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“Preventive Diplomacy:” The International Community’s Betrayal of the People of Guinea

September 14, 2011


Kadiatou Barry, 22, holds a photograph of her missing husband Alpha Oumar Diallo in Conakry October 4, 2009. Barry says her husband has been missing since the September 28 crackdown on opposition protesters.

“PREVENTIVE DIPLOMACY:”  The International Community’s Betrayal of the People of Guinea

In the following article, UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon recommends “preventive diplomacy” be applied more widely throughout the world. Through early warning systems and skilled interventions, preventive diplomacy improves the probability that diplomats will be able to pre-empt conflicts that might erupt within countries. One of the many “successes” of preventive diplomacy cited in the article is the 2010 presidential election in Guinea. Guineans might say that if this is what “preventive diplomacy” gets you, no thanks.

Regardless of what you call it, the international community has been using this manner of diplomacy for a long time and the goal has always been the same – to establish or preserve an atmosphere of peace and calm for the purpose of attracting and maintaining business investments. In the case of Guinea, the international community was particularly panicked about the possibility of a military uprising and its potential to scare away investors. As we shall see, in its determination to hold the 2010 election come hell or high water and to maintain a peaceful appearance for business investment, the international community made tragic trade-offs which were not its to make and Guineans will have to live with the negative consequences for years to come.

Brutal regimes often use violent and deadly tactics to repress populations in order to maintain calm. While a thin veneer of peace is shown to the world, most of these countries sit on powder kegs. Often, the international community looks the other way as these regimes commit human rights abuses and hold fraudulent elections. Over the past two years, the people of Guinea have known both of these injustices.

The first of these is the tragedy of September 28, 2009, in which unarmed opposition protesters, mostly of Peuhl ethnicity, were the victims of a pre-meditated, state-sponsored massacre by the Guinean military and foreign mercenaries. Over 200 were murdered, 1,200 were injured, and at least 100 women were viciously raped. An investigation by the International Criminal Court was initiated swiftly, but as we shall see, duplicitous dealings by the international community shut the investigation down.

In 2010, Guineans, mostly Peuhl, were the target of election-related violence which left many dead, women raped, homes burned, and livelihoods destroyed. Both the state and supporters of presidential candidate Alpha Conde collaborated in this violent plot to intimidate and disenfranchise Peuhls in the presidential election.

The election itself, much heralded by the international community, was nothing short of a sham involving massive fraud orchestrated by an operative of Conde’s, Lounceny Camara, who sat on the country’s electoral commission. Camara tampered with the vote tally in order to deny Cellou Dalein Diallo a first round victory. He committed more fraud in the second round paving the way for an Alpha Conde “win.” In the first round, in which Diallo ran against several candidates, real figures show that Diallo garnered approximately 53% of the vote. In the end, millions of Guineans cast ballots that were never counted, resulting in wholesale disenfranchisement of the voting population. Conde may be the head of state, but he arrives at Sekoutoureya Palace without a mandate to govern. This election should have been nullified and the international community should have led the way.

The International Criminal Court Investigation of September 28

The news of the September 28 massacre and the photos of raped women went around the world instantly. International condemnation was immediate. And, to the shock of almost everyone, the International Criminal Court announced its intention to conduct an investigation. By the end of October, Guinea’s minister of foreign affairs had met with ICC Deputy Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, at the Hague. After postponing a scheduled trip to Guinea in January 2010, Ms. Bensouda arrived in Guinea in mid-February. Many Guineans, encouraged by the quick response from the ICC, hoped that, for once, they might get justice.

Ms. Bensouda travelled to Guinea repeatedly in the first half of 2010. She held press conferences stating that she found evidence of crimes against humanity. Further, Ms. Bensouda was in Conakry when the first waves of state-sponsored violence associated with the 2010 presidential election broke out. She stated publicly that she would expand her investigation to incorporate the election-related incidents. Head prosecutor of the ICC, Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo, made a similar statement as well. Then, suddenly, the ICC investigation went silent. What happened? Had the ICC found a bigger fish to fry? Were investigators told to back off Guinea? Or, had the investigation already achieved its purpose?

By mid-2010, the reasons for the “disappeared” ICC case became apparent. In late 2008, a military junta followed the death of longtime president, Lansana Conte. Capt. Dadis Camara was the head of the junta and it was during his watch that the September 28, 2009, attack took place. In December 2009, Camara was shot in the head by one of his own men and was transferred quickly to Morocco for medical treatment. After convalescing in Rabat, instead of returning him home to Conakry, he was taken to Burkina Faso against his will. The US State Department and others in the international community considered Camara to be the most dangerous person in Guinea and thought him capable of leading the military to disrupt the entire country.

