(by Gus Constantine, WashingtonTimes.com) – After a military coup in Guinea in December, the United States, European countries, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union condemned the arbitrary seizure of power.
But within Guinea itself, the coup led by Capt. Moussa Camara, a French-educated soldier, drew widespread support.
“The public was reacting to 24 years of dictatorial rule, with elections in between simply a facade for clinging to power,” Sidya Toure, a former Guinean prime minister who heads the United Republican Front party, said in an telephone interview from the Guinean capital of Conakry.
Mr. Toure resigned his office in 1999, saying the government of Lansana Conte had failed to address corruption. Mr. Conte died in December after 24 years in power.
“Africans most always react positively to coups carried out against autocratic regimes, only to be disappointed later with soldier rule,” said Chris Fomunyoh of the National Democratic Institute, a group affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party that sponsors democracy promotion efforts abroad.
Joseph Sala, a former State Department official on Africa, said a coup in Mauritania earlier last year provoked a similar reaction – international condemnation despite widespread domestic support.
In condemning the military takeover in Guinea, the African Union acted under the Algiers declaration of 2001, which requires automatic suspension of AU membership of nations whose leaders come to power in undemocratic ways. Western nations and West African economic community followed suit.
Mr. Conte’s dictatorial rule was preceded by another autocratic regime, that of Ahmed Sekou Toure (no relation to the former prime minister), who died in office in 1984.
Furthermore, Guinea was burdened in the 1990s by wars in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Charges of systemic corruption compounded public dissatisfaction and contributed to its readiness to give soldiers a chance to turn things around, given their promise of early elections and civilian rule.
“The public’s support should be taken as a limited approval – no more than 12 months,” Mr. Toure said.
The country has been saddled with dictatorial rule since independence in 1958, when Sekou Toure became the only French colony leader to reject French President Charles de Gaulle’s offer of independence in exchange for continued association with France.
As a result, Guinea was cast adrift by Paris. Sekou Toure aligned the country with the Soviet Union and ruled until his death in 1984. The pro-Western Mr. Conte led a military government that took over.
Despite the trappings of democracy, Mr. Conte ruled with an iron hand until he died in December after a long illness. Within hours, Capt. Camara announced that he had taken over, saying he wanted to avoid a continuation of the old order.
The move subverted the constitutional order, which called for the president of the National Assembly, Abubacar Somare, to succeed to the highest office.
In one of Capt. Camara’s first acts, he called senior officers, all beholden to the old regime, to a meeting and fired them.
He promised early elections and announced that the old regime’s economic concessions will come under review.
“This country needs help from the International Monetary Fund. Merely censuring Guinea by Western nations will do nothing to help its starved economy,” Mr. Toure said.
The decision to review all concessions looks certain to cause apprehension abroad. Guinea is a prime source of the world’s bauxite and it is rich in other minerals and tropical products.
Mr. Sala, the former U.S. diplomat, said the Camara government has surrounded itself with Western economists and financiers, who are looking at the mining and telecommunications sectors.
Mr. Toure said he will be a candidate for president during the forthcoming election, expected to take place next year.
The former prime minister is part Malinke (Mandinka) and part Soussou, two prominent ethnic groups that formed medieval era kingdoms in the region.
The two groups make up about half of Guinea’s population of nearly 10 million.
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1. a) What is the capital of Guinea?
b) List the countries that border Guinea.
c) What is the population of Guinea? (What is the population of the U.S.?)
2. Identify the following people mentioned in the article:
-Ahmed Sekou Toure
-Charles de Gaulle
3. How did the U.S., Europe, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union react to December’s military coup in Guinea?
4. Why did the people of Guinea support the coup, according to Chris Fomunyoh of the National Democratic Institute?
5. Why did the African Union immediately condemn the military takeover in Guinea?
6. On-going: Pay attention to stories in the news about Guinea to see if Capt. Camara carries through on his promise to hold democratic elections soon.
Guinea has had a history of authoritarian rule since gaining its independence from France in 1958. Lansana Conte came to power in 1984 when the military seized the government after the death of the first president, Sekou Toure. Guinea did not hold democratic elections until 1993 when Gen. Conte (head of the military government) was elected president of the civilian government. He was reelected in 1998 and again in 2003, though all the polls were marred by irregularities. History repeated itself in December 2008 when following President Conte’s death, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara led a military coup, seizing power and suspending the constitution as well as political and union activity. Guinea has maintained some semblance of internal stability despite spillover effects from conflict in Sierra Leone and Liberia. As those countries have rebuilt, however, Guinea’s own vulnerability to political and economic crisis has increased. Declining economic conditions and popular dissatisfaction with corruption and bad governance prompted two massive strikes in 2006, and a third nationwide strike in early 2007.
For background on Guinea, go to the CIA World FactBook website.
Go to WorldAtlas.com for a map of Africa.
The African Union is based on the common vision of a united and strong Africa and on the need to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society.
Read more at the website africa-union.org.