Civil society looks to junta for break from past

Security forces in 2007 opened fire on Guinean citizens demonstrating for an end to corrupt, dictatorial rule. Today, a week after the death of 24-year president Lansana Conté, civil society leaders see the newly-installed military junta as the best chance for bringing about that change.

Some members of Guinea's civil society say it is deep-seated corruption in the regime Conté left behind and a longstanding disregard for rights that have citizens welcoming the young soldiers, who took power in a bloodless coup on 23 December hours after Conté’s death was announced.

Conté had also come to power in a coup in 1984, after the death of President Ahmed Sékou Touré.

“We think there is a real opportunity here for genuine national dialogue and for rebuilding our country,” Bakary Fofana, vice president of the national council of civil society organisations (CNOSCG), told IRIN.

"Make no mistake we will be vigilant about the respect of Guineans’ rights.”

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At the junta’s invitation CNOSCG, political parties, unions and the private sector are presenting proposals for how to move Guinean society forward. The junta on 27 December met with religious leaders and representatives of trade unions, civil society, the media and political parties.

One of many outstanding questions is when the junta will hold presidential elections. Junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara has vowed to do so in 2010, when Conté’s mandate would have ended, and has said that he would not stand.

But some political parties and international donors say elections must take place in 2009.

Governance

Guinea’s trade unions, which led unprecedented demonstrations against the government in early 2007, said in a 25 December statement they “congratulate” the military “for its support of the change initiated by the unions and backed by the people”.  

In their statement the unions call in part for restoring the rule of law and combatting corruption and drug-trafficking.

Some civil society leaders say 44-year-old Camara is saying all the right things; the task now is to monitor every step the junta makes.

“Nothing is a given here; nothing is a foregone victory,” Mamadou Taran Diallo, head of the Guinean Association for Transparency, told IRIN.

“The most important thing [after Conté’s death] was to maintain the security and stability of Guinea,” he said. “We have seen how war tore up our neighbours Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Despite chronic unrest and political instability, to date Guinea has escaped the all-out civil war that devastated its neighbours.

“Now, civil society must act” to ensure that the junta will keep its promises, Diallo said. “Everyone in Guinea is hungry for good governance.”

Junta leader Camara has vowed among other things to stamp out corruption, punish those who have embezzled public funds and revamp mining contracts to ensure they benefit the Guinean people.


Photo: Sarah Simpson/IRIN
The junta has vowed to ensure that Guinea's natural resources benefit the people (file photo)

Guinea has abundant natural resources, including the world’s largest known reserves of bauxite, the main ore used to make aluminium. But most Guineans lack access to safe water, adequate sanitation and mains electricity.

“[Military leader Camara] has simply said out loud what Guineans have been saying among themselves for years,” said Cissé Kabinet, natural resources programme officer for the Guinean NGO, CECIDE.

International condemnation

The coup met with immediate condemnation from the international community. On 29 December the African Union suspended Guinea’s participation pending a return to constitutional rule.

Under the constitution the National Assembly president would assume power until elections, to be held within in 60 days.

But some Guineans say the demands for a return to constitutional rule are irrational since the government was not legitimate. The national assembly’s mandate was up last year; parliamentary elections have been repeatedly postponed in the past two years. Few reforms promised after the 2007 uprisings materialised, and President Conté eventually sacked consensus Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté.

In their recent declaration trade unions urged the international community “to conduct a deeper analysis of Guinea’s situation.”

Civil society leader Fofana said the international reaction was to be expected but it is hypocritical. “We [civil society] have been sounding the alarm about a lack of rights, a lack of laws, a lack of democracy in Guinea for years. No one has ever wanted to listen to us.” He added: "Guineans know they have never benefited from these norms the international community talks about."

He added: “The international community would do better to encourage the process of dialogue and democracy that we have started.”

Junta leaders are scheduled to meet with diplomats and donors on 30 December.

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