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Guinea's Neighbors and Partners Use Foreign Aid to Press for Democratic Reform

Guinea’s military leadership continues to draw criticism from its neighbors and world partners for last month’s coup that followed the death of President Lansana Conte. In Washington, the Bush administration voiced support for free elections and efforts by the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the junta to speed the transition to civilian rule.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack announced a suspension of some aid to Conakry, but said yesterday that humanitarian relief and support for democratization programs would continue. Elizabeth Cote is country director in Guinea for IFES the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. She says that foreign powers would be wise to continue supporting a new beginning for Guinea’s transition to democracy, which should be allowed to unfold at a reasonable pace.

“I think the fact that the United States are not suspending their democratic or their election assistance is important. It’s important not to necessarily impose a date as an international partner. There’s been a lot of mention about the end of June for an election. I think that technically, it would be something difficult to be able to do. We are in the middle of a voter registration that has a lot of problems that need to be solved. To short-circuit a transition is not doing a favor to Guinea,” she said.

Shortly after the December 23 coup, Captain Moussa Camara pledged to hold elections in 2010 to return the country to civilian rule. However, coup leaders under pressure from other governments and regional bodies revised the timetable with promises to hold new elections before the end of this year. The African Union has already suspended Guinea, and ECOWAS leaders are set to meet in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Friday to discuss a possible suspension from the regional trading bloc. Nigeria currently holds the rotating chair of the 15-member community and Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe said yesterday that he expects ECOWAS members to oust what he called the unacceptable regime. Ellizabeth Cote of IFES says that nations concerned about the military takeover are quite familiar with the circumstances surrounding Guinea’s need for an orderly transition and that their support for suspension of aid is both politically driven and precautionary.

“These people and Guineans and different countries in general know that there are a lot of political statements that are said and that on the other hand, people are willing to observe and see what’s going on. It’s not black and white," she says.

One West African leader, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, has encouraged the coup leaders to get the economy moving again and put Guinea back on track as a nation. Cote points out that Mr. Wade’s support for the regime most likely stems from previous personal knowledge of coup leader Camara, who is said to have spent earlier years as a student living in Senegal.

“Probably our young head of state, who studied in Senegal, probably made a point of contacting him (Wade) or vice versa. There’s a relationship there, and there was a spontaneous statement, as Wade knows how to make them,” she noted.

Cote points out that an ECOWAS delegation that visited Guinea after the coup will take a “wait and see” attitude about how a succession of leadership would unfold. But she contends that nations would best serve the interests of the citizens of Guinea by remaining open about continuing to provide foreign assistance.