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Guinea (Conakry): Status Quo Continued

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jan 31, 2007 (070131)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"After a cloudy sky, the great social storm that broke over Guinea, menacing the established regime, did not succeed in sweeping away the General-President. ... A great disillusionment, at the end of the day: the Conté page has not been turned and the recent popular demonstrations riots have not sounded the sunset of the Conté era." - Le Pays, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

After three weeks of demonstrations, in which security forces killed more than 40 demonstrators, Guinea's President Lansana Conté‚ agreed to sign over some of his authority to an as-yet unnamed "consensus" prime minister, who should be agreed on by union, business, religious and civil society leaders. The general strike has been suspended. But there is widespread scepticism that Conté, who has led the country since he became president after a coup in 1984, will deliver on his latest commitment.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin has several articles analyzing and reporting on the current developments, taken from allAfrica.com, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks, and other sources.

For additional links on Guinea, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/country/guinea.php

Links to current news in English can be found at
http://www.africafocus.org/country/guinea_news.php

For reports from Human Rights Watch on earlier human rights abuses by the Guinean security forces, see
http://www.africafocus.org/country/guinea_hrw.php

Sources for news in French about Guinea include
http://fr.allafrica.com/guinea
http://www.guineenews.org
and http://aminata.com

The full editorial from Le Pays cited above is available at http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/200701310149.html

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/printable/200701310149.html

Army, President Need to be Warned Against Both Status Quo and Coup

http://allAfrica.com

allAfrica.com Guest Column [reposted with permission]

January 25, 2007

[This reflection was written from Conakry by a special correspondent.]

In Conakry, the Guinean capital lying on the Atlantic shoreline, it is the season of the Harmattan, when the rains have given way to the dry dust-laden wind of that name, which brings hazy days and nights.

Early Wednesday evening, a lazy half moon was trying to break through the thin clouds of the "Harmattan Haze" when the news started spreading: President Lansana Conté had backed down in the face of a general strike and accepted the principle of appointing a prime minister with extensive executive powers.

For 15 days now, Conté, who seized power in a 1984 coup but has since won three elections, has been refusing to transfer his executive powers to a "consensus prime minister," as demanded by trade unions which argue that he is too sick to govern. At 72, Conté is known to be suffering from severe diabetes.

On January 10, the unions launched the indefinite, nation-wide strike to protest against the high cost of living, the mismanagement of the economy and the president's interference with the justice system. (In late December, Conté personally went to the central jail in Conakry to release Mamadou Sylla and Fode Souma, two men accused of corruption.)

The strike and ensuing clashes between security forces and demonstrators have officially claimed 45 lives so far. Some reports indicate a death toll double or triple the official figures. Monday was the bloodiest day, when as many as 17 people were killed in the capital.

In his 23-year long reign, Conté has never seen such a popular mobilization against his regime, one which has been kept in power by armed forces which have been enjoying all kinds of economic and financial privileges in return for their loyalty to the president. Guinea, rich in natural and mineral resources, has about two-thirds of the world's bauxite reserves, but the mines are currently closed, costing the country millions of dollars each day.

Last Saturday, measuring the gravity of the situation, Conté made one of his extremely rare speeches on radio and television, in which he appealed for the support of the people and the army.

What does it mean now for Guinea that he has finally accepted the appointment of a prime minister? Who will be the winners and the losers in this new montage? Two scenarios come to mind:

  • Conté has realized he can no longer hold hostage a country of some 10 million inhabitants and really has decided to relinquish power to a prime minister who will "play the game" and grant him and his family immunity for past wrongdoings. If this happens, not only the current civilian leadership but the members of the army will lose their privileges and expose themselves to arrest and prosecution for activities ranging from financial misdemeanours to human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. Will the army sit and watch while all its privileges are revoked? Not likely.
  • Conté is just buying time and will tackle head-on any prime minister who would strip him of his executive powers. In this scenario, the country will sink into institutional deadlock and Guineans will be the losers. New general strikes, new demonstrations and new killings will follow, paving the way to an inevitable military takeover. Whether in a matter of hours, days, weeks, or months, it appears probable that the military will try to safeguard its position by making threats or, even worse by stepping into the political arena.

There has never been a more appropriate time than now to send a clear signal to the armed forces that the Guinean people, the West African community, the African Union and the international community at large will tolerate neither a military coup nor a continuation of the corrupt and autocratic rule that has crippled the nation and deprived the populace of democratic rights and economic prospects.


