep, historically rooted feeling of political marginalization among Peulh.
In addition, another major cleavage in Guinea requires reconciliation, that between ethnic Maninka and members of the small ethnic groups in the southeastern Forested Guinea (especially the Kpelle/Guerzé associated with military ruler Dadis Camara). The cleavage has not received sufficient government attention, with postures on both sides potentially explosive, especially in and around the city of N’Zerekore.
The major policy priorities of the Condé government (i.e., macroeconomic stability, civilian control of the military and increasing attractiveness for foreign direct investment), align well with international development objectives. The Guinean government has established relatively cooperative relations with donors. There is a certain trend of diversifying cooperation: According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, President Condé has actively sought closer diplomatic and commercial links with Gulf countries and Iran. Relations with China are deep, underlined by the signing of a bilateral cooperation agreement between China and Guinea before the 2018 Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in Beijing in September 2018. Guinea has also maintained close relations with France. Also reported by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a cooperation agreement signed with the EU in 2014 will continue to enable Guinea to tap into the European Development Fund. The government has also maintained good working relations with the IMF. The IMF’s extended credit facility has supported the government’s 2016 to 2020 National Socioeconomic Development Plan (PNDES). The PNDES aims to generate more inclusive economic growth, while directly reducing poverty.
The government has generally used development assistance, as well as diplomatic support, successfully in the areas of infrastructure construction (especially hydroelectric power), restructuring the military, developing the institutional framework of the mining sector and establishing macroeconomic stability. The Condé government has made significant progress in the aforementioned priority areas but, as mentioned before, this is less due to a sophisticated plan than because of the will of the leadership.
The Condé government has been far more credible than the Camara and Conté governments before it. In particular, Camara was extremely erratic, which makes the present government compare favorably. The credibility of the present government is, however, uneven. The efforts to strengthen state capacity, stabilize the economy and attract international investors are widely considered sincere, and collaboration with international partners in these areas is well established. The government’s commitment to democratization (especially in relation to the opposition), reconciliation and addressing past human rights abuses is much more in doubt.
Guinea is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Mano River Union. The latter is of very limited relevance in regional affairs, however. Regional cooperation in the sense of regional integration is not a top priority of the government, but the Condé administration strives for cordial relations within West Africa.
In the context of international peacekeeping, the Guinean Army has sent a battalion of peacekeepers to the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali, where Guinean troops have sustained significant casualties.
Generally, relations among West African states have been cordial in recent years. Guinea has implemented the ECOWAS Common External Tariff and joined the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ), a suborganization of six countries aiming at establishing a common currency, the Eco. It should be noted that Guinea is not member of the CFA monetary union – to which all other former French colonies belong.
Guinea has made significantly more progress in developing the natural resource economy and providing effective leadership than in democratization. While the exclusion of the opposition from much of politics means major political friction will remain, most Guineans prioritize economic development and leadership over participation. In as much as the government will be able to distribute mining revenues more broadly so that the population benefits, it is likely to maintain or further increase its popularity.
With the diversification of the natural resource sector, Guinea has become less dependent on commodity price fluctuations. Yet, the bauxite sector is expanding most and eventual dips in prices will pose a challenge to Guinea.
A sense of normality has been restored, and politics is less turbulent. Many opposition supporters have adapted to the situation and opposition opportunities to mount pressure in the streets are declining.
With investor confidence restored and civilian government much more successful than its recent predecessors, Guinea is likely to continue on its current path and stabilize politically and economically.
If President Condé seeks a third term, many Guineans might embrace the opportunity for continuity. Yet, being born in 1938, Condé already is one of Africa’s oldest presidents. As with so many others, he risks falling out of touch with the numerically dominant younger generation, while his leadership ability weakens. A change to the constitution permitting a third term would further be a burden on relations with Western donors. Much will depend on whether the government is able to organize a smooth transition to a successor. Any solution other than a democratic one risks unwinding Guinea’s progress toward political stability.