With Ebola epidemic and political instability, Guinea faces an economic disaster

With Ebola epidemic and political instability, Guinea faces an economic disaster

Violent anti-government protests occurred last week in Conakry over insecurity and the electoral timetable. With rising political instability and the Ebola epidemic yet to be contained, Guinea is facing an economic disaster.

While President Alpha Condé was in Washington last week to discuss the Ebola response, Guinea’s opposition organized demonstrations that degenerated into violence. These protests could lead to a deeper political crisis, as the Ebola epidemic is already threatening the country’s stability.

The opposition, led by Cellou Dalein Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, called for demonstrations in Conakry on April 13th after an alleged assassination attempt on April 4th against one of its spokespeople.

Demonstrators threw stones and burned car tires, while security forces, massively deployed on the Route du Prince and in the neighbourhoods of Hamdallaye, Cosa, Bambéto, Labanyi, responded with tear gas and presumably gunfire.

According to the opposition and medical sources, protests resulted in three dead and about 50 injured, including one man shot to death and 12 wounded by gunfire. The government, which only reported 10 injured and two dead, denied the police shot at protesters but ordered an investigation after being urged to by Amnesty International. The International Federation for Human Rights also urged the government to “clarify” the circumstances of the shootings and called for a peaceful dialogue between both camps.

The opposition accepted a truce until April 20, after the government proposed to renew dialogue. But tension remains high and security forces remain deployed in the capital’s popular areas.

Electoral delay compounds unrest in Guinea

The assault on its spokesperson was a pretext for the opposition’s protests. Besides blaming the government for the rising insecurity in Conakry, the opposition mainly protests against the postponement of local elections, originally scheduled for early 2014.

The last local elections were held in 2005. The electoral commission (INEC) announced on March 10th that the elections would be held in March 2016, after the presidential election due on October 11, 2015. 

Last March, opposition leaders Cellou Diallo, Sidya Touré (Union of Republican Forces) and Lansana Kouyaté (Hope for National Development Party) signed a declaration demanding that local polls precede the presidential election and calling for new demonstrations.

The opposition fears massive frauds in favour of President Alpha Condé, as local authorities, whose mandate expired in 2010, are mostly appointed by the government and play a role in the electoral process (distributing voting election materials, for example). The opposition accuses the government of delaying local elections to use current authorities to skew the presidential poll, like they allegedly used them to secure a win for the ruling party (RPG Rainbow) in the 2013 legislative elections.

Despite the protests, the government remains reluctant to organize local elections before the presidential race. They argue that the current calendar would help prevent a constitutional vacuum, since the presidential term is ending in a few months.

President Condé seems aware that reversing the calendar would increase the opposition’s chances to make a presidential challenge. But opponents have drawn international attention for their claims, forcing the government to make goodwill attempts, such as the call for a new dialogue.

Ebola outbreak has weakened Guinea’s economy

The political crisis hampers economic development, already weakened by the Ebola epidemic. Recent protests have paralyzed economic activity in several neighbourhoods, as shops and the big market of Madina have closed.

Rampant political instability in Guinea prevents socio-economic reforms and scares potential investors. The current crisis is therefore likely to further harm Guinea’s growth, which in 2014 went from 4.5% before the Ebola outbreak to 0.5% after.

The epidemic first appeared in the forests of South-eastern Guinea in 2013, and since then has had huge economic impacts, causing a loss in revenue of USD 540 million. It has undermined the confidence of investors and consumers according to the World Bank, which thus forecasts negative growth for 2015 (-0.2%).

In a report published last January, the FAO expected the number of food insecure individuals due to Ebola to double by March 2015. International partners are helping Guinea in its fight against Ebola by allocating funds, granting food assistance and tolerating the budget deficit. Nevertheless, the situation remains highly worrying, especially since new cases keep appearing.

It also appears that the electoral crisis and the Ebola epidemic are fuelling each other, since the former undermines the mobilization of the public in the fight against the disease, while the latter is allegedly used by the government as an excuse to postpone local elections. Given the fragility of Guinea’s economy, this political and sanitary crisis could have catastrophic long-term consequences.

Prospects for the near future

The opposition is planning demonstrations on April 20 in Conakry and on April 23 all over the country. They promised more protests until the government satisfies their demands. The country is therefore facing a political impasse, unless both parties accept to make concessions.

Given the country’s history of electoral violence (50 dead during the 2013 campaign), new violent protests are very likely to occur in the following weeks. The international community’s repeated calls for peace and the political actors’ will not to set the country on fire could prevent massive violence though.

New protests could lead to international pressure on the government to listen to the opposition and cancel the current calendar. This could restore some confidence between both parties and set the ground for a dialogue.

With the electoral and Ebola crises fuelling social unrest and undermining growth, Guinea’s economic recovery seems highly unlikely in the short to medium term.

About Author

Djenabou Cisse

Djenabou Cisse is a political analyst. She holds a Master's in International Security and a Bachelor in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris. She currently works for the think tank G-NOVA where her research focuses on digital diplomacy, defence, MENA/Subsaharan Africa and transatlalantic issues.