Adam Valavanis is a former intern with the Africa Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. He received a master’s degree in conflict studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The small West African country of Guinea has become the latest in sub-Saharan Africa threatened by third termism. President Alpha Conde’s second term ends in 2020, and the current constitution prevents him from seeking a third. So, last month, the eighty-one-year-old set to work drafting a new constitution, one that could allow him to remain in office indefinitely.
Tensions have been running high in the country since Conde refused to rule out running for a third term earlier this year. However, in recent weeks, as Conde has made a more aggressive play to rewrite the constitution, protests in the capital Conakry and in the country's north have reached a breaking point. Thousands of civilians have taken to the street calling for Conde to respect the constitution and leave office come December 2020.
In preparation for this unrest, his government in July passed a law that effectively provides immunity for gendarmes in cases of potential unlawful killing. Human rights activists argue this law has laid the groundwork for Conde’s aggressive response to the protests. Scores of civilians have been killed by security forces since mid-October. Condé responded to these killings by sacking the head of the security services earlier last week. But Guinea's human rights record remains rife with excessive use of force and unlawful killings by state security forces and intimidation of journalists. Amnesty International released a report this month documenting the deteriorating human rights situation in the country since January 2015, the start of Condé's second term.
Though thousands of Guineans rallied in support of Conde in Conakry at the end of October, it is unclear how much popular support he enjoys. Responding to a 2017 Afrobarometer survey, more than 80 percent of Guineans, including 70 percent of respondents who support Conde's Rassemblement du Peuple Guineen party, favored a two-term limit for the presidency. Such numbers provide hope that even if Conde does present a new constitution to the public, they will reject it in referendum. But there is a fear that any vote could suffer from irregularities, similar to the 2015 presidential vote.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has weighed in on the unraveling political situation, though it only provided a tepid response to the killings that took place during protests on October 14 and 15, calling for all parties to engage in constructive dialogue. In recent years, ECOWAS has proven itself capable of responding to political crises and threats to democratic rule in the region. This year, ECOWAS played an instrumental role in ensuring presidential and legislative elections in Guinea-Bissau. In 2017, it pressured Yahya Jammeh into stepping down from the presidency after losing the election in the Gambia. Should the situation continue to deteriorate in the country, ECOWAS must respond forcefully to protect democracy in Guinea.