African business, politics and lifestyle
Do Guinea’s dark days reveal junta’s colours?
In Guinea this week, at least 157 people were killed when security forces opened fire on a demonstration against military junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, according to a local rights group.
Much has changed since I visited the country in April and May this year. Then, the young Camara — or “Dadis” as most Guineans refer to him – did not look particularly dangerous despite his images staring out from walls, buildings and roundabouts all over Conakry, and cassettes of his speeches on sale in the markets.
“Long live peace” was the graffiti of choice, and if expectations of real improvements in living standards were low, at least soldiers were in the barracks rather than shooting in the streets.
What was clear then was that a certain degree of patience had been extended to Camara both domestically and internationally.
Relief that the power vacuum opened by the death of former President Lansana Conte had not collapsed into violence, and populist anti-corruption rhetoric carried most Guineans through the first uneasy months. At the same time the international community swallowed its distaste for a military regime with the sweetening promise of elections by the end of the year.
As long as peace and the election timetable held, and Camara himself wasn’t tempted into standing, Guineans and foreign partners would grit their teeth and give Camara and his National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) breathing space to
manage the transition.
That patience, which had shown signs of strain in recent months, has now run out. International condemnation has been swift and harsh for the deaths at the demonstration.
There could be two ways of reading Monday’s use of deadly force.
If Camara is to be taken at face value when he says it isn’t his fault, it might suggest a lack of control over security forces under his command – a potentially dangerous situation.
Otherwise, it would only feed the suspicions of those who see the junta as a gang of violent men whose interest extends no further than retaining power by any means.
Either way, Guineans and world bodies alike find themselves in a difficult situation.
Camara has shown little tolerance of criticism and for him to step aside voluntarily would appear almost inconceivable.
There may be little immediate leverage that organisations such as the United Nations, African Union or European Union could bring to bear.
Still, there is a sense that they are less willing to tolerate Camara than they are, for example, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose route to power was also via a coup, but who has avoided bloodshed on the streets.
Even if Camara could be persuaded to go or were forced from power, however, what would replace him? Another strongman of the type who has ruled Guinea since independence in 1958? A ‘new beginning’ under the auspices of another man in camouflage gear and a red beret? Not many would envy Guineans their part in the cycle.