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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guinea: Background and Relations with the United States

Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

Guinea, a former French colony on West Africa’s Atlantic coast with a population of about 10 million, is rich in natural resources, but its citizens are afflicted by widespread poverty. The past four years have seen a series of dramatic political changes for a country that had previously had only two presidents in the first 50 years after independence in 1958. In late 2008, a military junta took power following the death of longtime president Lansana Conté. Amid growing popular opposition to the junta’s rule, the military violently cracked down on peaceful protests in September 2009, sparking widespread condemnation and increased international isolation. Two months later, junta leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara was shot and wounded by his own bodyguard, and his departure paved the way for a military-led transitional government.

In 2010, Guineans voted in their country’s first presidential elections organized by an independent electoral commission and without an incumbent candidate. Longtime opposition leader in exile Alpha Condé, who had never served in government, was declared the winner. Condé’s inauguration brought an end to two years of military rule and could potentially enable political and economic reforms viewed as prerequisites for private sector growth and increased respect for human rights. Yet political, security, and socioeconomic challenges remain stark. The authority and capacity of state institutions remain badly eroded, the underlying causes of military involvement in politics and the economy have not been fully addressed, and Condé has been accused by opposition parties of attempting to delay and manipulate planned legislative elections.

International policy makers view Guinea as central to preserving security gains in neighboring Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire, whose populations have numerous cross-border links with Guinea. While Guinea has experienced regular episodes of internal political turmoil since independence in 1958, it has been considered a locus of relative stability during much of the past 25 years, during which time each of its six neighbors suffered armed internal conflicts. Since the military coup of 2008, however, Guinea has been seen as a potential vector of insecurity, particularly as its role as a hub in the transnational narcotics trade has grown.

U.S. engagement in Guinea has focused on democratization and good governance; counternarcotics issues; security sector reform; regional peace and stability; U.S. investment issues; and socioeconomic and institutional development. Following the 2008 military coup, the United States identified Guinea’s political transition as a key policy goal in West Africa and made significant financial and diplomatic contributions toward the success of Guinea’s election process. Selective U.S. bilateral aid restrictions, which were imposed in connection with the coup, have been lifted in the wake of the successful transfer of power to a civilian-led administration. Congress may play a role in guiding U.S. engagement with Guinea through the authorization, appropriation, and oversight of U.S. programs and policies.

The FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74) continues restrictions, contained in previous annual appropriations bills, on Guinea’s ability to receive certain forms of State Department-administered security assistance. The FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-81) authorizes Guinea, among several West African countries, to receive Defense Department-administered counter-narcotics assistance. Guinea-focused legislation introduced during the 111th Congress included H.Res. 1013 (Ros-Lehtinen) and S.Res. 345 (Boxer).

Date of Report: March 29, 2012
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R40703
Price: $29.95

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