SNAPSHOT: Elections in Guinea on 1 March escalate the risk of violent protests

SNAPSHOT: ELECTIONS IN GUINEA ON 1 MARCH ESCALATE THE RISK OF VIOLENT PROTESTS

BACKGROUND 

  • On 1 March, Guinean voters have been called to elect their next national assembly, and vote in a referendum about changing the constitution. 

  • Violent and often deadly unrest has been simmering since October 2019, when a coalition of political parties and civil society organisations – the Front pour la défense de la constitution (Front For Defending the Constitution, FNDC) – launched its first mass anti-government protests. 

  • Members of the FNDC suspect and accuse the government of President Alpha Condé of trying to cling on to power after his second constitutionally mandated presidential term ends. Although Condé has not announced his intention to stand again, recent indications appear to lend credence to the FNDC’s claims. 

  • At least 38 people have been killed and hundreds injured during counter-protest operations by the security forces, who have often used tear gas and baton charges, and on occasion live ammunition, against protesters.   

BOTTOMLINE: There is an elevated and growing risk of widespread violence in the one-week outlook

Foreign governments, including those of Canada, France, and the UK, are concerned about the violent unrest becoming more widespread, given the ostensible impunity through which the security forces, and have updated their travel advisories. The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office  advises against non-essential travel to the regions of Labé, Pita, and Dalaba prefecture in the centre and north of the country. 

International organisations, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have suspended their operations in the country. 

There is a growing number of calls by opposition parties, such as the Union des forces républicaines (Union of Republican Forces, UFR), to take action hindering the tenure of the elections. These actions could include breaking ballot boxes or attacking those who engage in what UFR considers as an illegitimate and illegal election. UFR Vice President Mamadou Bangoura on 23 February pledged that there would be no elections in Guinea on 1 March, likely signaling an escalation in the mass mobilisation against the government. 

One day later, the FNDC announced it no longer recognises Condé as the legitimate president and have called for his resignation. In addition, the alliance renewed calls for new mass protests on 27 February across the country.  

FORECAST & ADVICE 

  • The recent calls by influential political forces in Guinea underscores serious and mounting frustration with the government, likely preceding an intensification in the protest action and level of violence seen thus far. In parallel, the government has also toughened its tone and said it will not tolerate any violation of the law, and that it will not only arrest the ‘casseurs’ (violent protesters) but also the ‘commanditaires’ (protest leaders or those who order or sponsor the violence). 

  • Security forces are likely to respond in a similar vein, probably carrying out arbitrary and mass arrests of key protest leaders. In-country staff and business travellers in Guinea in the one-week outlook should avoid all public gatherings and increase their vigilance to signs of unrest erupting. 

  • During previous mass protests, FNDC supporters have worn red-coloured t-shirts and waved the Guinean flag, and many are likely to do the same on 27 February. While security forces are likely to attempt to limit the violence to high-density residential areas of major towns and cities, in a bid to mitigate disruption elsewhere, a high turnout is likely to paralyse traffic along major roads. After that, the identifiable insignia of FNDC supporters will be less clear, and protests are likely to be more sporadic and unpredictable, as their agitation will not be supported by legally sanctioned marches backed by the FNDC. 

  • Personnel in the country this week should also minimise non-essential movements, and monitor local protest activity through trusted sources and readjust travel plans accordingly.