Guinea: Junta extending decades of misrule?

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The December 2008 military coup in Guinea, coupled with a failure to hold free and fair elections in 2009, would only confirm the West African nation’s growing reputation as “an international pariah,” says acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phillip Carter III.

“By remaining in power through repeated refusals to set a timely election date, the military regime in Guinea is fast becoming the poster boy for misrule in West Africa,” Carter told March 9.

The U.S. government condemned the December 23, 2008, coup d’etat, saying it rejected “the announcement by elements of the Guinean military that elections will not be held for two years” and calling for “an immediate return to civilian rule.”

The statement, released by the U.S. Embassy in Conakry January 15, added: “The military must work closely with civilian leaders and civil society to swiftly restore civilian rule in Guinea. Guinea has made great strides towards holding National Assembly elections in May 2009 and we encourage Guinea to continue with this schedule.”

The United States also suspended all aid to Guinea after the coup, except humanitarian assistance and democracy-promotion programs. “The suspension of aid will remain in effect until civilian rule is restored through free, fair, transparent and timely elections,” Carter said.

Carter, who previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Guinea, said he especially was saddened to see the nation devolve into political stagnation. Before the coup, he said, “the United States maintained close relations with Guinea and encouraged democratic reforms so it could make a positive contribution to regional stability and sustainable economic and social development, and now things are falling apart.”

A year ago in Conakry, Carter helped facilitate an innovative USAID initiative aimed at speeding communication and improving efficiency among Guinea’s various ministries. The $530,000 information-systems project provided computer equipment and technical training for 105 administrators in the ministries of health, economy, finance, agriculture, environment and education and the prime minister’s office.

Now, because of the coup, “we may see efforts like that unraveling,” Carter said.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who heads the three-nation Mano River Union, also expressed concern about the coup, saying it serves as a bad example for countries in the region that are trying to cope with years of strongman and military rule.

The Mano River Union, named for the river that begins in the Guinea highlands and forms a border between Liberia and Sierra Leone, is an association of those nations aimed at fostering economic cooperation.

Both the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union condemned the coup.

Coup extends decades of misrule

Prior to the military takeover, Guinea suffered decades of misrule and mismanagement under strongman General Lansana Conté. In 2006, Guinea was named the most corrupt country in Africa by the watchdog group Transparency International, and a record of bad governance prompted the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to suspend most of their economic assistance to Guinea.

On December 23, 2008, just hours after the death of General Conté, a coup led by junior military officers took over the government and began ruling through a body called the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD).

The coup was at first seen by some Guineans as a welcome relief from the corrupt Conté regime. However, Captain Moussa Camara, working through the CNDD, soon suspended the nation’s constitution and curtailed political and trade union activity, as well as press freedom.

In a radio address following the coup Camara said, “We are here to promote the organization of credible and transparent presidential elections by the end of December 2010.”

In a videoconference with the Guinean press on January 28, Carter called on the CNDD to hold elections as soon as possible in 2009. He repeated U.S. condemnation of the military coup and made it clear that normal bilateral relations would not be restored until democratic elections are held and civilian rule is restored to Guinea.

Leading Guinean journalists and several government representatives, including the minister of information, Justin Morel Jr., attended the hour-long videoconference.

At a time when many countries in Africa are working to overcome legacies of misrule, “Guinea is headed in the opposite direction,” Carter told “We see positive developments all over Africa, in places like Tanzania, where democracy has gained a strong foothold, and in Ghana, which is very stable and recently had a successful national election.

“Even in West Africa, stubborn conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have ended and democracy has returned. It would be a shame for Guinea to go against that tide and slide into military dictatorship,” Carter said.

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