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Stability in deeply divided societies: escaping ethnic-based armed conflict in Guinea

Article

Stability in deeply divided societies: escaping ethnic-based armed conflict in Guinea

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Abstract

This paper examines the interaction between ethnic politics and conflict management in Guinea. The country belongs to the category of nations characterized in the literature as ‘deeply divided societies’ which, according to much literature, constitute a high-risk variable for ethnically induced armed conflicts. Yet Guinea has not succumbed to large-scale violence, giving rise to the question as to why armed conflict has not been a feature in Guinea despite its population being deeply divided along ethnicity and regional affiliation. The paper explores how various constructions of identity have been actively used by political agents to sustain stability through delicate ethnic balancing in a society characterized by its deep ethnic divisions. It is concluded that in contrast to findings in much of the existing literature where deep ethnic division is strongly linked with the onset of large-scale violent civil conflicts, Guinea’s deep ethnic divisions has been actually an impetus for stability rather than unrest. However, events in recent times indicate that, the use of various forms of identity construction by political elites to serve their own interests and ward off threats to their power is likely to go wrong as the nation moves to multi-party democracy, thereby posing a real danger to the country’s stability.

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This article discusses the historical role of Islam in the political evolution of Guinea in the broader context of Muslims’ experience of nation/state building and globalization in Africa. This role is examined on the premise that Islam is one of the major globalizing forces (more in the body of the paper on this idea of Islam as a globalizing force) responsible for the formation of what experts have conceptualized as Africa’s “triple heritage” or the juncture of African traditional values, Islamic influence, and the legacy of Western colonialism. The article examines Islam’s role in the creation of cultural identities, territorial polities, and complex regional and trans-continental networks of trade and scholarship in pre-colonial West Africa; the formation of fronts of resistance to European colonial conquest and occupation; and the mobilization of new nationalist forces which sparked the national liberation struggle of the 1940s and 1950s in the region. The discussion of key concepts such as nationalism, nation/state building, internationalism, and globalization exposes the limited applicability of existing theories to the African experience by highlighting the complexity of post-colonial cultural reconstruction and nation building on the continent. From this perspective, the article focuses upon the political and ideological contradictions having marked the relations of the regime of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée (PDG) under President Ahmed Sékou Touré and conservative Guinean Muslim circles in the early years of independence, due in part to Touré’s Marxist and socialist leanings of the time. Also comprehensively discussed is this regime’s subsequent ideological incorporation and diplomatic use of Islam in an effort to curb anti-PDG opposition at home and abroad and to free itself from isolation by the West. Hence, President Touré’s successful policy of “offensive diplomatique” geared primarily toward Arab and Muslim nations and organizations but also, though somewhat indirectly, toward Western powers, serves as an example of the dynamics of Islamic internationalism in Cold War global affairs. Past experiences of party-centered and state-controlled regimentation of religious organizations under Touré’s state-party regime is compared to the current trend of self-decentralization and self-internationalization of Islamic forces in light of the challenges of religious radicalism and post-Cold War politics in Africa.
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