Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-5wvtr Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-21T04:14:53.701Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Conspiracy theorizing as political practice in Guinea

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 July 2019


This article examines conspiracy theory as an integral part of political practice. In 2010, following a tumultuous year that included a military takeover and a junta-led massacre of civilians, the Republic of Guinea held what was widely considered to be the country's first democratic presidential election since independence in 1958. During this time, many Guineans regularly exchanged information about secret intrigues at the highest levels of politics. These popular reports of powerful figures conspiring to fix the election influenced people's talk and actions, contributing to an environment in which abstract suspicions crystallized in real, and sometimes violent, events. These events in turn heightened suspicions of high-level conspiracy and, among people who identified as ethnic Fulɓe, reinforced the widespread conviction that they were being targeted. Focusing ethnographically on two episodes in which theories of conspiracy influenced how Guineans perceived and shaped the course of the 2010 elections, this article explores conspiracy theorizing as an emergent mode of politics that may have profound effects.


Cet article examine la théorie du complot comme partie intégrante de la pratique politique. En 2010, après une année agitée marquée par une prise de pouvoir militaire et un massacre de civils dirigé par la junte, la République de Guinée a organisé ce que beaucoup ont considéré être la première élection présidentielle démocratique du pays depuis son indépendance en 1958. À cette occasion, de nombreux Guinéens ont régulièrement échangé des informations sur des complots secrets aux plus hauts niveaux de la politique. Ces rumeurs populaires de figures puissantes complotant pour truquer l’élection ont influencé les propos et les actions des citoyens, contribuant à un environnement dans lequel des soupçons abstraits se sont cristallisés en événements réels parfois violents. Ces événements ont à leur tour intensifié les soupçons de haut complot et renforcé, chez ceux s'identifiant comme appartenant à l'ethnie peul, la conviction largement répandue d’être la cible de ce complot. Axé ethnographiquement sur deux épisodes dans lesquels des théories du complot ont influencé la manière dont les Guinéens ont perçu et façonné le cours des élections de 2010, cet article explore le complotisme comme mode de politique émergent dont les effets peuvent être profonds.