The ICC investigation was initiated as a tool to threaten Camara with prosecution at the Hague in the hopes he would run away to another country. Under the watchful eye of President Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso, Camara was finally under wraps and the ICC investigation had accomplished its goal. Naturally, victims of the military attack would disagree saying that the ICC was leaving behind a lot of bad guys who had committed crimes against humanity and who needed to be brought to justice. Given that it was the military which committed the overwhelming majority of human rights abuses on September 28, 2009, and throughout the 2010 election, the international community viewed an ICC investigation of the numerous perpetrators as nothing short of a lighted match on a powder keg. And, it is for this very reason that the international community leaned on the ICC to shut down the investigation altogether.

The Selection Election of 2010

In mid-2010, Guinea waited nervously for the much-delayed second round of the presidential election. The word around Washington was that there was great trepidation within the international community about increasing instability in Guinea exacerbated by the nerve wracking delay in the second round of the election. A US State Department official got to the heart of the matter during a presentation on Guinea at a Washington think tank when he said he did not care who won the election, but he was very concerned about a military uprising and the instability that could come from it.

In addition to sabotaging the ICC case, some members of the international community weighed in on on the 2010 presidential election, albeit quietly. Not only fearful of a military uprising in the lead-up to the election, the international community wanted to make sure Guinea was peaceful and calm after. The only question that needed to be answered was which candidate would be most acceptable to the military. Of course, only Alpha Conde could fill this bill as he is of the same ethnic group as the overwhelming majority of the military – Malinke. Further, during the election period, Conde conducted a dangerous anti-Peuhl campaign and the Guinean military provided the muscle to enforce it. If Diallo, a Peuhl, was elected, the military would surely rise up. More than anything, this assessment of the future relationship between the candidates and the military caused the international community to deny the massive election fraud.

The international community thought its re-arrangement of the Guinean chessboard would bring peace, but what it got was quite different — a belligerent, arrogant and bigoted head of state; a population enraged by unaddressed injustice; a solid guarantee of an ethnic war led by the feared 50,000 strong military; uneasy investors; and a country more likely than ever to go up in flames.

The international community is heading back to Guinea now to apply pressure to Conde to schedule legislative elections before the end of 2011, but troubles abound: Conde’s repeated acts of impunity and his penchant for treating opposition politicians as enemies of the state do not bode well for harmonious elections; the same guy who stole the election for Conde, Lounceny Camara, was just elected head of the electoral commission and battles over the entire membership of the commission promise to go a full 15 rounds; and resolution of the question about revising the voter rolls is nothing short of dynamite. Yet, the international community will force an election under these conditions because it views the legislative race as the final chapter in Guinea’s transition to civilian rule.

The people of Guinea shall never forget September 28, the 2010 election-related violence, and Alpha Conde’s theft of the elections. It’s tough to know which is worse, the international community’s collaboration to betray Guineans in their pursuit of justice through the ICC or its collaboration to place the guy who came in second, Alpha Conde, in the presidential palace, and maintain the audacity to call him “Guinea’s first democratically-elected president.” The international community got their guy in office and the military appears to be quiet, for now. And the people of Guinea? They got an ethnic-baiting president who hurls slurs openly on the airwaves and who, in April 2011, ordered the military to attack a gathering of the largest opposition party in Guinea which resulted in the murder and maiming of unarmed citizens.

The people of Guinea will not be quiet anymore. The impunity is too much and the cruelty suffered is almost impossible to bear. If they don’t get justice, Guinea will know no peace. Perhaps, without “preventive diplomacy,” justice might be within reach.

