Thursday, December 25, 2008

Guinea News Update: Prime Minister Souare Surrenders to Soldiers; Country Profile

'It's our turn for power': Guinea coup leader tightens grip

CONAKRY (AFP) - - The leader of a coup in Guinea tightened his grip on the west African state Thursday, winning the allegiance of the toppled government, despite growing international calls for swift elections.

After Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare and his cabinet turned themselves in, coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara said they could stay and help him run the country but left them with no illusions about who was now in charge.

"Yesterday, you were in power, today it's our turn," said the army captain who declared himself as the head of a ruling junta after the death of veteran strongman President Lansana Conte.

"You can go back to business, let us just avoid armed conflict which would drag our country into fratricidal war."

"We helped you, you must help us," he added in a meeting at a military camp witnessed by journalists.

Souare replied that he and his ministers were ready to serve the junta and made a point of referring to Camara as president.

"We are at your complete disposal," Souare said.

"We thank you once again for your wisdom, Mr President."

The prime minister and his and his cabinet had turned themselves in after an order to so from the junta that seized control on Tuesday within hours of veteran strongman Conte's death at the age of 74.

Camara had warned that if all top military brass and government members did not turn themselves in by the end of Thursday, "a sweep of the entire national territory will be organised."

The junta had earlier said elections would be held in December 2010 and Camara told the premier that military rule would only be temporary.

"The army's assumption of power is transitional, and will result in free and transparent elections, after which we will return to barracks," he said.

"We are not ambitious, may God keep us from injustice, tribalism and corruption."

The seaside capital Conakry was calm and traffic slowly trickled back on the streets Thursday after filling stations reopened. Soldiers were stationed at key points, including a camp where Conte's body has been kept.

However the storm of international criticism triggered by the coup showed no sign of abating.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the former colonial power wanted to see "a peaceful, ordered and democratic transition" and the holding of "free and transparent elections which should be organised soon and under international monitoring".

The United States demanded an immediate return to civilian rule, saying the idea of elections not taking place for another two years was unacceptable.

"The United States of America condemns the military coup in Guinea and rejects the communique promising elections in December 2010," said a statement in French released by the embassy in Conakry.

"We demand an immediate return to civilian rule" and elections in May as orriginally planned before Conte's death, it said.

Two main Guinean opposition groupings meanwhile urged the junta to stage a vote in a year's time.

The Coalition of Forces for Change and the National Alliance for Alternative Democracy acknowledged the coup, but called for "transparent, free and credible elections" to be held "at the latest by the end of 2009."

Camara plans to lead a 32-member interim administration, made up of 26 military officers and six civilians.

In a show of force, he paraded through the capital on Wednesday with hundreds of soldiers before announcing he was the new "president of the republic".

Thousands of coup supporters thronged the streets of Conakry, surrounding the presidential palace and the government ministries, before dispersing peacefully.

Among them were many young people from the suburbs of the capital, disaffected after years of dictatorial rule.

The new military leaders had ordered a nationwide curfew to be imposed from Wednesday night before postponing it until Friday "to allow Christians to celebrate a peaceful Christmas holiday" in the largely Muslim country, according to a statement read on national radio.

Friday is also the day when Conte's funeral is to be held in his home village, according to family sources.

Guinea, a small nation of about 10 million people, is the world's leading exporter of bauxite, an ore from which aluminium is produced.

Guinea ministers submit to rebels

Guinea's prime minister and about 30 other ministers have submitted to the leaders of a military coup.

The government officials met Capt Moussa Dadis Camara, who has declared himself Guinea's new president, at a military base in the capital, Conakry.

Correspondents say the rebels have tightened their grip since Tuesday's coup, which followed the death of President Lansana Conte.

The African Union has led international condemnation of the coup.

On Thursday, Capt Camara told the government ministers they would be "safe", urging them to assist the new regime which he said would only remain in power until elections could be held.

"You can go back to business, let us just avoid armed conflict which would drag our country into fratricidal war," he said during a meeting at the Alpha Yaya Diallo barracks in the capital, Conakry.

Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare then submitted to Capt Camara.

"We are at your complete disposal," he said. "We thank you once again for your wisdom, Mr President."

'Happy Christmas'

Government leaders had previously insisted they were still in control.

But Capt Camara had warned that if the ministers did not present themselves at the barracks, "we will organise a search across the entire country".

One army officer, Capt Nouhou Thiam, said an overnight curfew announced for Wednesday had been postponed until Friday because of "numerous demonstrations of joy and support" for the coup.

"Happy Christmas to all our Christian brothers in Guinea," he said.

Capt Camara, a junior army officer, has declared himself Guinea's new president and head of the junta's new National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD).

The African Union has condemned the coup, as has the West African group, Ecowas, which is due to send a delegation to Guinea later on Thursday.

Hopes for change

The BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross says that if there was any doubt before, Capt Camara has made it clear who is now in control in Guinea.

International condemnation of the coup appears to be at odds with the opinion of the Guinean people.

Sick and tired of despotic rule they are pinning their hopes on the military for a change, our correspondent says.

