Why Guinea is on the Brink

by Jesse Zwick | October 6, 2009

More atrocious details from the Guinean junta's recent crackdown on protesters—of women knifed, whipped, and raped repeatedly by soldiers—surfaced in the Times yesterday. Until recently, the former French colony of approximately 10 million had a reputation for being among the most stable of its West African neighbors. Stable yes, but democratic no: until December 2008, two strongman military figures had dominated the country since independence in 1958. If the first regime, led by anti-colonial revolutionary Ahmed Sékou Touré, was famous for its close ties to the Soviet Union, the second, under Lansana Conté, was simply known as a kleptocracy—despite the country's vast mineral wealth, it remained mired in poverty as government officials lined their pockets with revenue from mining concessions. (In the Conté era, regime leaders also enriched themselves by turning the country into a popular smuggling hub for both diamonds from Sierra Leone and cocaine from South America.) By 2006, however, massive labor protests over the price of rice and fuel threatened to knock the wheels off the regime.

Yet when Conté died late last year, democratic opposition leaders like Alpha Conde, leader of the Guinean People's Assembly, were outmaneuvered by the military yet again, this time by a young captain named Moussa Dadis Camara. Despite seizing power illegally, Camara riveted the nation by broadcasting interrogations of corrupt former officials and promising open elections in 2010. As the date loomed closer, however, Camara reneged on his promise to abstain from running in the election and public resentment flourished, culminating in the brutal suppression by government troops last month.

Adam Nossiter of the Times, formerly reporting from post-Katrina New Orleans, has done a solid job chronicling the action since transferring to the paper's West Africa bureau in April. France24 has been providing obsessive coverage of France's efforts (thus far largely for naught) to broker a peaceful democratic transition in the former colony. Finally, Human Rights Watch has been releasing near daily dispatches, along with an in-depth report on the state of the country in 2008. 

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