11 Feb 2007
At least 23 people have died since Saturday following violent, mostly, spontaneous demonstrations that continue to take place all over Guinea following the appointment Friday of an unpopular Prime Minister.
An earlier bloody industrial action in late January resulted in the president reaching an accord with trade unions over the issue of the appointment of a new Prime Minister. The Unions and opposition parties had requested the ailing president Lansana Conte to appoint a neutral prime minister to whom he will relinquish much of his executive powers. According to the January 27th accord that ended the 17 days general strike (that cost the lives of 5 dozen people), the prime minister-to-be must not have served under Lansana Conte.
The appointment of Lansana’s close ally Eugene Kamara, as prime Minister only infuriated the trade unionists and opposition leaders. Since 1997, Eugene Kamara has served in Lansana’s cabinet first as Minister of Higher Education and Research and later as Minister of Plan. The Unions and opposition leaders saw the appointment of Kamara as a slap in their face. Rioters and looters targeted government property and property belonging to some Lansana loyalists. It was reported that at least one soldier was lynched and burnt by angry rioters on Saturday. Another died Sunday from wounds he sustained. By Sunday evening sporadic looting occurred and shots were heard around the capital Conakry. Yamadou Toure , secretary general of Guinea’s branch of International Trade Union Federation says the Union does not support the vandalism taking place but supports strike action to bring Lansana Conte down. Air France cancelled her flight from Paris to Conakry at the last minute Sunday.
A limitless strike beginning Monday has been announced by the Guinean Trade Unions. For the first time, the spokesperson for the trade unions syndicate has joined the opposition parties’ spokesperson to call for president Lansana to step down. Earlier on Saturday Mamadou Ba, spokesperson for opposition parties had exhorted Guineans to “fight for their liberty” and force Conte to resign. “We do not have any other choice but street violence. Our people must descend on the streets to fight. The time for negotiation has passed.” He said.
By 21 hours GMT Sunday, president Lansana Conte had not reacted to the deteriorating situation in his country. Observers suspect that he may likely declare a state of emergency.
The small West African state of Guinea (pop 9.4 million) is a former French colony that attained independence in 1958 under the leadership of Sekou Toure. Upon Toure’s death in 1984, Lansana (then army colonel) staged a bloodless coup against the interim government that succeeded him.
Conte suspended the constitution, freed political prisoners and attempted to reform the political landscape. A new constitution was adopted in 1990 paving the way for Lansana Conte to transform himself from a military to a civilian leader through elections. After manipulating the removal of a two-term limit in the constitution, Conte ‘won’ a third term in 2003 in an election that was boycotted by the opposition.
Conte has survived many coup bids and at least one military mutiny. The most recent high profile attempt occurred in January 2005 when shots were fired at his convoy. The president’s state of health has been the major source of concern during the last few years.
Guinea is a mineral-rich nation but her people are among the poorest on the African continent. Corruption is rife, the economy is poorly managed and inflation reached a whooping 250% in 2005. The resultant social conditions have made life unbearable for ordinary Guineans. The seeds of today’s unrest were sown over many years of the ailing Lansana Conte’s bad governance.
Lansana Conte is engaged in two very difficult fights: One against his failing health and the other against his people. It will require exceptional ingenuity for him to prevail.
N.B. A Guinean reader thanked me for exposing their problems and sent me this video of army repression for other readers to see. Click on this link to view
Njei Moses Timah