Assessment for Fulani in Guinea
It is very difficult to determine the potential risk facing the Fulani due to the severe lack of information available on their present situation. Hence, it is unknown if they are actively involved in protests or are militant. They are not currently facing any economic discrimination, but they are subject to social exclusion in the political sphere including the recent forced retirement of a Fulani general. If the reports of repression are true, the possibility of action by the Fulani is real, considering the ethnic makeup of the Conte government. The Fulani comprise 40% of the population, and the 1998 actions carried out by Fulani and Malinke soldiers indicated that there was a level of frustration that could lead to future activity.
On February 12, 2007, a “state of siege” was declared in which the military was given increased power and demonstrations were banned. A subsequent 20 hour per day curfew was also enforced. The Fulani live in many of the hardest hit areas around Conakry.
At this point in time, it is unclear what the Malinke-led coup will mean for the Fulani of Guinea.
The Fulani (Peuhl, Peul, Fulbe, Fulfulde) are the most dispersed people in West Africa and are one of the largest ethnic groups in Guinea. Their main concentrations are in Senegal, Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria. They are the plurality group in Guinea and are mainly nomadic people, although some have begun to settle in urban areas. Those leading a nomadic lifestyle are mostly Muslim and rarely intermarry with other peoples, while those who have settled in cities or villages have intermarried with other ethnic groups. They are thought to have moved into the region around 1000AD, but did not create a highly centralized government in the area until the late 17th century. The majority of the Fulani in Guinea are found in the Guinea Highlands in a region dubbed Fouta Djalon (GROUPCON = 3). The group speaks its own language, Pulaar, in addition to other languages (LANG = 1), and has different traditions stemming from the nomadic heritage as compared to the rest of the country (CUSTOM = 0). Religiously and racially, the group is indistinguishable from the Malinke and Soussou, the other main ethnic groups in the country (RACE = 0; BELIEF = 0). Due to their nomadic traditions, the Fulani are not an organized, cohesive group. Very little information from Guinea reaches the western media, and therefore not much information is available on the Fulani. It is clear that the majority of the group currently maintains a nomadic or a semi-nomadic existence, does not interact with other groups, and is not the privileged ethnic group in Guinean society.
Guinea gained independence from France on 2 October 1958 after rejecting the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, which would have resulted in the colony becoming a self-governing entity within the French Community. At independence, labor leader and Malinke Ahmed Sekou Touré, head of the Guinean Democratic Party-African Democratic Assembly (PDG-RDA), became president. During almost 30 years in power, Touré pursued a socialist agenda that resulted in harsh repression of all opposition to his rule. Nearly two million Guineans were thought to have left the country by 1983 to escape the government’s repressive activities. France cut all aid to the country on its withdrawal, and Touré developed ties to the Soviet bloc until the early 1980s.
After decolonization, the Malinke occupied a position of special status in Guinea due to the common ethnicity of Sekou Touré. Resentment between the Malinke and other ethnic groups grew, but Touré, though faced with several coup attempts, managed to keep ethnic violence in check during his tenure as president. Touré died in 1984. Before a permanent successor could be chosen by the ruling party, the armed forces seized power in a bloodless coup, and Col. Lasana Conte, a Soussou, was appointed head of the government by the Military Committee of National Reformation. The PDG-RDA and the legislature were dissolved, and the Constitution suspended. With the rise of Conte, the special status held by the Malinke was transferred to the Soussou. The Soussou have maintained this status to the present day.
In October 1985, Conte, like many African heads of state, began restructuring the economy in line with World Bank and IMF prescriptions. Towards the late 1980s, internal and external pressure on the government led to political reforms. In late 1988, Conte proposed the creation of a new Constitution, and a year later he proposed a transitional government. In November 1990, Conte appealed to exiled Guinean political leaders to return to the country. Many returned, including Alpha Conde, a Malinke and head of the Rally for the Guinean People. The transition to multiparty rule was marred by violence in Guinea. For example, as many as 60 of Conde’s supporters were arrested after they protested his summons to a police station in Conakry for possessing "subversive materials." In another incident in 1993, anti-government protesters were fired upon, resulting in as many as 18 deaths. Presidential elections were finally held in December 1993. The main contenders included President Conte, Alpha Conde (RPG), Mamadou Boye Ba, a Fulani and head of the Union for a New Republic (UNR), and Siradiou Diallo, also a Fulani and head of the Party for Renewal and Progress (PRP). The polls resulted in the election of Conte with 52% of the vote. However, the opposition claimed the elections were unfair, and relations between the government and opposition parties were strained. Legislative elections took place in June 1985, and the opposition again complained of harassment and irregularities. The opposition then joined forces in the Coordination of the Democratic Opposition. Incidents over the next few years substantiated the opposition’s allegations that the government harassed its members. For example, the RPG’s headquarters in Conakry were ransacked and damaged by fire in November 1996, and opposition leaders were periodically arrested.
Conte’s Unity and Progress Party (PUP) is seen as dominated by Susu while the RPG is seen as a Malinke party. The PRP and UNR, Fulani parties, merged to form the Union for Progress and Renewal in 1998. Another Fulani affiliated party is the Union des Forces Démocratiques de Guinée. Elections in December 1998 were marred by violence and opposition allegations that they were unfair. The opposition claimed the government used troops to break up their party rallies, and foreign election monitors were refused permission to oversee the election process. Official results indicated that President Conte (PUP) had won with 56% of the vote, while Ba (UNR) came in second with 25%, and Conde (RPG) came in third with 17%. Aside from the political transition process, Guinea is also challenged by its role as host to 700,000 (as of 1998) of the region’s war refugees.
As mentioned earlier, little information exists pertaining to the current status of the Fulani. It does not appear that the group faces any ecological disadvantages. The group must deal with large number of refugees entering its area due to the political instability in neighboring countries such as Sierra Leone. All political meetings must be approved by the government, which severely limits opposition groups from organizing politically. Public policies toward the group are inadequate to counterbalance social discrimination (POLDIS06 = 3). However, the Fulani face no apparent economic discrimination (ECDIS06 = 0). There have been minor reports of ethnic conflict following the accidental shooting of a Malinke youth whom a Fulani mistook for an intruder. Tensions rose between the Fulani and Malinke and reports indicated that Fulani stores were targeted for looting in response to the incident (INTERCON05 = 1). Organizations such as Amnesty International have reported that the government has been involved in large scale repression, including arrests and torture. While Amnesty International is fairly certain that these events have occurred, the field reports never indicate the targets of these repressive acts. Though it is not too much of a stretch to assume that some government repression is directed against the Fulani (because of the group’s large size), there is no reliable information available to validate such an assumption.
Due to the political restrictions described previously, there is little information on the Union for Progress and Renewal, as well as the Fulanis’ general demands and grievances. It can be assumed, however, that the mere existence of a political party indicates a demand for more input into the Guinean political process at the state level. If the reports of governmental repression are accurate, then it is also logical to assume that the Fulani are demanding protection from these acts.
The Fulani have a history of mobilizing to protest their situation, even prior to decolonization (PROT45X = 2). These minor protests continued until sometime after the 1970s. In the early 1960s, the Fulani were also involved in some minor militant activity. The most recent report of militant activity by the group occurred in 1996 (REB96 = 3), when Fulani and Malinke soldiers rebelled against their senior officers, the majority of whom were Susu and supporters of Conte. The only recent report of non-militant activity was minor verbal opposition in 1998 (PROT98 = 1; PROT01-06 = 0). It is unknown if the recent lack of protest and militant activity represents the actual situation or if such activity was just not reported by the western media.
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