Last year, the people of Guinea, led by the labour unions, launched a wave of strikes and protests demanding a new government to replace that of President Conté, who had ruled for 24 years since 1984. And today, new governments are proving to be like buses: after all that waiting, two come along at once.
The stimulus was Conté’s death from illness, and now on the one hand we have the ‘constitutional’ leaders, the Prime Minister and the Head of Parliament, claiming to be in charge while simultaneously a faction of the armed forces has broadcast a coup announcement on national television, claiming that the constitution has been dissolved and they, the “National Council for Democracy and Development,” were now in charge of the country. So far the two groups both ‘in charge of the country’ don’t seem to have fought each other, and there’s little information available regarding their relative strengths and positions.
Both are promising elections soon, but that means fairly little. Over the last century, Guinea (sometimes called Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from Guinea-Bissau, a previous Portuguese colony), has suffered under three distinct and different flavours of corrupt, repressive dictatorship.
First, they got the old-fashioned racist colonialism flavour, talking loudly about the superiority of western culure and the need to civilise the poor benighted Africans. This was modelled by the French from 1890 to 1958.
Then, they got a refreshing change to a one-party state, complete with secret police and the militarisation of labour, talking loudly about socialism, national liberation, and pan-Africanism. This was modelled by the country’s “independence hero”, Ahmed Sékou Touré, who famously said that Guinea preferred”poverty in freedom to riches in slavery”, which would be a good phrase if he hadn’t so conspicuously failed to bring either freedom or riches.
Finally, after Touré died in 1984, a military coup brought in the now most fashionale style, a ‘multi-party democracy’ where the elections are rigged and opposition politicians seem to go to jail a lot, talking loudly about “human rights”, “liberalism” and “foreign investment to promote development”.
All three flavours, however, ended up tasting very similiar: most people are poor, while the country’s enormous reserves of bauxite and gold make the government and foreign companies rich.
As I said, last year saw a concerted uprising to try to force out Conté. A lot of people died when Conté responded in the negative, but a movement like that is probably the only hope for any real change in the condition of the masses in Guinea. Who knows, maybe either the ‘constitutional government’ or the ‘National Council for Democracy and Development’ will hold Free’n’Fair™ elections, and maybe the government that emerges from that will buck the trend of Guinean governments and actually deliver something for the people. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
It’s very hard to gauge what these two factions do actually represent, if anything, but given that the Coup-Mongers are claiming that the government have brought in foreign mercenaries to bolster their control, and given that Conté was generally friendly to the IMF and foreign capital, it may be that the ‘constitutional’ government is the more Washington-Consensus-Friendly side, and their opponents more keen to distance themselves therefrom. But that’s just a guess.
UPDATE: Foreign governments are almost universally responding negatively to the coup, and the USA has said that it wants the ‘restoration’ of civilian democratic rule. They must know that’s rank hypocrisy – there’s no democratic rule to ‘restore’, and I would hesitate to describe it as ‘civilian rule’ when a military figure takes power in a coup, then shifts to being a civilian president, disallows half the opposition parties whenever there’s a threatening election, and doctors the constitution to allow him to rule for 24 years.