A recent round of brutality against civilians by Camara’s junta has left Guinea on the brink of civil war, Jeggan Grey-Johnson writes in this week’s Pambazuka News. The international community must intervene, Grey-Johnson argues, as left unchecked the instability could have grave consequences, not just for Guinea but also for its neighbouring countries, many of which are ‘still recovering from the horrors of war and brutality’.
The world is watching, with folded arms it seems, a cauldron boil to the brim, hoping that it will cool itself off and simmer. All the signs point to one conclusion: That Guinea had long reached boiling point. It is now in a phase where the chances of civil war far outweigh the chance for stability and peace.
The country borders Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast to its south; all three countries have been in conflict. Two had no stable government for more than 15 years. Combined both saw a death toll of a quarter of a million people, and 1.5 million more fleeing as refugees. Liberia and Sierra Leone are still recovering, but with Guinea at a knife’s edge, their chances of surviving the spillages and spoilage of war will be slim.
Fighters, although demobilised in both nations, are still poor, unemployed and vulnerable to being lured to a job that pays them to fight. Ivory Coast is in limbo, and an uneasy peace looms. To the north, rests Bissau, a country that most in the world agree to its shamefully accepted label: ‘A failed state held hostage by international drug barons’, with a weak and undisciplined military. And Senegal, which is the most politically stable of the lot, is quietly grappling with a quarter of a century-old low-intensity insurgency in the south – Casamance.
This is the scenario that makes the case for Guinea, a country largely neglected and often exploited by its leaders and the world. A country that –should instability be allowed to grow and continue – would end up destroying a whole neighbourhood that is still recovering from the horrors of war and brutality.
In less than 90 days, more than 150 people were massacred for merely exercising their right to voice their opposition to impunity, military rule and tyranny. Hundreds more women were raped, and more than 1000 people were injured and disappeared. The head of the junta, uncharacteristically named the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), Moussa Dadis Camara, narrowly escaped assassination, when he was shot in the head. He is recovering in Morocco. The assassin – his trusted body guard and head of the presidential guard that was instrumental in the 28 September massacre – is at large, no doubt waiting for an opportunity to strike again. A manhunt for him has been launched, and for good measure, a bounty has been placed on his head, promising a ‘handsome’ US$40,000 reward for information of his whereabouts.
To have guessed almost one year ago, that things in Guinea could deteriorate from being leaderless (Lansana Conteh had spent his last months’ ruling from his sick bed), extremely impoverished, and limping from decades of abuse by colonial power France, with subsequent dictators like Toure and Conteh, would have been unfathomable. In short, the situation in Guinea Conackry is dismal in all aspects: Politics, economics, development, infrastructure and human rights. Guinea ranks bottom in most global development indicators. The country is ranked 17th from the bottom on child deaths, three-quarters of the population cannot read nor write, only one third have access to clean drinking water, and 400,000 children are orphans. This is in a country the size of the United Kingdom, with a population of 10 million, well endowed with natural resources, where half of the world’s bauxite rests. It also has uranium, gold and diamonds.
Millions of dollars worth of arms have filtered from Europe through third countries in West Africa and landed in the capital and are now in the hands of secret militia belonging to Camara’s ethnic minority group. This group is trained by mercenaries, disguising themselves as a respectable ‘protection and consultancy outfit’ with a base in Democratic Republic of Congo and a parent company in Dubai, headed on the ground by a South African police veteran. There are reports of least 30 South African guns-for-hire milling around Conakry and its environs, obviously waiting for the show down, with the promise of the spoils of war in the form of mining concessions, and other worldly treasures.
Despite international condemnation and multiple sanctions imposed on the military leadership, the CNDD continues to terrorise the Guinean population and threaten the sub-region with instability. These sanctions include a travel ban, an arms embargo, financial and asset freezes and diplomatic isolation. Yet Camara and his men have flouted the penalties levelled against them by the African and European Unions, and by extension, the UN. The defence minister has jetted to Lebanon on a ‘private visit’, and Camara was granted emergency medical treatment in Morocco, with the intervention of Senegal. If he survives the injury and returns to Conakry, he will no doubt settle old scores. He may dig in and refuse to hand over power. If he does not survive the injuries, then General Konate may decide that all promises made by Camara are null and void, or he may be more accommodating and accept the ultimatums presented by the AU. However, the signs point to the former. He has already begun to show signs of intransigence, by claiming that CNDD cannot negotiate in the absence of their ‘boss’.
The signs point to several glaring realties: That there is little that ECOWAS is willing and able to do, and the AU although miffed at the defiance of Camara, cannot in principle do much more since it has not been consistent in similar cases, such as Mauritania, where the head of the junta turned civilian, held elections and won. Additionally, the issue of leadership and credibility at the sub-regional level is weak. One in five current presidents shot their way to power, turned civilian, held elections and won. As a result, 60 per cent of the 150 million people in West Africa have never known a normal peaceful transition of power.
However, these are not excuses for inaction. In fact they are precisely the opposite. The international community must act and there are means to do so. The majority of the Guinean population has turned against Dadis Camara, especially after the September 28 massacre. He is isolated and so is his regime. There is great division within the army, exploited by international mercenaries, and financed by international operatives with interests in diamonds, gold, mining contracts and narcotics.
This mix will not be contained in Guinea alone. It will spill over to neighbouring countries. And for this reason the leaders that have the sway to rein in Camara and his regime must do so, and quickly. He should not be appeased. He has agreed to let the UN special commission investigate the killings of 28 September and he and now his deputy, general Konate, must abide by this promise. He has agreed to hand over power and hold elections in January 2010, and not to stand in those elections. General Konate must implement Camara’s promise. However, Camara can only be pressured to honour his promises if other countries’ leaders also abide by theirs.
President Jacob Zuma and the South African government have the information that their citizens are engaged in clandestine operations in Guinea. The South African government has a moral and legal obligation to investigate the leads, refute or acknowledge the assertions, act on them and put a halt to the shenanigans. The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act makes it clear that South African citizens cannot fight abroad as part of a foreign force without permission from the government of South Africa. If silence on this matter continues then the deductive reasoning would be that the presence of the South Africans training militia to fight in Guinea is being done with the permission of the South African government.
President Wade of Senegal must stop sending mixed signals to Camara. The fact that he embraced the junta and became their self appointed international spokesperson is absurd, especially when the African Union, of which his country belongs, condemned the coup d’état of 23 December 2008.
President Blaise Compaore must be honest enough in his mediation role, and act on the good will bestowed on him by the African Union and place the terms on the table for unconditional relinquishing of power, through a smooth transition in Guinea under the strict compliance of Camara and his CNDD; the promise of sweeteners and outlandish rewards is tantamount to bribery, and in the end, a perpetuation of impunity and a gross injustice to the Guinean people.
The European Union too has an obligation to investigate the issue of arms coming in from Eastern Europe, and resources going out of Guinea and into European banks under the guise of ‘investment firms’. This after all is not new: Liberia and Sierra Leone are lessons enough for all to learn.
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* Jeggan Grey-Johnson is the advocacy and communications officer for the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), an initiative of the Soros foundation network’s four African foundations.
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