Conte sacks economic team in reshuffle

Guinean President Lansana Conte has sacked his prime minister, his powerful interior minister and his entire economic team in a two-stage cabinet reshuffle.

The top-level changes follow Conte’s re-election for a further seven-year term in presidential elections on 21 December that were boycotted by all the country’s main opposition parties.

They also followed a further deterioration of Guinea’s economic crisis.

The government’s income from bauxite exports is plummeting, foreign exchange is scarce and last month Conte announced the sale of 20,000 tonnes of rice to the public at subsidised prices to curb soaring food prices.

Conte, a former army colonel, who came to power in a 1984 coup, sacked his prime minister for the past five years, Lamine Sidime, in the first phase of the reshuffle, announced on 23 February.

Sidime, who often undertook public engagements in place of the ailing president, was replaced by former Foreign Minister Francois Fall.

Fall speaks fluent English and is widely regarded as pro-American. Before his appointment as foreign minister in 2002, he served as Guinea’s representative to the United Nations in New York.

The first phase of the reshuffle also saw Interior Minister Moussa Solano, the architect of Conte’s sullied re-election, shifted sideways to the Ministry of Employment. But his tenure was shortlived.

Solano was kicked right out of the cabinet in the second phase of the reshuffle on 1 March.

Last year, Solano was charged by Conte with conducting a dialogue with the opposition parties to persuade them to take part in the December presidential election.

However, he refused to give way to their demands for an independent electoral commission and free access to Guinea’s state-controlled radio and television.

As a result, the Republican Front for Democratic Change (FRAD), an alliance of the main opposition parties, boycotted the poll.

That left Conte facing a token challenge from Mamadou Bhoye Barry, a virtually unknown politician who sits as the sole member of parliament of a small pro-government party.

FRAD claimed that fewer than 15 percent of the electorate bothered to vote in the election whose outcome was a foregone conclusion.

However, Solano issued official results saying that Conte had won 95 percent of the vote after an 86 percent turnout.

The highlight of the second round of cabinet changes was the departure of the ministers of finance and trade and the central bank president in the light of an increasingly dire economic situation.

The new Finance Minister is Mamady Kabba Camara, a former Minister of Trade, while the Trade Ministry goes to Djene Saran Camara, a woman medical doctor and member of parliament for Conte’s Party of Unity and Progress (PUP).

Cheriff Bah was retired as president of the central bank which has virtually run out of foreign exchange to sell to the private sector, but his replacement was not announced.

Jean Marie Dore, one of the leaders of the FRAD opposition grouping, expressed delight at the departure of Solano from the political scene. But he said it was too early to say whether Conte might now seek a genuine dialogue with the opposition.

“We told you Solano was the greatest obstacle to true democracy in this country and now we have been proved right,” he told IRIN.

But asked whether the opposition would now resume a dialogue with the government, he said: “Let’s wait and see.”

Conte, 69, is now too ill with diabetes and a suspected heart condition to walk unassisted and he seldom appears in public.

However, diplomats in West Africa say the authoritarian leader still has a firm grip on the reins of power.