After decades of bad governance and misuse, the armed forces are a potential source of instability which could still throw Guinea and the region into chaos. At the very least, if not reformed thoroughly, they will continue to pose a threat to democratic civilian rule. The recent establishment of a transitional government and the ongoing, although fragile, electoral process are a significant opportunity. Getting army reform wrong could have disastrous consequences for the country’s political future. Getting it right entails numerous technical challenges, redefining the relationship of the armed forces with civilian power and addressing the critical issue of military financing, in order to create disciplined, effective and affordable armed forces. The suspension of the second round of the presidential elections, originally scheduled for 19 September, has heightened tension. Though the army has remained neutral, fears remain that if the election is not completed successfully and without excessive delay, it may seize the opportunity to intervene again. This would be a major setback to any prospect of medium-term reform, which requires respect for civilian rule and oversight.
The army’s well-deserved reputation for indiscipline and resistance to democratic civilian rule is a product of its troubled past. The country’s first two presidents both manipulated the armed forces to their own political ends, allowing insubordination to develop, and bought off senior ranks with patronage opportunities. Mutinies over poor conditions, and waves of irregular recruitment characterised the last years of President Lansana Conté. The junta that took over on his death in December 2008 further exacerbated the situation in the military. Its leader, Dadis Camara, used the army against political opponents, fostered tension between the junta and the rest of the armed forces and recruited ethnic militia.
The armed forces today are divided along ethnic and generational lines and notorious for indiscipline, human rights abuse, insubordination and criminality. While military life is difficult and unrewarding for most, a handful of senior officers live opulently. Financial management is clouded in corruption; civilian and military oversight institutions are weak or non-existent. The army is bloated and poorly trained. With public confidence in it at an all-time low, reform would be a major step to help Guinea achieve a secure environment in which democratic institutions can grow.
Since General Sékouba Konaté took over as interim leader in December 2009, reforming the armed forces has assumed new importance. Basic discipline has been improved, and the transitional authorities have welcomed the May 2010 report of an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-led security sector reform (SSR) evaluation mission. The army has thus far remained neutral in the lengthy and delicate electoral process. Dadis Camara, whose support in the institution is fading, remains in exile in Burkina Faso and effectively contained. But the extent to which senior officers have really bought into a meaningful reform agenda has yet to be tested.
The new president will face dilemmas and pressures pulling him in contradictory directions. He first needs to build consensus in the army to accept reform and to align expectations in the ranks with what the country truly requires. Balancing the need to keep the military on board with the need to reduce numbers and reform financial management will be tricky. While the president must satisfy some army concerns to assure his security and that of the transition in the short-term, the most contentious issues cannot be ignored for long. Army attitudes combine a willingness to engage on SSR with fears for loss of jobs and privileges and possible punishment for human rights abuses. The fears are exacerbated by awareness of the deep antagonism felt against it, especially after the massacre of opposition supporters on 28 September 2009.
There is a risk that the military will be willing to relinquish formal power but want to retain significant backroom influence and will ultimately refuse subordination to civilian rule on issues that concern it. This is what has happened in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, where EU- and UN-led SSR has failed because the army has played the international actors off against each other. Good international coordination will be vital in order to avoid this in Guinea.
The objective of the reform process is to establish a much smaller force, accountable to civilians and capable of meeting the country’s security needs. The most pressing priority should be to get a larger part of the army to understand and embrace that objective without letting it dictate the nature and pace of the process. The longer-term challenges will be to enhance civilian oversight, cut the size of the force and establish financial transparency. These steps should go hand-in-hand with improved living and working conditions for the armed forces. The president must also resist the temptation to use the army for partisan ends, relying instead on democratic credentials to govern effectively.
Senior officers must come to recognise that comprehensive reform is in the military’s best interest and that any attempt to undermine it would damage their credibility; reinforce anti-military sentiments in society; render the army less able to share in international peacekeeping missions; engender political instability; and result in further isolation of the country, potentially including international sanctions such as travel bans for individual officers and their families.
