An inclusive debate to create pathways out of the current crisis in Guinea

Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui
George Kibala Bauer

Guinea, more than ever, needs an inclusive debate not only on the function of the state, but also on the nature of our institutions and therefore the very state of the republic.

Alpha Condé President of Guinea. Image credit Grant Ellis for the World Bank via Flickr CC.

As I write these words, I don’t know if the elections will take place or not. I really hope that the republican virtue and the responsibility to protect the citizens from COVID-19, which falls on the state, prevails and that the elections are suspended—postponement would be in the general interest. Whatever the case, Guinea more than ever needs an inclusive debate, not only about the functioning of the state, but the nature of our institutions and therefore also about the very state of the republic.

Here’s why.

There are two aspects to the current crisis in Guinea which give reason for hope. The first is the opposition’s insistence on a credible electoral register. The second is the total conversion of the population, at least in language, to the idea that sovereign power and fundamental rights must be guaranteed by the constitution. These two developments suggest a trend towards a change in the political culture of the country that we must all welcome. However, developments in political culture should not be limited only to the adoption of modern electoral standards and to the idealization of constitutional supremacy in the hierarchy of legal norms and laws in particular.

These professions of constitutional loyalty mask a profound paradox. The political class claims to aspire to want a way out of the current crisis, but the political issues of the past such as different conceptualizations of republican public life and citizenship persist. This paradox is reflected by popular anxiety about the future due to political morals constantly being in flux and an inability to clearly distinguish political approaches by the government and the opposition. The people therefore feel what any philosopher, jurist and political scientist should know: There is a wide gap between political ideology and political power which can only be bridged by institutions.

The reality that we live in therefore seems to be contradictory and highly complex. While the discourse is progressive, daily reality consistently betrays these very secular, liberal and republican values. The result is palpable. Lacking state capacity is amplified by doubts about its real intentions, and those of the opposition. It becomes clear on both sides that the real aim of the political game is to capture the state in order to put its coercive means at the service of one’s own interest and that of parents, supporters, and one’s immediate community.

There is another paradox that further complicates the situation. It is due to the tension between, on the one hand, the right to freedom of expression, which is essential to speak on behalf of all, and, and on the other hand, the inequality of mental and intellectual resources which necessarily affects the ability to engage in rational debates when taking political positions. There is no simple solution to this paradox where everyone is an “expert” and where individual experience appears as proof of the arguments that everyone wants to put forward. In short, everyone is an “expert” on the causes of their illness, even if the illness is really a symptom of another illness whose diagnosis still eludes us.

There is no doubt that during such a debate all participants will have deep love and commitment to the country. Unfortunately, truth and the corresponding mental faculties and abilities, namely knowledge (or knowing) and wisdom, do not depend on love alone—even if love is essential to them. In other words, we can all preach love and truth, but not all sermons are well founded.

The solution is the establishment of a forum for a rational, open, and inviting debate. Above all, we must avoid turning such a public debate into a cacophony. It must be structured around the right to information and the obligation to transparency; to be truthful about the symptoms of our illness: not only the dysfunctions of the state but also harmful anti-republican and anti-liberal practices, which have long existed at the level of civil society and political parties, as well as the underlying dynamics driven the rise in these practices.

We must not delude ourselves about the possibility for misunderstandings to arise in such a debate. Already today there is a vagueness about the nature of public consent both at the level of the government and the opposition. One of the reasons for this misunderstanding is the notion that citizens or activists are necessarily consenting when they follow certain leaders. In a context where clientelism and communitarianism prevail, it is often difficult to know whether consent is only partisan, conjunctural, partial, or even absent. This means it is often difficult to understand how legitimate certain political actions are. Are supporters consenting because of their expectations, of the promises made to them, or because they are willing, that is to say convinced of the merits of what is offered to them? Are the supporters of opposing camps in today’s Guinean conflict really free to make their own choices etc.?

In truth, to get out of the current crisis, we need another debate to question our horizons which will allow citizens to know how to orient themselves and therefore to make real choices: choices that will not come down to immediate cost-benefit analysis or questionable justifications. We owe Guinea such an inclusive debate on our institutions, including the constitution, and the underlying political, social, cultural, and spiritual dynamics that are required for their consolidation. To this debate, I await my invitation.

Further Reading