Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
One of the first things you see when you arrive at the airport in Conakry is a poster of General Sekouba Konate, wearing fatigues, sunglasses and a red beret.
Drive into the city, and interspersed among the campaign billboards that cover the sides of major roadways, you’ll see more Konate posters – including one bearing the words “Sentinel de la Paix”, bringer of peace.
It seems appropriate to pay homage to the leader of Guinea’s military junta, who surprised many Guineans and much of the world for pushing hard to transfer his power to a civilian through free and fair elections – something the West African state has never experienced before.
“I don’t know of another soldier in Guinea who would have done that,” said General Ibrahim Balde, the head of Guinea’s national guard and election security forces during an interview last week. “What he has given the country is a real gift.”
It remains to be seen if either candidate in Guinea’s presidential election knows how to run a country.
But after Sunday’s run-off election, during which the candidates wanted to say a few words to journalists after casting their ballots, it is clear that neither knows how to run a press conference.
Barring last-minute upsets, Ivory Coast will go to the polls on Sunday, marking the end of a five-year limbo in which the incumbent president has ruled without any real mandate and the country stagnated without a sense of identity or direction.
The following weekend, neighbouring Guinea may finally hold the serially delayed second-round of its presidential election, hoped to end nearly two years of military rule whose defining moment was a massacre of pro-democracy marchers by the security forces in a sports stadium.
Maybe it was too early in the morning. Or perhaps their hearts just weren’t in it.
Whatever the case, a rally called by Togo ‘s opposition leaders for early Tuesday — meant to voice full-throated outrage over the March 4 election they say was rigged to favour the incumbent — was a near no-show.
Whether Guinea’s absent junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara makes it back to his home country or not will be the latest test of Western powers’ dwindling influence in Africa.
Ex-colonial power France and the United States — desperate to avoid a failed state in a region which is already attracting the interest of narco-traffickers and other criminals — have both made it clear Camara should be kept well away.
Guinea’s acting ruler has promised to restore civilian rule and made clear that military leader Moussa Dadis Camara will be out of action for some time after an assassination bid – raising questions over whether Camara will return from hospital in Morocco.
Although Sekouba Konate did not explicitly declare that he had taken over from Camara, his pledge to create a national unity government with opposition figures has effectively sidelined Camara and made him the key player in the junta for now.
President Barack Obama’s decision to end trade benefits for Guinea, Madagascar and Niger shows some stiffening of Washington’s resolve to act against those seen to be moving in the opposite direction to demands for greater democracy in Africa.
But the fact that new benefits were simultaneously extended to Mauritania may also give a lesson in how would-be coup makers should best behave if they want to get away with it.
Only this month, Britain’s Simon Mann won a pardon for his part in a foiled 2004 coup attempt on Equatorial Guinea, an old-style adventure whose glittering prize was the central African state’s multi-billion-dollar oil riches.
Gabon’s newly inaugurated President Ali Ben Bongo named his first government at the weekend, appointing a mix of old faces and relative unknowns. One of his main challengers for the presidency, Andre Mba Obame, began a hunger strike in protest at what many denounced as a fraudulent election, while other opposition figures faded back to the margins of political life.
The election again poses questions about the nature of opposition in West and Central Africa. Given the depth of genuine anti-Bongo feeling I observed on the streets of Libreville in the days before voting, the election in August represented a chance for a serious challenge to the Democratic Party of Gabon’s (PDG) longstanding hegemony, and a chance that was missed.
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.