Cheers for Africa’s new military ruler. For now.

December 26, 2008

Fifteen years ago this month, Guinea’s late ruler Lansana Conte made clear what form democracy would take under his rule.

We answered a summons to a late night news conference to hear the result of his first multiparty election, speeding through silent streets where armoured vehicles waited in the shadows. The interior minister announced that ballots from the east, the opposition’s stronghold, had been cancelled because of irregularities. Conte had therefore won 50.93 percent of the vote. There was no need for a run-off because he had an absolute majority.

The show was over.

We rushed off to file our stories at the press centre, set up helpfully by a government under pressure to show the world it was ready for fair elections. The press centre was gone, the lines cut. In the morning, fighter jets swept over Conakry in case the message had not been clear already.

There were more elections, there was occasional turmoil on the streets, sometimes bloodshed. At one point Conte was almost overthrown, but he managed to hold on until his death from illness on Monday.

In a matter of hours, the army – Conte’s real constituency – made clear he would be succeeded by one of his own instead of any of the civilian politicians who prospered under the system over which he kept such strong control.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the head of the junta, was the first soldier to announce the coup on state radio. A Guinean website said the choice was made by drawing lots. Camara’s promises – heard many before times in Africa – are to fight corruption, to hold elections in a set period – in this case two years – and not to stand himself.

Thousands of Guineans have come out to cheer, hoping for a clean break from the Conte era. But thousands once cheered Conte as a reformer. His 1984 coup followed the death of Sekou Toure, the independence era leader who became paranoid, cruel and isolated during more than a quarter century in power.

It is interesting to compare Guinea and Ghana, the first former European colonies in West Africa to win independence – Ghana in 1957 and Guinea in 1958.

In recent years, Ghana seems to have escaped its own cycle of coups and counter coups that brought ruin for decades. On Sunday, it will hold a presidential election run-off after a first round that set an example to the continent. The two candidates both appear to have a genuine chance of winning. Investment has been flowing in and living standards have, overall, been rising.

Look at the World Bank data and the winner is very clear. In the decade between 1997 and 2007, Guinea’s per capita income, in current U.S. dollars, dropped from $500 to $400. Ghana’s has risen from $370 to $590.

Will Guinea have a better chance of success this time? Is Western-style democracy appropriate in a country carved up by colonialists across ethnic lines? Is there a better alternative?

What should the world do? Western countries were never particularly vocal about Conte’s version of democracy. Will they be as critical of the junta as they have been of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, or do different standards apply?


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I also are enjoying the joy for the people in Guinea; at,least for a little while…they can moved towards a democratic and stable government in Guinea.

Posted by DENNIS | Report as abusive

I am a Sierra Leonean but a Fulani. I am worried about Guinea. I don’t like the way Capt. Dadis Camara talks to the Guinean people on Television.He threatens them the real Military way.

I hope and pray that Guinea will join the other African countries that have held democratic elections and will one day enjoy a Government that they voted for.

Posted by Kadijatu Jalloh | Report as abusive

“Will Guinea have a better chance of success this time?”
For a simple answer, Guinea clearly stands a better chance if success this time, given that the constitution left by the deceased president was shaped to his measure and will, and it would have simply guaranteed a continuation of the same neocolonial system. With the junta, Guinea has a chance not merely for peace, but to move as a success story in the direction of today’s Mali with well established code of governance.

In relation to the West, I am very mortified that we still call on or look up to the West for answer to the continent’s crisis. Today the West is painting Mugabe as the worst dictator to have come out of Africa not because of the pain and suffering of Black Zimbabweans but because of disagreement over the Lancaster Agreement (Land redistrubition), which Blair decided to pull out of.
God being my witness, I am not a Mugabe supporter and I think he no good to his own people in that he has failed the nation. On the other hand, I am a firm believer in alternance as long stay in power creates and encourage the culte of personality. But if Mugabe is such a hot news, what of Eyadema in Togo, what of Paul Biya in Cameroon, what of Obiang Nguema in Equato-Guinea, what of Hosni Mubarack in Egypt? and what of Sassou Nguesso in Congo? and the list goes on… Omar Bongo being another. Amongst these leaders, some are worse than Mugabe is or would ever be but what does the West do? Nothing so long as their interests are safeguarded and African ressources are exploited legally or illegally by Western businesses and multinationals.

The junta in putting Guinea on the success road needs to work toward instilling a national pride and value, as well as help create a vision toward a Guinea as it should be.
Well, let’s hope that Guinea and its people are waking up to a new & happier era

Posted by Francis N | Report as abusive

The West needs to remove itself from sub-Saharan Africa and build a great big wall around the place to keep the Africans in. Then, once the wall is built, the Africans–being true spaceship-building geniuses who are only poor because of evil white colonialism, can sort things out all by themselves and enjoy the full richness of their own genius without outside intervention. In addition, by all non blacks being completely cleansed from sub-Saharan Africa, the Africans would have no one else to blame but themselves if they fail to improve things on their own.

Posted by GernBlandman | Report as abusive