Saturday, January 16, 2010

Guinea's wounded coup leader to stay in exile

Hopes of a return to civilian rule in the West African nation of Guinea rose with the news that former leader Moussa Dadis Camara will stay in Burkina Faso. Camara has been in temporary exile since an assassination attempt six weeks ago. Yesterday he signed a deal yesterday with Guinea’s new interim leader General Sekouba Konate agreeing to the establishment of an interim government and elections in six months. The deal bans the military from running in the election and gives Konate time to return the country to civilian rule, with the support of the US and France.

The news came despite calls yesterday from senior Guinean army officials for Camara to return home. Members of the 42-man junta which supported Camara’s ascension to power a year earlier have released a statement rejecting Konate’s concern that Camara’s return would jeopardise the restoration to civilian rule. The statement supported Konate’s call for a rapid transition "but we encourage and ask for the quick return of Capt Moussa Dadis Camara to Conakry,” the statement read. “We are recommending that Gen Sekouba Konate bring him back."

The statement shows that Camara still has powerful friends in Guinea. The army captain seized power in 2008 after the death of long-term dictator Lansana Conté. Initially his rule was mostly greeted with relief as he seemed sure to be better than his deeply corrupt predecessor Conté, who had just died after 25 years in charge. But optimism faded as Camara reneged on promises to hold an election. On 28 September he sent in security forces to smash up a peaceful mass opposition rally in the capital Conakry. The government had banned the protest but it went ahead anyway. When tens of thousands marched into a football stadium, police and soldiers opened fire. At least 157 people died. Eyewitnesses and medical personnel told Human Rights Watch many protesters were riddled with bullet holes. Others had stab wounds from knives and bayonets. Many women were stripped naked and sexually assaulted.

Camara blamed errant officers but the world community was outraged by the attack. The Economic Community of West African States imposed an arms embargo on Guinea. Former colonial power (and still a wielder of great local influence) France also cut military ties. The AU and the EU imposed travel bans and froze bank accounts owned by the 42 members of Camara’s junta. The US also imposed a travel ban but has not frozen accounts. The ICC also began an investigation and had delegates to Guinea at the time of Camara’s shooting.

Exactly what happened on 3 December is shrouded in mystery but it would seem that Camara was shot by his own aide-de-camp. The New York Times quotes communications minister, Idrissa Cherif who said Camara was shot in a confrontation with the commander of the presidential guard, Lt. Abubakar Toumba Diakité. Diakité was also believed to be the top army officer involved in the September atrocity so he may have felt he was about to be sacrificed to the ICC so that his boss could keep his job. Camara survived the attack but was flown to Morocco for treatment. He moved to Burkina Faso last week.

Guinea, resource-rich and desperately poor, has been plagued since independence in 1958 by authoritarian, brutal, and corrupt regimes. The country of ten million is rich in bauxite and gold. The Economist reported in November it is likely to earn $7 billion in return for mineral and oil rights recently granted to a Chinese company. But this money is unlikely to benefit the poor. Instead a clique of elite bureaucratic and military leaders will fight over the right to access the spoils, as they have done since 1958. In November, The Economist feared a civil war may be inevitable due to splits in the junta. The assassination attempt has done little to dash those fears. The next few months will be a test of Sekouba Konate’s strength of character.

No comments: