Saturday, April 07, 2007

Guinea new govt rides goodwill wave for now

 Guinea's new government of technocrats and economists has replaced an old guard seen as incompetent and corrupt but some in the world's top bauxite exporter wonder how long the honeymoon period will last. President Lansana Conte named a new cabinet in the former French colony late on Wednesday after weeks of negotiations with recently appointed consensus Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate. The move was part of a deal to end a wave of strikes and protests against Conte, a reclusive diabetic in his 70s, which crippled Guinea for much of January and February. More than 120 people were killed as the security forces quelled the unrest.

"The key point is that there is nobody from the previous government and that is what people wanted, so symbolically it is a very important step," said one senior diplomat in Conakry. "The reaction with everybody I've spoken to has been positive ... but they have a huge task ahead. The turnaround will not be immediate," he told Reuters. Guinea could be one of the richest countries in West Africa with its reserves of bauxite, the ore used to produce aluminium, as well as gold and diamonds. But decades of corruption and mismanagement have instead left it one of the poorest.

Water and electricity are rationed in many suburbs of the ramshackle capital, Conakry. Inflation runs at more than 30 percent in a country recently ranked the most corrupt in Africa.  Most of the population live on less than $1 a day. The new government marks a complete renewal, bringing in respected technocrats and economists, some with international experience. Only the Defence Ministry post went to a known Conte ally, General Arafan Camara, who had been serving as deputy chief of staff of the armed forces. "The essential thing for Kouyate is to give strong signals to the population that he wants to change things," said Madani Dia, a Guinean political commentator. "I'm optimistic."

Kouyate has said his new government's priorities will be national reconciliation, setting up an independent judiciary and generating employment for young people. "The catastrophic situation calls for a new approach, a radical rupture with the old ways," he told state television. But Guinea's opposition parties, which had campaigned for a completely new set of faces in government, questioned how quickly the cabinet would be able to bring about real change. "This new team is inexperienced," Mamadou Ba, leader of the Union of Democratic Forces in Guinea (UFDG) told Reuters.

"The serious crisis that the country has traversed these last few months demands that we choose people who are immediately operational without the need for a period of adaptation before they can take good decisions," he said. The delay in naming the new cabinet, whose size was slashed to 22 members from 32 previously, had raised fears of a dispute between the president and the new consensus premier but the discussions appeared to have ended in the latter's favour.

"It looks pretty obvious that the president lost several battles in the preparation of this team," the diplomat said, adding lack of experience was not necessarily a hindrance. The new economy minister is a former IMF official appointed, I imagine, for his knowledge. But his most difficult task will be to stop the president using the central bank as his private account," he said. "Some of the battles that lie ahead don't need the best brains. What is needed is courage as much as experience." - Reuters

Link to Guinea new govt rides goodwill wave for now » Kuwait Times Website