Why are Guineans protesting? All you need to know

Guinea has been hit by mass demonstrations over constitutional reform since mid-October.

Members of security forces stand guard as people march during a protest over a suspected effort by President Alpha Conde to seek a third term in Conakry, Guinea October 24, 2019
At least 20 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since the mass protests begun in October last year [File: Saliou Samb/Reuters]

Guinea’s government said it will respond strongly to any violence at an opposition rally scheduled for Monday, accusing the organisers of wanting to plunge the country into “disorder”.

The West African nation has been hit by rolling anti-government demonstrations since mid-October over constitutional reform amid opposition fears that President Alpha Conde will seek to extend his constitutional mandate.

“State powers will be exercised in all their rigour against those who seek to upset public order and to deny other Guineans the free exercise of their fundamental rights,” the government said in a statement on Sunday.

Opposition groups have said they will continue marching promising to hold a “huge” and “open-ended” protest on Monday, heightening fears of a fresh round of violence.

Guinea's President Alpha Conde arrives to attend a visit and a dinner at the Orsay Museum
President Alpha Conde has not confirmed or denied claims that he will seek a third term in office [File: Tessier/Reuters] 

Why are Guineans protesting?

Conde’s second and final five-year term in office is coming to an end this year. Opposition and civil rights groups are concerned the 81-year-old will stay in office and seek a third term.

Conde last month published a draft constitution, arguing that the country’s colonial-era laws need to be changed. But critics are convinced he plans to use the reform to stay in office beyond the two presidential terms currently stipulated in the constitution.

Conde, a former opposition leader and the country’s first democratically elected president, has neither confirmed nor denied that claim.

Legislative elections are due in February and a presidential election is scheduled sometime this year, as well as a possible referendum on the constitution.

Have the protests been violent?

At least 20 people and one gendarme have been killed in clashes with security forces since the mass protests begun in October last year. In a demonstration last week in the capital, Conakry, at least 12 people were wounded. Hundreds have also been jailed.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), six civil society leaders are among those detained.

“Guinea’s government simply should not be denying people their right to express opposition to a new constitution,” Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at HRW, said.

“A blanket protest ban, the arbitrary arrest of civil society leaders, and the violent dispersal of demonstrators shows that the government is prepared to trample on human rights to suppress dissent,” Dufka added.

Meanwhile, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional body, has called on all parties to show restraint and hold a constructive dialogue to resolve their differences.

Will the opposition take part in polls?

The mineral-rich country of some 13 million is scheduled to hold a parliamentary election on February 16. Polls were first scheduled to be held in late 2018 but the electoral commission delayed the vote for “technical” reasons.

To complicate the situation, opposition parties have said they will not be taking part in the vote, with some threatening to stop the poll from taking place.

“It’s not just a question of boycotting the elections and standing idly by. We will prevent these elections from taking place,” Cellou Dalein Diallo, opposition leader, said last month.

Why are the polls important?

Under Guinea’s current constitution, in order for a leader to amend the constitution to allow him or her to seek a third term in office, they require a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass the amendment. Currently, Conde’s ruling Rassemblement du peuple de Guinee (The Rally for the Guinean People) only holds a slim majority.

Conde needs a bigger mandate in parliament if he is to seek a third term through parliament.

Critics have said Conde wants to push through the constitutional amendments through a referendum, bypassing the parliament.

Conde’s election victory in 2010 raised hopes for democratic progress in Guinea after decades of authoritarian rule. But his critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent and violently repressing protests – charges he denies.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies