Monday, February 19, 2007

Guinea's state of siege

Lansana Conte General strikes against growing poverty in Guinea have triggered a series of events that may lead to the near collapse of the 27-year-old regime of President Lansana Conte.
Close to 100 people have been killed in violent clashes between strikers and the police and recently Conte decreed martial law and a 20-hour curfew that has further antagonised the population.
How did the crisis start?
This crisis originated in the way in which the country has been governed since independence. Guinea has had two governments. The first was the one of Sekou Toure, which was one of the bloodiest the continent  has known. Then in 1984, a military coup allowed General Lansana Conte to come to power and since then the country has known a sort of democratisation, but only as a facade.
The regime remained a military regime with the result that the economic situation is really desperate. The population no longer manages to eat every day because the country has known enormous corruption and inflation. So, firstly, it is the economic situation that lies at the origin of the crisis.
What led to the deterioration of the economic situation?
Essentially, bad management, and the regimes’ incompetence, but mainly the scale of corruption.
One has a president who does not have any specific competencies. He is a military man who is surrounded by military men like him and some civilians who have appropriated the riches of the country. This is a potentially rich country, there is bauxite, the greatest deposit in the world, diamonds, gold … but it has all been badly managed and there is no awareness of the general population’s interest. The entire economy is held by businessmen close to the president, and so there are monopolies in all economic sectors. The result is a very difficult situation for the general population.
There was an understanding between trade unions and the government in late January which calmed the situation somewhat. What happened to worsen it again?Ahmed Sekou Touré
There was an understanding on January 27, after the first strike and the protests that degenerated badly. But the problem was that this accord said a prime minister had to be nominated who would effectively take over the running of the government in Conte’s place.
Conte would stay, but would not be involved in the running of the government, because the other point is that he is seriously ill, and has been for some years, and recognises this. Conte can no longer run the country and the unions asked him to retire from affairs of state and give power to a consensus prime minister acceptable to the unions, the population and all the forces of the country. The problem is that after waiting for 13 days without nominating anyone, on Friday February 9, he nominated a prime minister who is one of his closest collaborators and who was, therefore, naturally rejected by the unions and the population.
What are the possible scenarios to end the crisis?
The situation is totally blocked. With this nomination of an unacceptable prime minister, there was an immediate reaction by the population and now it is no longer a union revolt, but really a popular revolt.
So it is uncontrollable. There are no more leaders and there is no one to call anyone to order now that Guineans are completely fed up with this regime and are demanding that [Conte] resign.
The other factor blocking a resolution is the fact that the president has the support of the army and is responding to this crisis by force. He has decreed a state of siege and so it is impossible to have a public or even a private meeting, as this is forbidden by the state of siege, and he has given the army the order to restore order.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see a negotiated end to the crisis. If there is not an international intervention to mediate, it is hard to see what would make the government and the unions talk.
Regarding such mediation, either one can bring the government back to reason and discussions and the president accepts [that he has to] nominate a new prime minister who is more acceptable to the population, or we will remain in this situation with a president and his army in a state of siege against a population that generally rejects the government. Sooner or later, the youths will go back into the streets and where it is possible that the army, in particular the presidential guard, again shoots at the population and this time it is real carnage -- not the 100 dead we have now, but 500.
Which international actors are you asking to mediate?
John Kufuor, the Ghanaian president and new head of the African Union. Ghana is also a member of the CEDEAO, an economic union of West African states. He should speak directly with Conte as well as with his civilian and military entourage to restart negotiation. The African Union must take matters in hand, with the support from the United Nations Security Council.
What are the implications of this turmoil for the region?
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has already expressed her concern because Guinea shares borders with Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau -- all countries that are extremely fragile politically. There is a region in southern Guinea ... where lots of weapons have been circulating, as a result of the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and it is possible that the anarchic situation [in Guinea] could favour infiltrations from Liberia. Also, one might have Guinean refugee flows towards Liberia. Any human exodus is already threatened by the conflicts between different ethnic communities there. All of this could destabilise Liberia, which has just started to stabilise.

Source: Guinea's state of siege : Mail & Guardian Online