[Guinea-list] Guinea's new leader
Steven and Robin Brown
browns5 at pacbell.net
Sat Dec 27 02:58:40 EST 2008
Matt Brown, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea from 2001-2003. He now works as the East African foreign correspondent for a newspaper called The National. He currently lives in Nairobi. He wrote the following piece for his newspaper. I thought that Friends of Guinea would be interested.
NAIROBI In the film Weekend at Bernie s, the campy 1980s movie, two
guys spend a weekend with their boss, Bernie, at his posh beach house.
When their boss unexpectedly dies, the protagonists prop up his corpse,
parade him around town as if he were still alive and continue living it
up in Bernie’s luxury villa. As you might expect, hilarity ensues.
Seyllou / AFPCapt
Moussa Camara, centre, the newly self-proclaimed president of Guinea,
wears the national ag as he tours Conakry, the capital, the day after a
military junta seized power following the death of Lansana Cont , the
This script sounds all too similar to the drama that has played out in
Guinea, the small, impoverished west African nation. Lansana Cont , the
strongman president of Guinea, officially died on Monday, but for all
we know, he may have been dead for the past five years. The dictator
was rarely seen in public and when he was, he looked sick and frail.
It was long rumoured that Cont ’s close circle of senior advisers were
keeping him in power while they looted the country’s mineral wealth.
Although in Guinea’s case, no one was laughing.
The charade finally ended this week when the president of the country’s
National Assembly announced that Cont , who was believed to be 74, had
died. Cont , who had never groomed a successor, had been in poor health
for years. It was probably diabetes that finally killed him.
Hours after the president’s death, military leaders announced they had
dissolved the constitution and the government as they seized power in a
coup. This scene is not unlike the way Cont came to power 24 years ago.
In 1984, when Sekou Toure, Guinea’s first post-independence president,
died in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, Cont , then an army officer, led
a military takeover of the government.
Cont soon became a darling of the West as he scaled back many of
Toure’s socialist policies. During the late 1990s, Guinea remained a
bastion of stability in west Africa, where four of Guinea’s neighbours
– Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast – were embroiled
in civil wars.
Western nations, including the United States, flooded the country with
foreign aid and military support. US Army Rangers could be seen
tramping around the jungle along the Sierra Leone and Liberia frontiers
training Guinean border guards to protect their country from a
spillover of those conflicts. The West had a reason to keep Guinea
stable. The country has half of the world’s reserves of bauxite, the
ore used to make aluminium, as well as gold and diamonds. Western
mining companies have enjoyed the access to Guinea’s minerals while
government officials have grown fat off mining contract kickbacks.
Despite its mineral wealth, Guinea remains one
of the poorest countries in the world. The people, who live in Guinea’s
steamy costal swamps, rugged mountainous interior and flat, dusty
hinterlands, have learned to survive with little help from their
government. Most live on far less than US$1 (Dh3.67) per day and exist
by raising cattle and cultivating rice, corn, potatoes and cassava.
For most of the people who live outside of
Conakry, the crumbling seaside capital, the change of power will not
impact their lives. Cont brought little development or infrastructure
to the country of nine million. A new government – be it military junta
or democratically elected – is not likely to turn the country around
Still, most people will probably welcome a
change from Cont , who held the country in a perpetual state of
paralysis for years. Cont is one of the last of the dying breed of
African “Big Men” – leaders in the vein of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe who
cling to power as their countries crumble.
Cont banned opposition parties and frequently
jailed political opponents. In 2001 he changed the constitution to
abolish presidential term limits, effectively making him president for
life. But the population became fed up with the bad governance in
recent years. General strikes shut down the country and angry mobs
staged violent protests over rising food and fuel prices. Each time
Cont sent in the army to quell the uprisings. Guinea’s three main
ethnic groups live together in relative peace, but this uncertain
presidential transition could see one of the tribes trying to grab
Toure, from the Malinke tribe, led Guinea to
independence from France in 1958. During Cont ’s reign, his Susu tribe
benefited the most from development projects. Meanwhile the Fulani, a
tribe of merchants and cattle herders, have been left out of power. The
Fulani think that the next president should come from their tribe.
For now, at least, it seems the next president
will come from the military. Moussa Camara, an army captain and leader
of the junta, has declared himself president, ignoring the constitution
that says the speaker of the National Assembly should be in charge.
As tanks and lorries full of
soldiers rolled through the streets of Conakry this week, thousands of
Guineans came out to watch what must seem like a bad sequel to an even
worse movie. Matt Brown is The National correspondent in east Africa. He lived and worked in Guinea for two years.
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