Strike Suspended Again in Guinea

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

http://www.irinnews.org

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

January 29, 2007

Conakry

Shops opened for business and Guineans returned to work on Monday after President Lansana Conté apparently agreed to weaken his grip on power and union leaders subsequently suspended an unprecedented 18-day nationwide strike.

After three days of talks with union leaders and civil society, Conté agreed on Saturday to sign over some of his authority to an as-yet unnamed "consensus" prime minister, who should be agreed on by union, business, religious and civil society leaders, union leaders said.

Conté also pledged to stop food exports to help shore up Guinea's provisions, and to work to combat corruption, according to a "final declaration" signed by the unions and Cont‚. The president also said he would cut the cost of rice and petrol - promises he also made to end two previous strikes in February and June last year.

The naming of a new prime minister with the power to control the government was a key demand of the unions. They blame Guinea's downward spiral on Cont‚'s failing health and inability to manage affairs of state.

The new prime minister must be in high standing and "not have been implicated in the embezzlement which has brought the country to chaos," Ibrahima Fofana, secretary general of the Guinean Workers Union (USTG) said. Fofana said the strike was a "success" because it showed that Guineans are a "social force capable of changing the regime".

The unions' populist platform has won backing from far beyond their traditional bases. By speaking about the issues affecting ordinary Guineans, the majority of whom live in poverty despite Guinea's vast natural wealth, the unions won far more support than the traditional political opposition.

Guinea's Health Ministry said at least 59 people were killed during the strike, with more than half shot by security forces during large protest marches in various parts of the country on 22 January.

Regional political analysts attached some significance to the scale of the anti-Conté demonstrations, saying an often brutal post-independence history had left most Guineans unwilling to participate in mass protests. However, with crowds never larger than 30,000 in Conakry, a city of over six million people, and the continued loyalty of the military, Conté's regime was never seen as being seriously threatened.


More Trouble Could Shake Region

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
http://www.irinnews.org

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

January 23, 2007

Conakry

Guinea's long borders and central position mean analysts view it as a regional lynchpin, saying serious domestic instability could easily spill over, ending tenuous progress towards the consolidation of peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which both experienced devastating civil wars in the 1990s.

Bram Posthumus, an independent West Africa analyst with 10 years of experience studying Guinea, said although he does not believe enough of a critical mass of demonstrators has been reached to seriously threaten the Guinean government, which is reinforced with a thus-far loyal 8,000 strong army, he does think Monday's uprising marks a major change in the country's mindset.

"What these strikes tell me is that people in Guinea have been tipped over the edge. The strike will continue," Posthumus predicted. He said it "remains to be seen" how much Monday's violent response from the government has affected people.

"People have been scared [of the government] for a long time, and for them to go out on the street like this is an enormous change in attitude," he said.

West Africa expert Mike McGovern at Yale University attributes the country's previous stability to its socialist past, which he said bequeathed a sense of "Guinea first" among the half-dozen ethnic groups there. He said decades of ruthless dictatorship in the 26 years after independence from France in 1958 drummed popular protest out of the national psyche.

However, McGovern also said in an interview on Friday that Guineans have reached a breaking point. "People seem to be recognising if thousands of people face hundreds or dozens of security forces, even if a few people die they have the capability to take power into their own hands," McGovern said.

Posthumus said it is Guinea's army, not the people, that will decide whether Conté stays in power or goes. "If they say they're not prepared to keep supporting a corrupt government then that might be the tipping point," Posthumus said. "The army is the only agency able to decide."

Monday was the bloodiest day in over a decade in Guinea and was the first time people have risen up in such numbers against Cont‚. Rough estimates put 30,000 people on the streets in Conakry, and tens of thousands of others in towns across the country.

The day's death toll meant at least 45 people have been killed during protests and riots in Conakry and provincial towns since the strike began, according to witnesses and hospital sources.

Apart from eruptions of violence in 1977 when market women briefly protested in Conakry, and in 1991 when some 1,000 people were killed in 36 hours of inter-communal violence during mayoral elections, Guinea has previously been spared the internal instability and conflict that have dogged its neighbours in the Mano River region: Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

On Tuesday, soldiers quickly quashed early morning protests in Conakry's restive suburbs, after which light traffic circulated in the city amid heavy army patrols, IRIN correspondents said.

Shops, including those in the country's vast informal sector, schools, and government offices remained shut as part of the "indefinite" nationwide strike, called by the country's powerful unions to protest the rising cost of living, which union leaders blame on government mismanagement and corruption.

