Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What’s At Stake in Guinea-Conakry?: Political Turmoil Draws Response From the West

What’s At Stake in Guinea-Conakry?: Political Turmoil Draws Response From the West

One year after military coup the mineral-rich state faces greater instability

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

In late 2008, in the aftermath of the death of longtime military leader Lansana Conte, lower-ranking officers in the Guinean military seized power claiming they were motivated by patriotism and the need to fight corruption. Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara was the leader of the coup and the new ruling junta declared that it did not wish to maintain power but would soon create the conditions for democratic elections involving all political parties inside the country.

Nonetheless, several months after the seizure of power by Camara, he would announce his desire to stand for president of the country. After Camara proclaimed his interest in becoming the political leader of Guinea, a storm of criticism came forward from popular organizations, political parties and the trade unions.

On September 28, at a rally organized by the trade unions in the capital of Conakry, soldiers opened fire on the crowd resulting in the deaths of 156 people and the injuring and assaulting of hundreds of others. The massacre prompted condemnations inside Guinea as well as throughout the region and the international community.

Since the September 28 mass killings and assaults by the military, the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has implemented sanctions against Guinea. These sanctions have been bolstered by similar measures enacted by the United States, the European Union and the African Union.

As the domestic and worldwide criticism of the Camara regime escalated, tensions grew within the ruling junta. On December 3, Camara was shot in the neck by his chief-of-staff Lt. Toumba Diakite, in an apparent assassination attempt. Camara was flown out of the country to Morocco the following day where he remains in a hospital undergoing treatment for serious medical conditions resulting from the gunshot wound.

Lt. Diakite said that he shot Camara because the coup leader had sought to apportion blame on him for the September 28 killings. Diakite said he felt betrayed and sought to eliminate Camara.

At present the military regime is headed by the former Vice-President and Defense Minister Gen. Sekouba Konate.

Diakite remains at large at the time of this writing, however, he is not the only person of interests in the attempted assassination of Camara. A few days after Camara was wounded, the French ambassador to Guinea was stopped in his vehicle and searched by soldiers. The communications minister of Guinea refused to comment on the diplomatic incident but accused the French secret service of “being complicit in the assassination attempt.” (Associated Press, December 8)

In response to the incident, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero stated that the claims of his government’s involvement in the wounding of Camara were “absurd rumors that I forcefully deny.” (AP, December 8) In regard to the search of the French ambassador’s vehicle, it has been reported that he was being driven to the airport with his wife when stopped. The diplomat’s bodyguards were reportedly forced to get out of the vehicle and lie down on the pavement while Guinean soldiers pointed rocket launchers at them.

France had called for foreign intervention in Guinea in the aftermath of the massacre on September 28. Camara had dismissed the French calls for international involvement and described French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s call for outside intervention an affront to the dignity of African people. France is the former colonial power in Guinea and still has substantial financial interests in the country.

Guinea’s minerals resources and the struggle for genuine independence

The post-colonial history of Guinea differs from other former French-controlled territories in West Africa. In 1958, under the leadership of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) headed by Ahmed Sekou Toure, the country opted out of the colonial orbit of influence and struck out to build a genuinely independent state under socialism.

Sekou Toure began his political career within the labor movement when he was one of the co-founders and general secretary of the Postal Workers’ Union (PTT) in 1945. Toure had been involved in protest activity as a student under the French colonial system and as a result was expelled from school. He continued to study and was heavily influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.

In 1952, Toure took over leadership of the Democratic Party of Guinea, which represented a section of the region-wide Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA), a political party agitating for the liberation of colonial territories in West Africa. By 1956, Toure had established the General des Travailleurs d’Afrique Noire, a regional trade union federation in the French-controlled colonies in West Africa.

However, in 1958 Guinea alone set the tone for the more militant character of the African independence movements. After rejecting the proposed neo-colonial model advocated by DeGaulle, France broke political and economic ties when the PDG successfully organized a No vote against remaining within the colonial system and declared national independence on October 2, 1958.

Guinea is known for its vast mineral wealth which encompasses the largest reserves of known bauxite deposits in the world. Other natural resources found in Guinea includes iron ores, gold, diamonds, limestone, uranium, copper, silver, talc, manganese, beryllium, platinum, nickel graphite and kaolin. There has been oil exploration going on for nearly three decades in the shelf region.

