Protests in Guinea Due to Constitutional Changes

Photo source: Al Jazeera
By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Since 2019, a series of protests broke out against the rule of Alpha Conde. Amnesty believed that at least fifty people were killed and two hundred others were injured during protests against Conde between October 2019 and July 2020. The opposition had different figures and said that more than ninety people had been killed in the crackdown, a figure rejected by the government. Human Rights Watch had called for investigations into killings.

In Guinea, Conde’s party, Rally of the Guinean people, had frequently banned protests over the course of time, due to public security threats. The constitutional changes were for Conde’s third term as president. Under Guinea's constitution, newly adopted in 2010, presidents are limited to two five-year terms. A provision of the constitution also forbids changing or amending "the number or duration of the mandates". Because of this provision, the only legal way to get around the presidential term limitation is to call for a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution to replace the current one, something which Conde was eyeing for, all along.
The National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (Le Front national de la defense de la Constitution, FNDC), a coalition of nongovernmental groups and opposition parties had boycotted the consultation process, and with the result, several of them had been arrested.
Before their arrests, they had chanted the Susu phrase for “this will not happen”, the slogan of the protest movement, and burnt car tyres. Many wore red T-shirts, armbands, hats and bandanas – the colour of the opposition coalition. 

A lawyer for those arrested told Human Rights Watch they were able to meet the detained men briefly in October 2019, at police headquarters, but they did not have access to them after they were moved to the barracks of the elite security force unit the Mobile Intervention and Security Force (Compagnie mobile d’intervention et de securite, CMIS), and the headquarters of Guinea’s intelligence services. The men were brought before a court, and imprisoned in Guinea’s central prison. 

Social media footage during October 2019 showed police officers using batons to beat two protestors and, in one case, paraded him while pretending to slit his throat. Human Rights Watch has documented at length the police and gendarmes use of firearms and excessive use of lethal force, when policing past protests, as well as beating of protestors, corruption, and other forms of criminality.

Nadia Nahman, the chief of staff for opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, said: “Alpha Condé is ready to walk on the bodies of Guineans to take a third term. Killing one’s compatriots to satisfy one’s disproportionate obsession with power is inhuman and despicable.”

But, Guinea’s government justified the arrests, on the grounds that FDNC leadership did not notify the government of the demonstrations. President Conde had given a statement on October 2019 that he was committed to right to protests but organisers should “inform and involve” the authorities so that “an itinerary is defined and appropriate security measures are taken to secure the demonstration.” However, this statement turned out as a rhetoric because since July 2018, no protests had been allowed even with prior notification.

According to an article in Human Rights Watch: ‘instead of working with the FNDC and other nongovernmental or opposition groups to facilitate the right to protest, security forces have over the past year arrested those who defy protest bans and used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

At the same time, Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, commented that banning protests denies political parties and other groups a legitimate way to express their opposition to, or support for, the government’s plans and policies.

Due to these shortcomings and multiple interpretations, Guinea’s government, should instead work with political parties and other groups to develop public criteria to guide local authorities in determining whether protests should go ahead. The criteria should include a process for evaluating the security threat posed by a planned protest.

Street protests have long been used in Guinea to express opposition to government policies. In 2006 and 2007, trade unions and other groups organised nationwide strikes against poor governance and economic deterioration under the then-president, Lansana Conté. Although, security forces on multiple occasions fired at unarmed protestors, leaving scores dead. In 2009, opposition parties and other groups organised a peaceful protest against an attempt by the then-president and junta leader, Dadis Camara, to run in presidential elections. Security forces again opened fire on protestors, killing more than one hundred fifty. 

Despite Conde’s brutal crackdown measures, his supporters believe that he brought significant new changes, following the 2010 elections, by improving respect for freedom of assembly and the professionalisation of the security forces, notably by ensuring that gendarmes and police, not the army, carrying out security operations. It is believed by some Guineans that the 2015 law on the maintenance of public order also improved civilian oversight of the response of the security forces to demonstrations.

In the coming time, around ninety percent of the Guineans boycotted the constitutional referendum in March 2020. But, new controversies emerged in September 2020, when Conde made combative campaign speeches, some in his native Malinke language, saying in one that “this is not just an election. It’s as if we were at war.” Diallo, who was from the larger Fulani community, had accused Conde of exploiting ethnic divisions.



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