Ibrahima Fofana, leader of the Guinean Workers Union, who said he was arrested and beaten on Monday, told IRIN on Tuesday that the strike would go on, and unions were sticking to their demand that President Lansana Conté hand over all his powers to a newly appointed prime minister.

"The strike will continue until the final victory. Almost no solutions have been found to the problems we have posed," he said. Union leaders entered a meeting with Conté at 6pm on Tuesday.


UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Probe Into Reported Killing of Dozens By Security Forces

UN News Service (New York)
http://www.un.org

January 24, 2007

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today called for an independent investigation into reports that security forces killed dozens of unarmed protestors in Guinea since the start of a nationwide strike two weeks ago.

"The killings have to be investigated expeditiously and impartially, and anyone found responsible for abuses must be brought to justice," Ms. Arbour said in a statement. "It is encouraging that dialogue appears to be resuming. There must not be, in any case, impunity for the human rights violations reported to have occurred in Guinea over the past few weeks."

She cited reports of excessive force by army and police, noting that over 40 people are said to have been killed since the start of the strike on 10 January. She strongly denounced the killings and conveyed her deep sympathy to the families of the victims and those who have been wounded.

She noted that Guinea is party to a number of international human rights instruments that provide for respect of the rights to life, freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.

Earlier this week Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Government to investigate killings and prosecute those responsible, including security forces.


Union Leader Vows to Fight On

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
http://www.irinnews.org

Interview

January 17, 2007

Conakry

In an exclusive interview, Rabiatou Serah Diallo, leader of one of two main unions behind Guinea's strikes, told IRIN that a march on Wednesday that turned violent was supposed to be peaceful, and blamed the security forces for instigating the violence, but said the unions will not back down.

Guinea's two largest unions, the Guinean Workers Union (USTG) and the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG), of which Diallo is secretary general, launched a widely observed nationwide strike in Guinea last Wednesday.

Veering away from their previous demands that the government improve living conditions for ordinary Guineans, the unions last week explicitly linked the country's economic problems to its leadership.

On Monday Diallo and her USTG counterpart Ibrahima Fofana delivered an ultimatum to President Conté to reform his government and relinquish his powers, but on Tuesday in a message delivered by the president of the National Assembly, Conté asked for more time to consider.

On Wednesday three people were killed and at least six injured by security forces in demonstrations in Conakry and seven provincial towns. A subsequent meeting between Diallo, Fofana and President Conté failed to draw a line under the strikes.

Why did you call for the march on Wednesday?

"We organised it because we are convinced that the message delivered yesterday evening by the president of the National Assembly did not come directly from President Cont‚. We do not have confidence because the head of state told us that he would study the document and would respond personally to the proposals."

What happened that made the march turn violent?

"We marched until we saw a tank and military trucks ahead of us. We were very satisfied because we had a well-attended and pacific march. But I believe that the security forces got the order to fire on us. They opened fire and launched tear gas."

What other incidents did you experience on the march?

"We returned to the union headquarters where we had the impression that a crowd was waiting for us. We were suprised to see riot police firing at the crowd with rubber bullets. They were shooting and breaking windows until we were inside the building. Everything is broken there."

What will you do next?

"The solution to this strike is in the hands of President Conté and the institutions of the Republic. We have made our proposition. It is up to President Conté to take us seriously, because we say [he] is incapable of leading the country because of his sickness. We will continue to fight until the total satisfaction of our points. The movement continues around the country."


ECOWAS condemns violence in Guinea, appeals for calm

Economic Community of West African States
http://www.ecowas.org

24 Jan 2007, Press Release No.3/2007

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemns the mounting death of civilians in Guinea as a result of the recent crisis in the country. Any loss of life is regrettable but the killing of unarmed civilians is particularly unacceptable. We express our sympathies to the families of the deceased.

ECOWAS calls upon the Guinean Authorities to guarantee the safety and security of its citizens while they express their constitutional rights of freedom of association and free expression.

What started as a labour union strike has escalated into a political crisis. It is evident that the current crisis in Guinea can only be resolved by genuine dialogue amongst all Guinean stakeholders in an atmosphere free of intimidation and violence.

ECOWAS stands ready to work with all Guinean political forces, the government, political parties, civil society, trade unions, etc., in the search for a lasting resolution to the crisis.

In that regard, the ECOWAS Chairman, President Blaise Compaor‚, is engaged in consultations aimed at dispatching a mission to Guinea to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the crisis.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at africafocus@igc.org. Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see http://www.africafocus.org