The international community will probably not be as heavily involved in reform of Guinea’s security system as it has been in Liberia and Sierra Leone, although offers of aid and training will likely be forthcoming. Most donors are in wait-and-see mode, ready to negotiate help with a new civilian administration. Their help needs to be generous and long term, because the situation will be fragile for some time, and any reverse would threaten gains elsewhere. Reform of its army will take sustained effort and both require and feed into broader public sector reform, with important stakes for West Africa.
To the new President:
1. Frame a national security strategy, including a white paper, to elaborate the role and mandate of the security and defence forces, and work to establish national consensus around reform, including armed forces’ buy-in.
2. Begin discussions immediately with the armed forces, with a view to:
a) implementing a freeze on recruitment and conducting, with donor financial and ECOWAS technical support, a comprehensive army census as a first step to gauge resource needs;
b) demilitarising the administrative structures, including those overseeing management of the army itself and involving reduction of the number of officers working in the directorate general of the armed forces support command (l’intendance) and other parts of the defence ministry; and
c) initiating a comprehensive review of management within the armed forces that prioritises transparency, restoration of discipline and clarification of the legal status of personnel; priority should also be given to improving the management of arms stocks.
3. Protect the army from political manipulation by:
a) ensuring that senior officer appointments are subjected to the recommendations of legal regulatory bodies such as the National Defence Council (Conseil National de Defense), the defence ministry and the armed forces command;
b) building civilian oversight capacity by a training program for members of the key oversight institutions;
c) resisting the temptation to use the armed forces for partisan ends and recognising that any attempt to politicise them would damage the institution further; and
d) improving conditions of service, so as to tackle the army’s widespread malaise and corruption.
To the Army:
4. Continue to support reform efforts in good faith and work towards a common commitment to ensure a professionally-run force.
5. Cooperate fully with efforts to ascertain the true size of the armed forces and participate in good faith in discussions to determine future size.
6. Participate thoroughly in efforts to restore discipline and address injustice within the armed forces, including through reinforcing mechanisms to investigate cases of abuse suffered and/or committed by military personnel.
7. Cooperate fully with all government efforts to install transparent financial management; prioritise this issue in internal management reform; and consider to this end creating two broad chains of command – one dealing with operations, the other with support – so as to adapt the administrative structure to respond better to needs.
To ECOWAS, major donors and other members of the international community:
8. ECOWAS and the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) should facilitate a donors roundtable conference, involving the new civilian president, to discuss and establish the framework for international support to SSR. Donor countries should recognise that army reform in Guinea will be an expensive and long-term undertaking, but one with considerable potential gains for the country and all its neighbours.
9. European countries, especially France, and the U.S., in liaison with ECOWAS, should support establishment of an International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) to provide strategic and operational advice for a comprehensive long-term training program.
10. All international partners of Guinea should:
a) follow the lead of national and regional actors in order to enhance national ownership of SSR;
b) prioritise coordination among donors so that an army keen to preserve privileges cannot play them off against each other, as has happened in Guinea-Bissau;
c) condition continued support for reform on progress in addressing financial mismanagement in the armed forces and depoliticisation in their management; help set up robust financial management structures through deployment of international experts; and
d) support the democratic government against any military attempt to resist reforms, including by continuing to send strong signals on the unacceptability of military intervention in politics and making clear that any attempt to derail the reform process by creating disorder will be met with sanctions. If the new president requests it, ECOWAS should consider offering tailored security support to allow the new president to face down potential spoilers in the armed forces.
To the UN Security Council:
11. Recognise that army reform requires, as much as it will enhance, regional stability and take account of the situation in Guinea when considering the rate of drawdown of the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL), slowing that process if significant progress is not made in army reform in Guinea or matters there otherwise deteriorate.
Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels, 23 September 2010