Voice of America (Washington, DC)

24 January 2014

Guinea: New Cabinet Another Step in Political Transition

Dakar — Guinea's President Alpha Condé has issued a decree naming a new government without any opposition members. Although Guineans have had mixed reactions to the announcement, analysts say the reshuffle could be a promising next step in the country's transition to democracy.

Guinea's President Alpha Condé named a new 35-member Cabinet this week, just a few months after long-delayed legislative elections finally established a National Assembly.

In total, 15 ministers were replaced, while 19 others were either reappointed or named to other positions within the government. The former prime minister kept his post.

The International Foundation for Electoral System's chief representative in Guinea, Elizabeth Coté, said the president's move was not that surprising.

"There had been a decree a few weeks ago where the president had asked the prime minister to resign, and all the members of his government, and it's something that is often seen in francophone countries when there is a new National Assembly. It's a time for reshuffling the government, and everybody was actually rooting for an even more intense reshuffle. If anything, they were surprised by the mildness of it," said Coté.

Coté said while the Cabinet has no members from the opposition coalition, most of the president's choices come with strong track records and good reputations.

"I think it's a little bit more professional now, I would say, and less a government of paying back to friends, longtime militants - more of a government, as they call it, of 'mission.' One could then try to define what that mission is, but that mission is for sure to keep the [ruling] party in place for a second mandate. But it also will be taking care of business, because I think they do realize as well that they have to show something for this re-election," she said.

President Condé is up for re-election in 2017. The country has been on a rocky transition to democracy ever since a December 2008 military coup that followed the death of authoritarian President Lansana Conte.

Politics in Guinea, which has a long history of ethnic tensions and human rights violations, has been plagued by violent and often deadly protests, along with allegations of corruption.

Legislative elections, originally supposed to take place by June 2011, were finally held in September 2012. The creation of a National Assembly was considered by many to be the final step in the transition to democracy, but the country still has a long way to go.

Corinne Dufka is a senior researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

"The new government has a lot of work set out for them. Guineans remain desperately poor and the judiciary remains weak. The police, which underscores the rule of law, remain very weak, and there are increasing reports of corrupt and non-transparent practices. So all those issues need to be addressed, and there has to be a strong rule of law for development to happen in Guinea," said Dufka.

Dufka said that the hope is that even without any opposition representation in the new Cabinet, their strength in the newly-elected parliament will allow healthy debate to take place on the issues that matter.

She added that the National Assembly will also help to reduce some of the concentration of executive power over the last several years.

Guineans say they hope that the reshuffling of the government is a sign that the country is finally ready to move forward.

Miriama Sylla, a teacher in Conakry, offers her views.

"People were hoping for a more representative and unified national government, but the most important thing is that the opposition are represented in the parliament. Hopefully now the debate can leave the streets and continue in the assembly, where both parties exist, and they can work together to bring about change,"said Sylla.

Guinea's next political test will likely come when the electoral commission holds local and community-level elections, which are supposed to take place during the first term of 2014.

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