In a sign of high-level institutional infighting in Guinea, ailing President Lansana Conte sacked reformist Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo on Wednedsay, hours after overturning a decree which would have increased Diallo’s influence.
Diallo was appointed to head the government only 17 months ago and was highly regarded by international donors and financial institutions.
State radio announced twice on Tuesday evening that under a decree signed by Conte himself, Diallo would take control of key ministerial portfolios including the economy, finance, international cooperation and planning. Under the sweeping government reshuffle, seven of his allies would be appointed to the cabinet and 12 ministers were set to leave the government.
But at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, state radio announced the decree had been withdrawn until further notice. “The government is maintained as it was before 4th April,” the radio said.
Less than three hours later, the Prime Minister’s top advisor Aboubacar Sidiki Coulibaly told IRIN that Diallo had been removed from government.
"The president decrees that prime minister Diallo is dismissed from his position for serious misconduct," state radio said.
The ruckus appeared to be due to infighting between two camps in the government, according to reliable sources in Conakry. One source said “Conte is sick. The person who really runs the country is [El-Hadj] Fode Bangoura”.
Sources said Presidency Secretary-General El-Hadj Fode Bangoura, who has the rank of minister and has been close to Conte for years, heads a faction in the government, and that he played a decisive role in reversing the attempted reshuffle.
West Africa analyst Bram Posthumus said the attempted change and subsequent retraction signified a potentially serious power struggle within the ailing president’s direct entourage, as candidates line up for a power battle.
“For now I read this as political posturing and manoeuvring within the inner government. Diallo clearly overstepped the mark of what he is able to do, but there is unlikely to be any major change unless there is a groundswell of public discontent,” said Posthumus.
There have been frequent reports that a combination of ailments including high blood pressure and diabetes, have harmed Conte’s health. He is rarely seen in public. The septuagenarian president was flown to Geneva, Switzerland on 18 March, where he underwent medical attention. He returned to Conakry on 24 March.
Diallo, an economist who used to work at the central bank, was appointed prime minister in December 2004. His predecessor Francois Fall resigned in March 2004 after just two months, walking off the job while in Paris on an official visit. He protested about political interference and corruption around the president.
Diallo was one of Conte’s longest serving ministers, having entered the cabinet 10 years ago. Seen as one of the most reform-minded members of the government, he won the regard of international donors and financial institutions.
Had the proposed reshuffle taken place, it would have removed ministers Alpha Ibrahima (employment) and El-Hadj Fode Soumah (Youth, Employment and Culture). It would also have removed the Interior Minister Kiridi Bangoura and placed his portfolio in the hands of an Diallo ally, Almamy Kabele Camara.