A constitutional amendment being considered by Guinean President Alpha Conde has ignited tensions in the West African nation. President Conde is contemplating changing the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in the 2020 elections. Opposition parties and civil society groups who oppose these efforts have pledged to use all legal measures to prevent any constitutional change. Guinean law protects the right of civilians to peacefully protest, but stipulates that the appropriate authorities must be notified ahead of time. The government has not allowed street protests for over a year, but citizens have organized demonstrations in defiance of the ban. Authorities have shut down over twenty political demonstrations, with security forces arresting protesters and using tear gas to disperse crowds. Guinea’s government has the right to prohibit protests if they are deemed to have an adverse effect on public safety, but the opposition is accusing the government of abusing this privilege, and prohibiting all protests. A spokesman for President Conde confirmed as much, saying protests were prohibited across the entire country for the time being due to people dying during demonstrations. Although there have been people killed during protests, the victims have been primarily citizens at the hands of security forces. President Conde’s administration has previously been lenient with allowing protests since coming to power in 2010, but demonstrations have often been characterized by conflict between civilians and security forces. The use of tear gas is common, as are widespread arrests. Many Guineans have been afraid to continue protesting, due to the liberal use of extreme measures against peaceful demonstrations.
This fear is well-founded, as nine pro-democracy protesters in Guinea were gunned down by police in recent weeks. After allowing protests earlier in the year, Alpha Conde has stepped up efforts to suppress anti-government activism. Conde has not backed down in his attempt to amend the constitution, and has taken steps to pack Guinea’s constitutional court with allies to push the amendments through. Conde has also begun to target opposition leaders, with the government arresting nine senior politicians on charges of insurrection.
On March 22, President Conde went ahead with the constitutional referendum. A coalition of opposition groups and civil society groups who opposed the referendum attempted to disrupt the vote, and clashed with security forces during protests on the streets of Conakry. During the commotion, four people were killed, nine officers were injured, and dozens of people were arrested. Guinea’s electoral commission said that the protests didn’t have a large impact on the vote. The result of the referendum is expected to confirm President Conde’s plan to stay in power, due to the opposition boycotting the vote.