 Citing successes, Ban urges more preventive diplomacy to defuse conflicts

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Citing successes, Ban urges more preventive diplomacy to defuse conflicts

9 September 2011 –

Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon is calling on the world community to reinforce preventive diplomacy which, through a system of early warnings and skilled interventions, can pre-empt conflicts before they erupt, saving both lives and national resources.“Preventive diplomacy today is delivering concrete results, with relatively modest resources, in many regions of the world, helping to save lives and to protect development gains,” he tells the Security Council in the first ever reporton the issue, citing recent successes in easing mounting tension between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), post-election violence in Kenya, and the transition from military to civilian rule in Guinea.“It is an approach that may not be effective in all situations and will continue to face the uncertainty, risks and evolving challenges which, in a sense, come with the terrain. Yet I firmly believe that better preventive diplomacy is not optional; it is necessary.”Adequate financial investment, in particular for rapid responses, is crucial and Member States must ensure predictable and timely financial support, he stresses in the report, which is dedicated to the memory of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in a plane crash 50 years ago while trying to bring peace to the nascent but conflict-torn DRC.“We must also continue our efforts to invest in and better equip ‘preventive diplomats’ who lead our efforts on the ground to avert violent conflict. We will need to expand our pool of highly skilled envoys and mediators who can be deployed rapidly to situations of concern, with a focus on increasing the number of senior female mediators,” he writes.He notes that preventive diplomacy today is being conducted by a broader array of actors, using a wider range of tools, than ever before, with growing partnerships between the UN and regional organizations, the opening of more regional UN offices, and the creation of new early warning systems, including by the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the African Union (AU).Mr. Ban recalls that in 2008 the General Assembly made possible the strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), aimed at bolstering the UN’s preventive capacity. Since then, DPA has enhanced its analytical capacities, technical expertise in key areas such as electoral assistance, its partnerships, and its ability to facilitate system-wide responses.“As a result, it is becoming better geared toward rapid response and, through its reinforced regional divisions and Mediation Support Unit, can assist good offices and mediation initiatives worldwide, whether undertaken by the Organization or its partners. Its standby team of mediation experts is able to deploy within 72 hours to assist negotiators on peace process design, security arrangements, constitution-making, gender, power-sharing and wealth-sharing,” he says.He stresses that while the biggest return on investment in preventive diplomacy comes in lives saved, it also makes strong economic sense, noting that the World Bank has calculated that the average cost of civil war is equivalent to more than 30 years of gross domestic product (GDP) growth for a medium-size developing country, with the most severe civil wars imposing cumulative costs of tens of billions of dollars.Yet prevention efforts can be much less costly. The UN regional office in West Africa (UNOWA), which has played an important role in prevention efforts in Guinea, Niger and elsewhere in the sub-region, has a regular budget of less than $8 million per year.Among recent successes, Mr. Ban cites his 2008 appointment of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes amid growing regional tensions and a widespread fear that the DRC would again become the theatre of war. A year later the tensions had subsided and Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of DRC met for the first time in many years, with their countries resuming formal diplomatic relations soon after.In Guinea he notes that UNOWA, in partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the AU and others facilitated the country’s transition from military to constitutional rule during 2009 and 2010, preventing political tensions from escalating into full-blown conflict with the potential destabilization of neighbouring Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau.Other examples include the successful holding this year of the referendum that saw South Sudan secede from Sudan, the easing of tensions between the governing and opposition parties in Sierra Leone in 2009, and the end to inter-ethnic violence and return to constitutional order in Kyrgyzstan in 2010.But Mr. Ban warns that while preventive diplomacy has grown and evolved significantly, it is neither easy, straightforward, or inevitably successful, facing “great obstacles and long odds, with success often hostage to multiple factors. One of the most critical of these is the will of the parties.“If the parties do not want peace, or are unwilling to compromise, it is extraordinarily difficult, especially for outsiders, to persuade them otherwise. Here, the linkage between preventive diplomacy and the power to produce incentives and disincentives can be critical to convince key actors, with due respect for their sovereignty, that there is value in choosing dialogue over violence, and, if necessary, to accept external assistance to that end,” he writes.Even so, although quiet successes rarely make the news, recent engagements reconfirm that the combination of analysis, early warning, rapid response and partnerships can help defuse tensions in escalating crises and assist parties in resolving disputes peacefully.“With increasing knowledge, stronger partnerships and better instruments, I am convinced that it is possible to further strengthen the international community’s capacity for preventive diplomacy in the interest of peace, security and development,” he concludes.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN official stresses value of preventive diplomacy in conflict solving

One Comment leave one →
  1. Joan W. Drake permalink
    September 15, 2011 10:28 AM

    Thanks for the report on recent political events in Guinea and for explaining Ban Ki Moon’s new UN strategy for global political dominance thru “preventive diplomacy.” If it has the same impact as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) “preventive war” on Libya and MINUSTAH’s “peace keeping operation” in Haiti, it is a guaranteed deal breaker for developing any sane approaches to international politics and cooperation.

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