Nonetheless, these resources have not brought prosperity to the country. Under the PDG, the country fought for years to break out of the isolation in the region which stemmed from the No vote of 1958. Other states in the region such as Senegal under Leopold Senghor and Ivory Coast under Felix Houphouet-Boigny remained within the French colonial sphere of influence. Only Mali under Modibo Keita formed an alliance with Guinea along with Ghana, a former British colony. In 1960 these three states in West Africa formed the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union as a united front against neo-colonialism and imperialism in the region.

Kwame Nkrumah, the founder of the Convention People’s Party of Ghana, was overthrown in a right-wing military coup that was backed by the United States in February 1966. Nkrumah had provided a lifeline to Guinea in 1958 when it provided a loan of 10 million pound sterling to assist its efforts to consolidate power after the French withdrawal.

When Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966 he re-located in Guinea and was appointed as co-president along with Sekou Toure. In 1968, Modibo Keita was overthrown in Mali and imprisoned which furthered the isolation of Guinea within the region.

Guinea had allied itself with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries during the early days of independence. In 1961 he was awarded the prestigious Lenin Peace Prize in Moscow. Guinea became a proud example for African revolutionaries and pan-africanists throughout the continent and the world.

During the 1960s and early 1970s Guinea served as a rear base for the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) which was headed by Amilcar Cabral, an agronomist who was a major theoretical contributor to the anti-colonial struggle. Cabral led the armed struggle against Portuguese colonialism in Guinea-Bissau and was assassinated in Conakry in early 1973.

Guinea in the late 1970s sought to normalize relations with both France and the United States when President Toure visited both Paris and Washington. However, the PDG was overthrown in a right-wing military coup in April 1984 in the immediate aftermath of the death of Toure. The coup was led by Lansana Conte, a captain within the army. Conte ruled Guinea until his death in December 2008 sparking the most recent coup by Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara.

The Role of the trade unions in the present crisis

When plans were announced to further institutionalize the rule of Camara, it was the trade union movement in Guinea which took the initiative to oppose the military. Since the massacre on September 28, the trade unions have organized a one-day general strike in protests against the killings.

On December 2, workers in Guinea threatened to strike again if the ruling military regime did not pay damages to the families of the deceased killed on September 28. The demands advanced by the trade unions also included a doubling in the wages of civil servants and the release of political prisoners.

In a document issued by the trade union federations in early December, it stated that “Failure to meet these demands obliges the central trade unions of Guinea to use all legal means to attain the legitimate aspirations of the workers.” (Reuters, December 2)

According to a Reuters press report on December 2 “A general strike in Guinea could affect bauxite exports from the world’s biggest supplier and raise tension in a nation bordering Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia—three countries still recovering from civil war.”

Industrial actions by the trade union movement in Guinea during 2007 crippled the economy and the government. The strike forced the previous regime of Lansana Conte to institute reforms that resulted in the appointment of a Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate. Nonetheless, Kouyate was incapable of improving the social conditions of the workers and consequently lost popularity among the Guinean masses.

In the current crisis in Guinea, the trade unions are the only organized force inside the country that can form an alliance that could possibly force the resignation of the military regime and create the political conditions for the establishment of a progressive government that would put the country back on track towards genuine independence.

Recent reports issued by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations calling for Camara and Diakite to be tried for crimes against humanity should be viewed within the context of the important role of Guinea in supplying mineral resources to the western capitalist countries. The United Nations and other western-based institutions have in the past largely focused on crimes committed in Africa and ignored the human rights violations carried out by the United States, Britain and other imperialist states.

On December 14 ECOWAS announced that it was considering the deployment of an “intervention force” in Guinea. An ECOWAS official told the BBC that the unrest inside Guinea was a threat to the stability of the entire region. (BBC, December 14)

In response a spokesman for the military regime, Col. Moussa Keita, described the possible plans for an ECOWAS military intervention as unacceptable. Keita said that “The sending of any foreign force on to Guinean soil without the government’s prior authorization will be considered as an assault on the authority of the state and on the integrity of the nation.” (BBC, December 14)

ECOWAS president Mohammed Ibn Chambas described the prospective military intervention as a “preventive deployment of a humanitarian and civilian protection force.” However, if an ECOWAS military force was deployed to Guinea it would in all likelihood be financed and coordinated by France and the United States. Such an intervention force would not intervene on behalf of the Guinean masses to improve working conditions and end political repression.

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