Strong military leaders have ruled Guinea since independence in 1958, starting with a one-party dictatorship that introduced a closed, socialized economy, suppressed freedom of expression and political opposition, and acted perpetrated state-sponsored human rights violations with impunity. Although Guinea has avoided civil war, it has consistently been unstable. The military regimes of Lansana Conté and Dadis Camara massacred civilians in 2007 and 2009, the latest in a history of violations of constitutionally enshrined rights and freedoms. The victims have largely remained uncompensated, and the perpetrators have gone unpunished. Given its relatively conflict-free status in the volatile Mano River region, Guinea has hosted thousands of refugees fleeing armed conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, impacting on its peace and stability.
Mismanagement of Guinea’s natural resources — which include bauxite, gold, iron ore, uranium, diamonds, coffee, fish, hydropower and agricultural products — has brought few benefits to ordinary Guineans. The country’s economic governance suffers from rampant corruption, an absence of management structures and a general lack of capacity. Transparency International has classified Guinea among countries where corruption level is the highest. Human rights violations and censorship are rampant.
Guinea has now had a transition, having just held its most transparent and peaceful elections to date. There is renewed optimism that the return to democratic governance may reverse the trend of state-sponsored impunity. Critical challenges for the new government include consolidating peace, establishing the rule of law and strengthening the capacity of democratic institutions to perform their roles effectively.
Additionally, the country needs to develop mechanisms to improve the tenuous relationship between the military and the citizenry and to hold military personnel accountable for transgressions against the civilian population. Security forces in Guinea routinely torture, assault and sometimes murder people as part of an entrenched culture of impunity. Bringing to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities will lend momentum to efforts to strengthen accountability, protect civilians and lay a foundation for a lasting peace based on the rule of law.
Having secured a peaceful democratic transition in Guinea, OSIWA has supported efforts to foster active, inclusive and effective citizen participation and advance a consensual and participatory constitutional and electoral process. This work is being implemented by a coalition of five civil society organizations, including women’s groups, youth associations, trade unions and media professionals.
OSIWA’s principal objective in Guinea is to break the cycle of violence and impunity to increase access to justice and accountable governance. Its strategic interventions will therefore focus on
- strengthening the rule of law, checking impunity, increasing access to justice and promoting respect for human rights;
- promoting democratic pluralism and acceptance of democratic frameworks;
- strengthening democratic institutions, including civil society organizations, and empowering citizens for public participation to perform checks and balances;
- ensuring sustainable management of resources, combating corruption and promoting national budget transparency. OSIWA will also leverage the capacity, skills and resources of OSI network programs working in the areas of transitional justice, public health and education to support Guinea’s efforts towards reconciliation and reconstruction.
OSIWA will support initiatives to strengthen citizen participation and build stakeholders’ capacity to engage in decision-making processes, policy formulation and policy implementation. At the national level, the foundation will work to strengthen civil society organizations’ capacity to engage with the parliament. It will also seek to capitalize on existing legislation aimed at decentralizing governance. This measure presents a significant opening to expand direct citizen participation at the local level, but its language is not specific or clear enough to guarantee practical implementation. OSIWA will therefore focus on creating channels and conditions for citizens to exercise their voices and demand accountability and on improving civil society organizations’ capacity for strategic planning through an integrated and participatory decision-making process. Greater civil society engagement has the potential to improve the transparency and responsiveness of elected officials, ensure better targeting of resources based on the articulated needs and priorities of the population, prompt more efficient use of resources and improve service delivery. In particular, OSIWA will promote the involvement of citizens in processes governing the exploration and exploitation of natural resources as well as the distribution of their proceeds. It will promote budget transparency, for example, and seek to hold officials accountable by facilitating participatory budgeting and monitoring to enhance socio-economic development and reduce poverty.
OSIWA will explore opportunities to build a more robust parliament. Although legislatures play a fundamental role in establishing the rule of law and transparent governance, Guinea’s parliament has long been marginalized. Strengthening its capacity will help create an enabling environment where it can perform its basic functions and fulfill its mandate. This line of work will also include supporting the enactment of laws to combat corruption, improve management of public resources and safeguard freedom of expression. It will also involve creating a platform for exchange between the parliament and civil society, in order to promote respect for democratic institutions and processes by the military and cultivate a more harmonious relationship between civilians and the military. OSIWA will also support efforts by human rights CSOs to invoke international and regional human rights laws to demand accountability and to deter future violations. OSIWA will likewise promote the use of transitional justice mechanisms.