For the past several weeks there have been widespread public
demonstrations and a general strike to protest the arbitrary rule of Guinea's
ailing strongman President Lansana Conte. Coordinated by the leaders of the
country's labor movement, the demonstrations have paralyzed Guinea, and
continued despite increasingly violent attempts by police and military forces
to suppress them. So far, more than a hundred people were killed by security
forces, who have also committed rapes and gone on looting sprees. Over the
weekend, apparently desperate for a resolution of the crisis, all else -
including martial law - having failed, Conte accepted a deal brokered by a team
of mediators from ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) led by
former Nigerian President Ibrahima Babangida.
the terms of the deal, the leaders of the country's labor movement, Rabiatou
Serah Diallo and Ibrahima Fofana, agreed to end the general strike on Tuesday,
27 February. In return, Conte pledged to select a new prime minister by Friday,
from among four "neutral" candidates. These are Mohamed Beavogui, an official
of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a U.N. agency,
Saidou Diallo, head of Guinea's National Social Security Fund, Kabinet Komara,
an official of the Cairo-based African Export-Import Bank, and former ECOWAS
executive secretary Lansana Kouyate. While all of the candidates have some ties
to the Conte-regime, which has been in power for decades, none are close
associates of the president and all are viewed as relatively honest in a
country awash in corruption. Conte appointed Lansana Kouyate as prime minister
Guinea holds about half of all the bauxite (aluminum ore) in the world, and
impressive deposits of iron, gold, and diamonds, government mismanagement and
corruption have seen the country of about ten million sink further and further
into poverty. Conte is generally believed to be in his late 70s, and is in very
poor health (he has several times traveled to Europe for treatment of a number
of conditions, including diabetes). As he has grown older, he had tended to
rule through an increasingly shrinking circle of close friends and advisors and
refused all calls for reform.
natural next question is not whether Conte will adhere to the plan, as he has
little choice. The more important question is "What happens after Conte?"
Constitutionally, in the event of the president's death a relatively powerless
parliamentary official becomes acting president. But who will control the real
power? Conte has not named a successor.
of the turmoil in the country has been generated by fear that with Conte's
passing chaos will ensue, followed by civil war. Having witnessed events in
neighboring Sierre Leone and Liberia, Guineans have a very good idea what civil
war looks like. This is why Guinean reform leaders are willing to accept the
deal with Conte, in the hopes of securing a more orderly transition of power.
This is also believed to be a way to head off the possible "candidacy" of
General Kerfalla Camara, chief of the defense staff, and a very strong Conte
the ECOWAS-sponsored deal works, it will not only be good for Guinea, it will
also be good for ECOWAS. Originating as a sort-of "common market" of West
African states, over the past few years ECOWAS has begun acting as a regional
organization, such as the Organization of American States. Although a number of
its members have undergone rough times, the organization overall has managed to
have several successes, helping broker peace deals in several countries and
organized peacekeeping forces in some crises. This has helped a number of the
less stable countries in the grouping emerge from chaotic situations.
armed forces are the potential source of forces in a civil war no one wants.
There are about 10,000 troops in the Guinean armed forces. Roughly 75-percent
of them are conscripts doing a two year hitch. The Army totals about 8,500 men.
It consists of a dozen battalions. Five of these are infantry, and the rest are
one each of armor, artillery, air defense, engineers, commandos, special
forces, and rangers. Most of the heavy equipment is dated, and includes about
50 old Soviet tanks, perhaps 75 other armored combat vehicles and personnel
carriers, and perhaps 100 artillery pieces, anti-tank guns, and mortars. Little
of the equipment is likely to be operational. The Air Force has about 800
personnel, with four MiG-21s and four MiG-17s, plus two MiG-15 trainers. There
are a half-dozen helicopters and a handful of transport aircraft. Few, if any,
of these aircraft are believed in operating condition. The Navy totals only 400
personnel. Although on paper there are three or four coastal patrol vessels,
none of them are actually operational.
the past few years the country's armed forces have essentially become a "regime
protection" force. Conte has fired literally hundreds of officers, often on
flimsy pretexts. The older ones were canned for being "overage," quiet humorous
considering the president's approaching octogenarian status, while junior
officers were often dismissed for "drunkenness," in numbers suggesting an
extraordinary degree of boozing. This trend is also indicated by the
proliferation of "special operations forces" in the Army (the ranger, commando,
and special forces battalions). In addition to the armed forces, there are also
other regime protection forces, the "People's Militia" of about 7,000, a 1,600
strong "Republican Guard," and a National Gendarmerie of about a thousand men.