That is why thousands of people took to the streets and cheered the man many now refer to as President Camara as the military paraded him through the capital on Wednesday, he adds.

President Lansana Conte, 74, died on Monday night and renegade soldiers moved to seize power in the hours afterwards, taking control of state radio and television.

The funeral of Mr Conte is to take place on Friday in his home village.

Anti-corruption message

Capt Camara said the new 32-member ruling council replacing the government and other institutions would hold "free, credible and transparent elections" in December 2010, when President Conte's term would have ended.

"The council has no ambitions to hold on to power. The only reason is the need to safeguard territorial integrity. That is the only reason. There is no ulterior motive," he said.

Capt Camara has also said he has no intention of standing in the 2010 elections and that he wanted to restore order to the country and rid it of corruption.

"There are already people who are starting to show up with bags of money to try to corrupt us," he said in comments reported by local radio.

"They've tried to give money to our wives and cars to our children.

"I will personally go after anyone that tries to corrupt us."

Guinea's parliament speaker, Aboubacar Sompare, had earlier called for the international community to intervene.

According to Guinea's constitution, Mr Sompare should be in charge of the government until elections are held in 60 days.

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Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/12/25 16:34:44 GMT

Country profile: Guinea

Although Guinea's mineral wealth makes it potentially one of Africa's richest countries, its people are among the poorest in West Africa.

Ruled by strong-arm leaders since independence, Guinea has been seen as a bulwark against instability in neighbouring Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. However it has also been implicated in the conflicts that have ravaged the region.

Overview Facts Leaders Media

After independence in 1958 Guinea severed ties with France and turned to the Soviet Union. The first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, pursued a revolutionary socialist agenda and crushed political opposition. Tens of thousands of people disappeared, or were tortured and executed, during his 26-year regime.


Politics: Opponents demand that long-serving and ailing President Conte step down; unrest fuels fears that Guinea could become a failed state
Economy: Guinea is a leading bauxite exporter, but most of its people live on less than $1 a day
International: Guinea hosts thousands of regional refugees


Economic mismanagement and repression culminated in riots in 1977. These led to some relaxation of state control of the economy.

But it was only after the death in 1984 of Ahmed Sekou Toure, and the seizure of power by Lansana Conte and other officers, that the socialist experiment was abandoned - without reversing poverty.

In 2000 Guinea became home to up to half a million refugees fleeing fighting in Sierra Leone and Liberia. This increased the strain on its economy and generated suspicion and ethnic tension, amid mutual accusations of attempts at destabilisation and border attacks.

Acute economic problems, instability among its neighbours and uncertainty over a successor to its authoritarian president have prompted a European think-tank, the Crisis Group, to warn that Guinea risks becoming a "failed state".

Overview Facts Leaders Media

Full name: The Republic of Guinea
Population: 9.4 million (UN, 2007)
Capital: Conakry
Area: 245,857 sq km (94,926 sq miles)
Major languages: French, various tribal languages
Major religions: Islam, Christianity, indigenous beliefs
Life expectancy: 54 years (men), 58 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Guinean franc = 100 centimes
Main exports: Bauxite, alumina, gold, diamonds, coffee, fish, agricultural products
GNI per capita: US $400 (World Bank, 2007)
Internet domain: .gn
International dialling code: +224

Overview Facts Leaders Media

President: Vacant

Lansana Conte, the second president of Guinea since
independence, died in December 2008, 24 years after he had seized power in a bloodless coup in 1984.

President Conte had seized power in 1984

A diabetic and a chain smoker, he rarely made public appearances. In early 2007 he faced violent protests and a general strike against his rule.

Mr Conte, from the minority Soussou ethnic group, served in the French army and he returned home and became chief of staff in 1975.

He seized power after President Sekou Toure's death in 1984, suspended the constitution, freed political prisoners and encouraged exiles to return.

By 1992 he had organised a return to civilian rule, proceeding to win a presidential poll in 1993 and parliamentary elections in 1995.

In 2003 he won a third term in a poll which was boycotted by the opposition.

Voters in a referendum had backed the removal of a two-term limit which would have forced him to retire. His opponents said the move was a constitutional coup which would ensure that he remained president for life.

He replaced Lansana Kouyate, a former UN diplomat who had been appointed by President Conte fifteen months earlier under a deal to end a general strike against the president's rule.

Following his appointment, Mr Souare said he planned to continue changes begun by Mr Kouyate and "to restore authority to the state because we're in a state of disarray."

He is a member of President Conte's Party of Unity and Progress and has previously served as minister of mines and geology and as minister of state for higher education and scientific research.

Overview Facts Leaders Media

Radio and TV stations, as well as the country's largest and only daily newspaper, are state-controlled and offer little coverage of the opposition and scant criticism of the government.

After much international and opposition lobbying, the government agreed to open up the airwaves and licensed private radio broadcasters in early 2006.

However, a media crackdown followed President Conte's declaration of a "state of siege" amid violent protests against his rule in February 2007.

