12 Feb 2007
President Lansana Conte, on Monday night declared a state of emergency throughout the whole territory of Guinea. He transferred state authority to the army for 11 days so that the army could restore order and “protect” the Guinean people against the risk of “civil war”. This action was precipitated by the degenerating social conditions caused by a general strike and street demonstrations that led to the loss of 18 lives on Monday.
Trade unionists and some opposition politicians had called a general strike to force the ailing and aging president Lansana Conte to step down. Economic life was paralyzed as schools, banks and shops were closed. Gunshots were heard from the main military camp near Conakry airport in what observers suspected could have been an attempted mutiny. It was also reported that elements of the presidential guard ransacked a private radio station and seized journalists. Street fights broke out between the military and protesters in Conakry. A military aide to an army colonel was allegedly lynched by an angry mob after he was alleged to have fired gunshots into a crowd.
In the light of these developments, president Lansana Conte imposed a 20-hour a day curfew on the nation and declared a state of siege. Claiming that mal-intentioned people have hijacked the demonstrations, the president clamped down many restrictive actions on his people. All public and private gatherings with intention of disturbing public order are banned. Movement of vehicles and people has been restricted. The army has taken over the control of traffic. The army has been given powers to monitor the press, postal and other correspondences. The power to arrest, detain and prosecute journalists and other people deemed to be troublemakers was also given to the army.
The immediate cause of the current crisis was triggered by the appointment Friday of Eugene Camara as Prime Minister. The agreement to appoint a prime minister was one of the conditions to end an earlier strike in January. Striking trade unionists had insisted that Lansana Conte appoints a neutral person as prime minister to whom he was to hand over much of his executive powers. The trade unionists believe that Lansana Conte is too ill and too old to steer Guinea out of her economic crisis. Lansana (who is sick and in his 70s) instead appointed a close aide as Prime minister. This action infuriated the trade unionists that are now calling for Lansana himself to resign. Lansana Conte has ruled Guinea for the past 23 years.
The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States are reacting timidly and belatedly while major world leaders have largely kept mute. Guinea is situated in a volatile region of Africa where her neighbors Liberia and Sierra Leone are just emerging from brutal wars and Cote d’Ivoire is struggling to stay as one nation. The risk of instability in the region is real if the crisis in Guinea were to get out of control.
Njei Moses Timah