Ethnographies of emergence
Copyright © International African Institute 2019 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Amselle, J. (1998) Mestizo Logics: anthropology of identity in Africa and elsewhere. Translated by Royal, C.. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Arieff, A. (2009) ‘Still standing: neighborhood wars and political instability in Guinea’, Journal of Modern African Studies 47 (3): 331–48.Google Scholar
Arieff, A. and McGovern, M. (2013) ‘“History is stubborn”: talk about truth, justice, and national reconciliation in the Republic of Guinea’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 55 (1): 198225.Google Scholar
Ashforth, A. (2005) Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa. Chicago IL and London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Bah, M. (1990) Construire la Guinée après Sékou Touré. Paris: L'Harmattan.Google Scholar
Barkun, M. (2003) A Culture of Conspiracy: apocalyptic visions in contemporary America. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Boyer, D. (2006) ‘Conspiracy, history, and therapy at a Berlin Stammtisch’, American Ethnologist 33 (3): 327–39.Google Scholar
Briggs, C. (2004) ‘Theorizing modernity conspiratorially: science, scale, and the political economy of public discourse in explanations of a cholera epidemic’, American Ethnologist 31 (2): 164–87.Google Scholar
Camara, M. S., O'Toole, T. and Baker, J. E. (2014) ‘Condé, Alpha’ in Historical Dictionary of Guinea. Fifth edition. Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press.Google Scholar
Center, Carter (2011) Observing the 2010 Presidential Elections in Guinea: final report. Atlanta GA: Carter Center.Google Scholar
Dean, J. (1998) Aliens in America: conspiracy cultures from outerspace to cyberspace. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
De Boeck, F. and Plissart, M. (2004) Kinshasa: tales of the invisible city. Ghent, Tervuren and Antwerp: Ludion, Royal Museum for Central Africa and Vlaams Architectuurinstituut (VAi).Google Scholar
Derman, W. assisted by Derman, L. (1973) Serfs, Peasants, and Socialists: a former serf village in the Republic of Guinea. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Ellis, S. (1999) The Mask of Anarchy: the destruction of Liberia and the religious dimension of an African civil war. New York NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
Ellison, J. (2006) ‘“Everyone can do as he wants”: economic liberalization and emergent forms of antipathy in southern Ethiopia’, American Ethnologist 33 (4): 665–86.Google Scholar
Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1937) Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Ferme, M. (2001) The Underneath of Things: violence, history, and the everyday in Sierra Leone. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Fioratta, S. (2013) ‘States of insecurity: migration, remittances, and Islamic reform in Guinea, West Africa’. PhD thesis, Yale University.Google Scholar
Fioratta, S. (2015) ‘Beyond remittance: evading uselessness and seeking personhood in Fouta Djallon, Guinea’, American Ethnologist 42 (2): 295308.Google Scholar
Furth, R. C. (2005) ‘Marrying the forbidden other: marriage, status and social change in the Futa Jallon highlands of Guinea . PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison.Google Scholar
Geschiere, P. (1997) The Modernity of Witchcraft: politics and the occult in postcolonial Africa. Charlottesville VA: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
Gluckman, M. (1963) ‘Gossip and scandal’, Current Anthropology 4 (3): 307–16.Google Scholar
Hofstadter, R. (1964) ‘The paranoid style in American politics’, Harper's Magazine, November, pp. 7786.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch (2009) Bloody Monday: the September 28 massacre and rapes by security forces in Guinea. New York NY: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
ICG (2006) ‘Guinea in transition’. Africa Briefing 37. Dakar and Brussels: International Crisis Group (ICG).Google Scholar
ICG (2011) ‘Guinea: putting the transition back on track’. Africa Report 178. Dakar and Brussels: International Crisis Group (ICG).Google Scholar
Jackson, J. L. (2005) Real Black: adventures in racial sincerity. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Marcus, G. (1999) ‘Introduction to the volume: the paranoid style now’ in Marcus, G. (ed.), Paranoia within Reason: a casebook on conspiracy as explanation. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
McGovern, M. (2013) Unmasking the State: making Guinea modern. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
McGovern, M. (2017) A Socialist Peace? Explaining the absence of war in an African country. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Navaro-Yashin, Y. (2002) Faces of the State: secularism and public life in Turkey. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Osborn, M. (2008) ‘Fuelling the flames: rumour and politics in Kibera’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 2 (2): 315–27.Google Scholar
Pelkmans, M. and Machold, R. (2011) ‘Conspiracy theories and their truth trajectories’, Focaal 59: 6680.Google Scholar
Penney, J. (2010) ‘Guinea violence, intimidation displaces thousands, officials say’, CNN, 4 November <>, accessed 9 October 2017.,+accessed+9+October+2017.>Google Scholar
Pomerantsev, P. (2014) Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: the surreal heart of the new Russia. New York NY: PublicAffairs.Google Scholar
Silverstein, P. A. (2002) ‘An excess of truth: violence, conspiracy theorizing and the Algerian civil war’, Anthropological Quarterly 75 (4): 643–74.Google Scholar
Simone, A. (2004) For the City Yet to Come: changing African life in four cities. Durham NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Song, H. (2011) Pigeon Trouble: bestiary biopolitics in a deindustrialized America. Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Stewart, K. (1999) ‘Conspiracy theory's worlds’ in Marcus, G. (ed.), Paranoia within Reason: a casebook on conspiracy as explanation. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Touré, A. S. (1969) Défendre la Révolution. Conakry: Imprimerie Nationale Patrice Lumumba.Google Scholar
Touré, A. S. (1977) Unité Nationale. Conakry: Révolution Démocratique Africaine.Google Scholar
Turner, S. (2004) ‘Under the gaze of the “big nations”: refugees, rumours and the international community in Tanzania’, African Affairs 103 (411): 227–47.Google Scholar
UN International Commission of Inquiry on Guinea (2009) ‘Report of the international commission of inquiry mandated to establish the facts and circumstances of the events of 28 September 2009 in Guinea’. S/2009/693. New York NY: United Nations Security Council.Google Scholar
Waters, A. M. (1997) ‘Conspiracy theories as ethnosociologies: explanation and intention in African American political culture’, Journal of Black Studies 28 (1): 112–25.Google Scholar
Wedeen, L. (1999) Ambiguities of Domination: politics, rhetoric, and symbols in contemporary Syria. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
West, H. G. (2005) Kupilikula: governance and the invisible realm in Mozambique. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
West, H. G. and Sanders, T. (2003) ‘Power revealed and concealed in the New World Order’ in West, H. G. and Sanders, T. (eds), Transparency and Conspiracy: ethnographies of suspicion in the New World Order. Durham NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
White, L. (2000) Speaking with Vampires: rumor and history in colonial Africa. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Yurchak, A. (2005) Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: the last Soviet generation. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar