No Matter How Long The Winter, Spring Is Sure To Follow
On the 22nd of December 2008 the long-ailing President of Guinea, Lansana Conte aged 74, passed away after 24 years in power. He had been suffering a sustained period of diabetes and was thought to have been at death’s door for several years.
Lansana Conte and Diarra Traore seized power in bloodless coup in April 1984 after the death of Ahmed Sekou Toure, the country’s first president in March. Conte became president while Traore was installed as prime minister. Conte was from the military and had served for an extended period in the French Army. In an abortive coup by Traore in 1985 the need for legitimising elections was clear (at least to the French). Preparations were made for a return to civilian rule and in 1990 a new Constitution was promulgated.
In 1993, the first multiparty elections were held and Conte was confirmed in office. In 1995 Conte’s Party of Unity and Progress won 71 of the National Assembly’s 114 seats in a rigged election.
There was widespread unrest in the Army (who hadn’t been paid) and among the trades unions who were forced to accept a declining standard of living. In 1996 there were some thirty people killed in public protests while the presidential palace was set on fire. More than 25% of Guinea’s armed forces mutinied over low pay and poor conditions. It took a massive payoff to the military to get them back into their barracks. The President then created the Red Berets, an elite Presidential Guard, to protect him from his soldiers. The opposition was suppressed. Rival political parties were shut down and opposition politicians jailed. In Septembe 2000, Alpha Conde, the leader of the opposition Guinean People’s Rally, was sentenced to five years in prison for endangering state security and recruiting foreign mercenaries. He was pardoned in May 2001 and then spent most of his time in France and Senegal. He remains a credible political leader.
The release and exile of Alpha Conde was coupled with a referendum on Lansana Conte’s rule. In November 2001 this constitutional referendum, boycotted by the opposition, endorsed President Conte’s amendment to extend presidential term from five to seven years; effectively announcing his intention to stay in power for life. This was confirmed in Novembe 2003 when he rigged another election, also boycotted by the opposition, for a third term.
Background to Guinea
One of the most important elements of the Guinean struggle is the ethnic component of the conflict. Of Guinea’s two dozen ethnic groups, three predominate: the Fulani, Malinké, and Soussou. The Fulani (sometimes called Peul), perhaps the largest single group (40% of the population), live mainly in the Futa Jallon. The Malinké (referred to in other parts of West Africa as Mandingo) and related peoples of the so-called Nuclear Mandé group (30%) live in eastern Guinea and are concentrated around Kankan, Beyla, and Kouroussa. The Soussou (20%), with related groups, are centred farther west and along the coast in the areas around Conakry, Forécariah, and Kindia. Related to them are the Dialonké, living farther east in Middle Guinea and western Upper Guinea. Smaller tribes make up the remaining 10% of the population. Toward the southeast, in the Guinea Highlands near the borders of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, are various Kru or peripheral Mandé groups; among them are the Kissi around Quéckédou, the Toma around Macenta, and the Koranko near Kissidougou. Notable among the 3,500 or so non-Africans are Lebanese and Syrian.
For many years Guinea was run by the Mandigos (the Toures) with the Fulani making up a large portion of the Army. The Soussou were relegated to a smaller public profile. The Peuls/Fulani live in Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad, Sudan. They are also known as Hausa. They have been the dominant tribe across West Africa for centuries and founded several African empires. They are immediately recognised by their last names (which are very limited in number). Peul family names include Diallo, Dia, Barry, Ba, Sow, Sall, Baldé, Diamanka, Barro, Sidibé.
The capital is Conakry, a seaport on the Atlantic Ocean. Other major cities are the railroad centres Kankan and Kindia. About 67 percent of the population of Guinea is Muslim, 28 percent adhere to traditional beliefs, and 4 percent are Christians. French is the official language. The country has eight national languages: Mandinka (also known as Mandingo and Malinke), Susu, Fulfulde, Kissi, Basari, Loma, Koniagi, and Kpelle. Education is free and officially compulsory for all children between the ages of 7 and 12, but in 1999-2000 only 63 percent of eligible children actually attended primary school; the enrolment ratio dropped to 14 percent for secondary schools. The adult literacy rate is 41 percent.
One of the most important forces in Guinean politics is the labour movement. This resulted from some unusual circumstances. The leader of the Guinean labour movement, under French rule, was Ahmed Sekou Toure. In 1952, he became the leader of the Guinean Democratic Party which was local section of the RDA (African Democratic Rally, French: Rassemblement Démocratique Africain), a party agitating for the decolonization of Africa. In 1956 he organized the Union Générale des Travailleurs d’Afrique Noire, French West Africa’s first general trade union, and was involved as an overseas participant in the French CGT union. He was a leader of the RDA, working closely with a future rival, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who later became the president of the Côte d’Ivoire.
In 1956 he was elected Guinea’s deputy to the French national assembly and mayor of Conakry, positions he used to launch pointed criticisms of the colonial regime In 1958 Touré’s RDA section in Guinea pushed for a “No” in the French Union referendum sponsored by the French government, and was the only one of France’s African colonies to vote for immediate independence rather than continued association with France. Guinea became the only French colony to leave the French Community. In the event the rest of Francophone Africa gained its independence only two years later in 1960, but the French were extremely vindictive against Guinea: withdrawing abruptly, taking files, destroying infrastructure, and breaking political and economic ties.
Guinea established good ties with the USSR and was host to numerous Soviet mineral and mining corporations. The Soviets exploited the bauxite reserves in Boke and Kindia and these ores were the source of much of Russia’s imported bauxite. Because of these ties, and Toure’s ties to the Pan-Africanist Movement of Nkrumah, the Guinean unions were cultivated and given a great deal of power as political organisations. Their economic power was severely restricted but ideological constraints meant that the working peoples’ organisations were given precedence by Toure. If persuasion didn’t work dissidents were sent to the Guinean concentration camps at Camp Boiro and Camp Camayenne, which operated from 1960 to 1984 under Stasi supervision. The labour movement became a pillar of Guinean society and retained a legitimacy often missing in neighbouring African countries.
Lansana Conte’s Dilemma
Lansana Conte’s troubles started in earnest in 2005 after the resignation of Prime Minister Lounseny Fall in April 2004 and Conte’s emergency visit to Switzerland shortly after when the effects of his diabetes were becoming publicly visible. It had become clear that his days were numbered and his friends were few.
The year 2005 started badly with an assassination attempt on Conte’s motorcade in January coupled with the return of Alpha Conde, head of the main opposition Guinean People’s Rally, from exile in France in July. Alpha Conde was welcomed by thousands of supporters. Unrest was seen in both the labour movements and the army. What was particularly upsetting to the country was the great deterioration of the infrastructure, the decline in social services, the drop in the standard of living and the arrears in pay at a time when the President was receiving more and more money for awarding and renewing mining concessions; money that never made it out of his own pocket.
The bauxite concessions eventually made their way back to the Russians (now formed as RUSAL) and the gold to Anglo-Ashanti Goldfields (for regular cash payments). Guinea has half the world’s reserves of bauxite — vital in the production of aluminium — as well as gold, diamonds and hardwoods. Yet the average Guinean earns just $91 a month. Civil servants last year joined in food riots because their salaries were no longer enough to buy a bag of rice.
In early November police and soldiers shot dead at least four demonstrators in Conakry when hundreds of youths burned barricades in protest at high fuel prices. A Human Rights Watch report quoted a witness in Conakry describing police and soldiers “targeting youths and chasing them into private residences, firing indiscriminately.”
Then there is the problem of rampant corruption, which has allowed top officials to earn fortunes. Transparency International’s latest corruption index places Guinea 173 out of 180 countries. Guineans have to bribe officials in order to receive water, electricity, and basic health care, the group said. With policing and the court system in a shambles, Guinea has also become a major hub for Latin American cocaine traffickers, who increasingly use West Africa as the conduit to the lucrative cocaine market in nearby Europe.
A visit to neighbouring Guinea-Bissau is instructive. There, several Colombian cocaine traffickers are operating openly. Now these traffickers have moved to Conakry, and several Colombians have recently been found travelling on Guinean passports. There is fear that Guinea may become, like Guinea-Bissau, a major narco-state.
Security officials across the ECOWAS area regularly finding Iraqis and Lebanese travelling on Venezuelan passports, involved in supplying cash to Al-Quaeda. Now they are using Guinean passports as well.
In March 2006 Conte was again airlifted to Switzerland for urgent medical treatment. The opposition parties called for an interim government but failed when Conte returned home. In April he returned home and sacked Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo. However, everyone knew he was weak and losing friends. Protests w ere often and severe. In June 2006 the unions called a crippling general strike which was suspended after eight days after the trade unions and the government agreed on wages and prices of basic goods. Several student protesters were killed during unrest over the postponement of exams due to the strike.
In January 2007 another strike was called by the unions and the political opposition in protest against the rule of President Conte. Several people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and the police. Protests continued and in February 2007 President Conte declared a state of emergency and instructed the army to restore order following days of violent protests. In order to end the protests the President named Lansana Kouyate as prime minister under a deal to end the general strike. By this time the soldiers were fed up with their pay and conditions and decided to demonstrate on their own.
In May 2007 there were violent protests as the soldiers demanded better pay. They agreed a settlement but the Red Berets acted on the President’s orders to force a return to the barracks of the other soldiers. This didn’t end the disorder but postponed it.
Under Conte’s rule elections were delayed and dissent repressed. At least 110 people were killed by security forces in early 2007 after demonstrations demanding Conte’s resignation, according to Human Rights Watch. The year before, soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed people during protests against rising food prices.
In May 2008 the President sacked Lansana Kouyate as prime minister and replaced him with former minister of mines and partner in crime Ahmed Tidiane Souare. The soldiers maintained their mutiny in sporadic outbursts and mutinies which were repressed and settled for cash .On 22 December 2008 President Lansana Conte aged 74, after 24 years in power finally passed away.
Within hours of his death, an announcement on state radio said the army had dissolved the government. Troops and tanks were sent on to the streets, manning roadblocks. There was no violence and the country remained calm. Captain Moussa Dadis Camara named himself president and the junta pledged to hold free and transparent elections after a two-year transitional period, at the end of 2010. Correspondents say supporters of the coup have now cemented their hold on power in the country and seem to have significant popular backing from citizens disgruntled by almost a quarter of a century of corrupt rule.
Capt Moussa Dadis Camara has pledged to rid the country of graft and nepotism and improve living standards for the country’s population of 10 million, among the world’s poorest. The first act of the new President was to fire most ofl the generals. The coup leaders in Guinea issued a declaration on state radio Monday saying all military generals of the former regime had been demoted, raising the spectre of instability in the country. The demotions involved more than 20 senior officers, including those who ran the army, navy, and air force. The list also includes security force chiefs. Coup spokesman Nouhou Thiam said the demotions were effective immediately and added that the military heads of the regime under longtime dictator Lansana Conte would be reassigned.
But Guinea’s military units are heavily armed and headquartered in different parts of the country, separated by bad roads and unreliable cell phone service. Since Conte’s death, the battalions are no longer under a central command, and they could be centres of unrest.
On Thursday, Capt Camara said the new 32-member ruling council replacing the government and other institutions would hold “free, credible and transparent elections” in December 2010, when Mr Conte’s presidential term would have ended. “The council has no ambitions to hold on to power. The only reason is the need to safeguard territorial integrity. That is the only reason. There is no ulterior motive,” he said. Capt Camara also said he had no intention of standing in the elections and that he wanted to restore order to the country and rid it of corruption.
So who is in charge?
Capt Moussa Dadis Camara named himself president and the junta pledged to hold free and transparent elections after a two-year transitional period, at the end of 2010. The prime minister had initially insisted that the government was still in control, but Ahmed Tidiane Souare was replaced on 30 December by Kabinet Komara, an official from Cairo-based African Export- Import Bank, as prime minister and it included six civilians among its initial 32 member council. There initially appeared to have been a split in the military, with the Army Chief of Staff Gen Diarra Camara and loyalist soldiers backing the government but senior military members now seem to be backing the coup organisers. The coup leaders launched their move from the Alpha Yaya Diallo military barracks in Conakry, which is very near the national radio and TV stations, giving the putschists control of the media. Widespread nepotism and corruption has meant that few of Guinea’s nine million people have benefitted from the country’s rich mineral wealth.
The worry now is that any power struggle could take on an ethnic dimension, possibly plunging Guinea into a dangerous war similar to those that have scarred neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. The minority Soussou benefited under Conte, and now the two largest ethnic groups in Guinea - the Peul and the Malinke - may battle it out for control. Correspondents say the groups usually live peacefully together, but the danger is that politics is split along ethnic lines.
The 32 members of the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) who were named on state media on Tuesday comprise 26 senior and middle-ranking officers, and six civilians. Capt Camara is a mid-ranking officer who is head of the military’s fuel supplies unit and who many believed was merely the military group’s chief spokesman. The CNDD declared that Capt Moussa Dadis Camara was its “president” Pro-coup army officers said he was appointed during a meeting held at the country’s main military base, Camp Alpha Yaya Diallo. The private, Toronto- based website, guineenews.org, reported that the leadership was chosen by drawing lots.
Capt Camara topped the list of CNDD members, though reports say some coup supporters are demanding that any government be led by a more senior officer. Perhaps significantly, the second name on the list of council members is Gen Mamadou “Toto” Camara, the chief of staff of the land army, who is said to be a well-respected figure within the military. Despite his standing and recent promotion, Capt Camara has been arrested on two separate occasions in recent years on suspicion of being involved in assassination attempts against President Conte. In April 2004, Capt Camara and the leader of the opposition Union of Republican Forces (UFR) party, Sidya Toure, were charged with plotting a coup. Charges against the two were later dismissed. Then, in February 2005, the general was placed under house arrest, a month after shots were reportedly fired at the president’s motorcade in Conakry, but released without charge six months later. A third, prominent figure within the CNDD is said to be Col Sekouba Konate, alias Parousky, who is the chief of the Autonomous Air Transport Battalion (BATA). Unconfirmed reports say the CNDD also includes at least one officer from the elite “red berets” presidential guard and Commandant Amadou Doumbouya, who is in charge of the Foremoriyah military zone between Guinea and Sierra Leone. Also listed as a member of the CNDD is 2nd Lt Claude Pivi, who was a spokesman for rebel soldiers during a mutiny over pay this May at the Alpha Yaya Diallo base. Several people were killed during the unrest. The most important policy directive of the new government was the announcement that declared that contracts for the country’s vital mining industry will be reviewed and pledged to stamp out corruption.
Capt Moussa Dadis Camara told a public meeting in Conakry that any contracts found to be “defective” would be revised. Without naming names, Capt Camara vowed to eradicate corruption, saying: “It was the government officials who surrounded the [late] head of state who looted the country. Anyone found guilty of corruption will be punished,” he added. “Anyone who has misappropriated state assets for his benefit, if caught, will be judged and punished before the people.” The Guinean people seem willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope the new rulers won’t cut their own deals with the mining companies.
The International Reaction
As anticipated, the AU and the ECOWAS have decided that the military coup was a ‘bad thing’; indeed they are sure that all military coups are ‘bad things’. This is despite the sheer pleasure of the Guinean people in ridding themselves of the followers and co-conspirators of a rapacious tyrant. The little men who run African governments are happy to tolerate, break bread with, and welcome some of the most rapacious and corrupt men on the planet in the name of African Solidarity. They fear for their own positions when the voice of the African people is manifest in the street. Some, like President Wade in Senegal who has harboured and nurtured Guinean dissidents for decades, welcomed the coup. That is no surprise.
What the African poor people who are suffering misrule, injustice and corruption across the continent are asking is why the African leaders get upset by a change in the system when they have done practically nothing themselves to respond to the need for good governance, transparency and a sharing of the social product in their own countries as well as throughout the institutions of ‘African Unity’. This, too, is no surprise. Perhaps the junior officers in Guinea will achieve some part of their agenda. In any case, almost any change in Guinea is a change for the better.
The Full Text of the Guinea Military Statement
Dear fellow countrymen,
At the time of celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence on 2 October, Guinea was ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world despite its abundant natural resources. Guinea could have been more prosperous. Unfortunately, history and men have decided otherwise.
Embezzlement of public funds, general corruption, impunity established as a method of government and anarchy in the management of state affairs have eventually plunged our country into a catastrophic economic situation which is particularly tragic for the overwhelming majority of Guineans. All these woes have been worrying the population for a long time and have caused deep despair for the future .
The members of the current cabinet are mainly responsible for such unprecedented social and economic crises. Similarly, the republican institutions’ failure to commit themselves to the search for solutions to the crisis and implement the provisions of the constitution confirms the dysfunction of the government. Indeed, we have noted a lack of political will from the so-called broad- based government to initiate the necessary reforms to solve such a serious and permanent crisis that affects all sectors of the country, namely:
* The government’s obvious failure to provide basic social services such as water and electricity
* The marginalisation of youths and women in the decision-making process
* The worsening insecurity in the entire country and the general corruption in the administration
* A fresh upsurge of drug trafficking throughout the country
* The government’s flat refusal to further review mining agreements for fear of harming the personal and selfish interests of some government officials, lobby groups and Mafia-like clans
* The failure to prosecute people involved in embezzlement of public funds
* Arbitrary appointments to key government positions
* The government’s lack of political will to hold free and transparent elections for a year now
* The fact that some lobby groups have taken the government to ransom, preventing the government from initiating the necessary customs, fiscal, and monetary reforms that are necessary for an economic recovery of the country.
All these woes have been worrying the population for a long time and have caused deep despair for the future of the entire Guinea people in general and especially for the Guinean youth. ‘Peaceful transition’ For all these reasons, a National Council for Democracy and Development, (CNDD), has decided to end the agony of the Guinea people.
In order to preserve national unity, ensure the economic development of our country, and lay the foundations of a true democracy based on the rule of law in which all the citizens are prosperous, equal and enjoy free movement in all security and at all times, as from today, the constitution is suspended. All political and trade union activities are also suspended. Similarly, the government and the republican institutions are dissolved.
We are all in a competition to attain the same goal: to achieve the well- being of the Guinean people in the coming days, a National Transitional Consultative Council made up of soldiers and civilians will be set up, taking into account the ethnic balance. It will be chaired by a president. The council will be in charge of leading and supervising the transition to enable the restoration of state authority, the fight against corruption, and the holding of transparent elections. A prime minister - head of government - vested with all the constitutional powers will be appointed. His mission will be, among others:
* To fight corruption
* To restore state authority and public administration
* To ensure the actual liberalisation of airwaves throughout the national territory
* To initiate a constitutional amendment
* To provide basic services of water, electricity, and health care to the people.
These measures will guarantee a peaceful transition in the highest interest of the Guinean nation.
Dear compatriots, to reach our objectives and set our country on the path of a rebirth, we will need courage, patriotism, and a lot of sacrifice. Let us be proud as on 2 Oct 1958 [Guinea’s Independence day] and let us show the rest of the world that, once more, Guinea can set an example of a successful democracy and an enviable country on the path of development.
We are all in a competition to attain the same goal: to achieve the well- being of the Guinean people. We call on all the military and paramilitary forces to ensure the security of citizens and their property. We also call on the people to back its army that has always heeded its calls.