GUINEA: THE FALL OF ANOTHER DICTATOR?
By Ba Karang
In 1958 the People of Guinea voted against continued Colonial Rule in a referendum. This humiliation of French Colonialism was not taking lightly by the Gaullists. From the very first day when the referendum results were known, they not only tried to strangle the Guinean economy but put into action the “Alby Plan” to train mercenaries for possible invasion of the country.
The Independence of Guinea was another Pan-African victory, that put the Leader of the revolution on the map of the Continent. That leader, Ahmed Sekou Touray, was a devout Muslim, who remained one of the most inspirational Pan-African ideologues and political leaders. Under his leadership, Guinea strove to develop an independent economy, which would protect the natural resources of the Country and put special emphasis on the development of agriculture and human skills . Under his rule, Guinea became a One Party State; suppressing anything that was against the dictate of the ruling Party. There is no doubt that his long survival in power was due to the fact that, among all the Pan-Africanist leaders, he was the only one who saw mass mobilisation as the most important tool for the survival of the Party in power. Even Nkurumah a close ally and friend, was never to match the effort of Touray in mobilising the masses as the protectors of his revolution. His relationship with the state-capitalist nations in Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union, was one of love and hate. Though many Guineans were to find themselves in Eastern European universities, Touray was suspicious of the fact that they were mostly interested in exploiting the natural resources of his country. He was in open confrontation with them on several occasions.
Touray continued to give assistance to many Liberation movements and to this day remains an inspiration for them. In contrast with many independent African countries, Guinea under Touray was always food-sufficient. But he continued to rule the country with an iron fist, until his death, tolerating no opposition. With the growing resentment under his rule, his death gave the Military an opportunity to seize power and depose his socialist party, the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) in a military coup in 1984. General Lasana Conteh, who led the coup, turned civilian and has since then been ruling the country as the new dictator. And without any political ideology and programme, he eventually plunged the country into uncontrollable corruption and poverty.
Guinea is the leading world producer of bauxite. Together with copper, gold and diamonds this constitutes 70% of national exports. The coming to power of the military dictatorship gave global capital the opportunity it had been waiting for. Global capital – especially in the international mining companies - was now free to exploit at will the natural resources and the result was a surge of corruption and economic mismanagement. With East European capital no longer in the picture, it was now the turn of the international financial institutions like the IMF to impose their economic reforms in the country and by 1985 these reforms were in full force: including the elimination of restrictions in agriculture, which supports 80% of the work force, as well as restrictions in foreign trade.
Poverty and decadence were becoming commonplace: rising crime, deterioration in health, rising illiteracy, and inflation that made prices of commodities unaffordable for the Majority. More than 40 % of the population fell below the poverty line. The reforms, as the years went by, never produced any thing better; and even things that Guineans were taking for granted - which had been brought about by the newly found wealth of Bauxite mining in 1970 - like free education, could no longer be taken for granted. In the present period, the crisis caused by these malaises and the increasing dictatorial and militaristic tendencies of the civilian government has reached a boiling point, with the mass struggle we have witnessed daily in the streets of Guinea.
As in 1958, the Workers Union has become the leading force in the crisis that the country is facing today. The conditions are unbearable and the 23 years of political brutality has brought together 14 opposition parties to join the national unrest in the country. Last year June saw the beginning of the crisis and by December the Workers Union led a national strike which was met by repression, resulting in the deaths of 20 civilians. By January 29, the Workers Union had suspended the national strike after President Conteh gave in to the demands of the Union after a lengthy negotiation. He agreed amongst other things, to name an independent Prime Minister to whom he would hand over most of his power, not to interfere with the judiciary, and allow freedom of expression.
But when President Conteh named one of his close allies as the Prime Minister, this was not accepted by the Union, so he responded by declaring a curfew and marshal law. By February, the Union had already mobilised the masses in the street. Police stations were burned down and homes and offices of government officials were looted and burned. Among others whose properties were attacked and burned were the President of Guinea Bissau, Bernardo “Nino” Viera, a close friend of President Conteh, who despite the huge poverty in his country was able to buy a house in Guinea. The houses of Aichia Conneh, who was a leading member of the defunct Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a reactionary and criminal rebel movement involved in armed struggle during the Liberian crisis, were also attacked. Conneh is suspected of recruiting ex-Liberian rebel forces and bringing them to Guinea to support the embattled President.
The violence got of control when police stations were raided and guns and ammunitions taken away. There was a running battle between the masses and the military in the streets of Conakry, the capital, and other big cities, resulting in the loss of many civilian lives. No one, so far, in the military has taken the risk of declaring a military coup as yet; even with part of the military rising in the camps and demanding higher wages and with the country in bloody crisis. The reason I believe, might be the fact that the military know very well that the Guinean masses, with the deep-rooted hatred they at present have for the military, will be demanding more than just a change of political power, No military leader is yet certain he will be safe in a democratic and free Guinea; for now they might see unity among themselves as the best bet.
Omali Yeshitela, the Chairman of the African Socialist International based in the USA, issued a statement demanding that the only genuine force in the struggle for Guinea on the ground, is the Africanist Movement and that the international community should give them support to take over political power. But contrary to his assumption, it is the Workers Union that have been leading and directing the mass struggle in Guinea.
The United States of America, who in the 1990s signed a trade agreement with President Conteh favouring American mining companies in the country, also issued a statement short of any substance; only saying that they do not accept the use of force against civilians. And as usual, the head of the UN is calling for calm in the country. Regional African organisations, like Ecowas and the African Union are all blind to the demand of the Guinean Masses; as if liberal political appeal might solve the situation.
The result of the mass uprising might reduce the powers of President Conteh, but not to the suffering of the Guinean masses. This we know, but will the end of Conteh serve as the new beginning for the inevitable total liberation of Guinea ?
On February 27th, the Nigerian envoy, Babangida, was able to convince the Guinean leader to choose among the five names presented to him by both the Trade union movement and the civil society movement. Electing the new Prime Minister from the list, as of now, has reduced the tension. Though a humiliating defeat for the president, it does not in any way spell the end of the suffering and struggle of the ordinary Guineans. The new Prime minister will have much to prove.
All apart from the Africanist Movement, seem to be satisfied with the outcome; with President Conteh choosing from the list of names presented to him to choose as the Prime Minister. The Africanist Movement however, believed that the Workers Union leaders were much more interested in having some one who will be representing their own interest and not that of the working class they are supposed to represent, and that they are a disgrace to the African working class by presenting and accepting the Prime Minister, who is an open representative of imperialist forces, having served both the US government and other international institution hostile to the interest of the African masses. No matter what this position entails, the fact is that the Prime Minister is likely not to be the one to uplift Guineans from their acute poverty.