Guinea: A macabre morning in Conakry

Reading time 5 min.

It is a heart-wrenching day at the Grand Mosque of Conakry. To mark the Independence day celebrations, the authorities have released the remains of people massacred at the national Stadium on September 28 as they protested against Captain Musa Dadis Camara’s 2010 presidential bid. Some families, after daring the painful journey, are unable to find their loved ones among the 50 corpses that lay exposed under the scorching sun. They look in franctic silence. Flies have already begun the funeral dance…

The pungent and putrid smell of death lingers at the foot of the Grand Mosque of Conakry. Under large tents and lying on mats are several lifeless bodies wrapped in white sheets, their faces uncovered for identification. Hundreds of people flock in to recover the remains of a brother, sister, father, mother, child… heads bowed, eyes welling with tears. An army truck appears on the scene to unload a new macabre cargo… The quiet crowd presses forward in fear, while hoping to find their loved ones.

jpg_Ba.jpg As the imam chants a prayer into the microphone, women cruise the aisles between the tents sobbing in pain… A man approaches me with a framed photograp: “That’s my brother, El Haj Hasan Al-Ba, he has not been seen since September 28,” he says. “We have looked everywhere, even at Alpha Yaya Camp, no sign of him.” Several people in the crowd gradually join the others around me as they shout that many bodies are missing and that the official 57 victims of the September 28 stadium massacre are only part of a higher number. “I took two corpses to Douka. I don’t see them here,” says one of them. Another man, Ousmane Camara, tells me that following the sad incident he witnessed that night at around three o’clock in the morning “a bulldozer digging a pit, at Yimbaya, behind the Alpha Yaya military camp…” A pit in which soldiers had buried the remains. It is the first time a mass grave is mentioned.

Search for missing corpses

jpg_cadavre.jpg As they assess the outcome of the events, health officials have chosen to keep a low profile. Present on the esplanade of the Grand Mosque is the Director General of the Ignace Deen Hospital of the Kaloum commune in Conakry, Professor Fatoumata Binta Diallo. She tells me she received 24 bodies in her establishment. But she refuses to answer questions relating to the overall number of victims or provide analysis of the injury patterns sustained by victims. According to the Guinean president only four persons were killed by bullets, the others were crushed or suffocated in the ensuing stampede. Asked about the cause of death of those she received at her hospital, Prof. Diallo tells us she is only here to play an administrative role. “Only a coroner can answer that question.” She unilaterally ends our conversation. A while later, we meet a member of the Red Cross, but he also dodges our questions and moves on. A few yards away, Mamadou, a graying old man, is hugging a picture of his young son, Alpha Oumar Diallo, whom he recovered the day before yesterday from a hospital. He was in a coma and died several hours later. Mamadou points to his bandaged head. “It’s a real bullet injury”, he says, “it is not from the stampede”. His wish is that a commission of inquiry is established and those guilty duly punished.

jpg_Diallo.jpg Many of those gathered around me are members of the Guinean opposition, who witnessed the September 28 massacre. They denounce the violence and impunity of the military. “Right before me, they undressed women, even their underwear… And killed them with guns, stabbed them with knives!” Yells one of them. Another, Tierno Wouri Balde is more specific in his allegations. “I was at the stadium. There were three ministers. Claude Pivi, in charge of presidential security, Siba Lolamou, the Minister of Justice and Tiegoro Camara, anti-drug Minister. They are the ones who started the shooting,” he says, adding that he also saw “the number one presidential bodyguard, Toumba Diakite, commanding the Red Berets.” Others argue that some of the troops involved in the massacre were English speaking and therefore Liberians. Accusations come in from left right and centre, while others call upon the international community to react. “Dadis must resign!” says the President of Association of Ratoma, a commune in Conakry. “A person who cannot handle his army cannot run a country,” added another man.

Anger and despair

jpg_Ratoma.jpg Tensions rise as the minutes tick away. Anything that symbolizes power unleashes unadulterated fury. Young people proudly wave shreds of a boubou they just ripped off the Secretary General of the Islamic League, Koutoubou Sanou. The latter appeared at the scene with officials of other religious denominations in the country. They took to their heels as the angry mob charged on them.

Some stones fly in the direction of the police. Some of them gather in the middle of the esplanade of the Grand Mosque, while another group tries to control overcrowding. More families arrive to identify their loved ones. By now flies have already begun their funeral dance around the corpses under the growing heat. A few metres away from the exit, a man calls out to me in English. Without a doubt, he takes me for an American journalist. He has no news of his son who was arrested and imprisoned at Camp Koundara on September 28. His eyes bear the agony of a thousand.

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