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Guinea (Conakry): Status Quo Continued
Jan 31, 2007 (070131)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"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
For additional links on Guinea, visit
Links to current news in English can be found at
For reports from Human Rights Watch on earlier human rights abuses
by the Guinean security forces, see
Sources for news in French about Guinea include
The full editorial from Le Pays cited above is available at
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Army, President Need to be Warned Against Both Status Quo and Coup
allAfrica.com Guest Column [reposted with permission]
January 25, 2007
[This reflection was written from Conakry by a special
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
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
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
Strike Suspended Again in Guinea
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
January 29, 2007
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
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
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
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
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
January 23, 2007
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
UN News Service (New York)
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
January 17, 2007
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
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
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
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
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.
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