The controls led to the closures of some private FM stations, the interruption of an FM relay from Radio France Internationale and tighter military control over the national broadcaster. Many cyber-cafes were shut down.

A restrictive press law allows the government to censor publications. More than a dozen private newspapers publish either weekly or sporadically and are critical of the government. High printing costs also severely restrict publishing.

The press

La Nouvelle Tribune
Le Diplomate
Le Populaire

Radiodiffusion-Television Guineenne (RTG) - state-run national TV

Radiodiffusion-Television Guineenne (RTG) - state-run national broadcaster, programmes in French, English and vernacular languages; operating several Radio Rurale community stations
Radio Nostalgie Guinea - private
Liberte FM - private
Soleil FM - private
Familia FM - private

Guinea's musicians echo decline

By Will Ross
BBC News, Conakry
Editor's Note: This article was written two months before the coup in Guinea. However, its content is very relevant to what has occured since December 23, 2008.

The frustrations of young Guineans have boiled over into mass riots and military mutinies and this has been reflected by a new generation of musicians, breaking a long tradition of singers praising national leaders.

"When injustice becomes law, to revolt becomes one's duty," says Guinean rapper Phaduba Keita.

Most rap stars may not quote French philosophers, but for this 27-year-old, the words of Albert Camus ring true.

"I don't think there's anywhere in the world with more corruption than Guinea," he says.

"Today Conakry the capital is the darkest capital in the world - a capital without electricity, water or infrastructure," says Keita.

On his album A Quand L'Aubaine? (When Will The Windfall Come?) the Guinean rap star asks when things will improve for people in and outside the country.

"It is not just to the political leaders here but also to the powers in the West, because the future of Africa is in the hands of these two groups. It's the intellectuals who hold the power."


There is no doubt that most Guineans are thoroughly fed up with their situation: huge mineral wealth underground but mass poverty above it, and the fingers are pointing en masse at the politicians.

Many are so fed up they are willing to risk the desert or sea for an illegal journey to Europe, and in his hit Le Voyageur, Keita blames poor leadership for this exodus.

Another young musician, Ablaye M'baye - aka Skandal - also lashes out at the country's leadership before singing a line from his hit reggae song Levez les Rideaux! or Open the Curtains!

"Everyone says they want change but the politicians want to stay," he says. "They have tasted the power and they are not working but still get lots of money very easily - the population's money.

"They live well with their families when the population is suffering from hunger."

Skandal, who performs with Degg - J Force 3, says the Guinean people have to "Open the Curtains" and change their mentality.

But he also knows the population has few options.

When they took to the streets early last year to protest against poor governance and lack of leadership, the military and police replied with bullets.

More than 130 people were shot dead.

With the opposition weak, people had put their faith in the trade union leaders who called the strikes that brought the country to a standstill.

Ailing president Lansana Conte was forced to hand some power to a prime minister, but he was later sacked and the lasting change people had dreamt of evaporated.

Motivating people

In the period after Guinea won its independence 50 years ago, the situation was quite different.

In his living room Sekou "Le Grow" Camara is listening to CD of a concert from the 1960s.

"That's me introducing the band," he says as an enthusiastic audience bursts into applause as each member of Bembeya Jazz National is presented.

The trumpet player with one of Guinea's best loved groups knows the power of music all too well, as his band was part of the post-independence revolution.

"In Africa there's music in everything we do," he says. "Everything is bathed in music."

"The idea of motivating people through the music came after independence. Because [Guinea's first president] Sekou Toure knew that music had an extraordinary impact on the population."

As a national orchestra Bembeya Jazz was pretty useful for the government.

Who do you call on when you are trying to get a national airline off the ground? Three minutes and 21 seconds of the song Air Guinee and the whole population wants to board your plane.

Although Le Grow says the band never directly praised Sekou Toure, it is clear the independence leader knew the musicians played an important role.

The house I meet him in was a gift from the former president.

One of Bembeya's best known hits from 1969, Armee Guineenne, is a song to encourage soldiers in the national army and is still frequently played on state radio - though the soldiers these days are harder to please.

'A mess'

Drive past the military barracks and the dilapidated state of the accommodation is on full display.

In recent months they have mutinied, a chaotic and worrying event that was met with a pay rise.

People still dance to the uplifting independence songs, although not as enthusiastically now.

They talk incessantly about the hope and need for "Le Changement", but do not know how long they will have to wait.

Le Grow, who has watched the country descend into economic decline and political chaos, says the president "has done some good things".

"But since his illness in 2000 he hasn't been able to stay in charge of the country," he says.

"It's a mess which doesn't augur well for a bright future."

He says the chain-smoking president will not step down because his entourage want him to stay until the end of his mandate in 2010.

"If there's a change, they will lose their privileges," says Le Grow.

Legislative elections are due in December, but these have been postponed and there are few Guineans who have faith in any politician - whether in or out of power.

The man who played a prominent political role with his trumpet believes the young musicians can make a difference through their own songs.

"I think they are doing a good job and their message is getting through," he says.

And he says that after 50 years of independence, he also intends to compose a protest song.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/10/20 23:19:23 GMT

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