The U.S. has no illusions over democracy in Guinea

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“Fifty years of authoritarian rule has been debilitating to the country. Money that went to the armed forces that could have been or should have been spent on health and education, social services, was basically squandered. In any case, the time is right, now, for the people of Guinea to get the elections they were hoping for,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald visited Guinea following the September 28 massacre in which more than 150 pro-democracy demonstrators were killed when government security forces turned on them and countless women demonstrators were raped.

During his visit to Conakry, Fitzgerald said he reminded Captain Moussa Dadis Camara — leader of the military junta ruling Guinea — that he bears full responsibility for the massacre and sexual violence perpetrated against the demonstrators. Fitzgerald said he also delivered a message on democracy to the junta leader: “The United States wants you to step aside and we want you to allow the transition that you called for earlier to go forward” so there can be open and transparent elections in Guinea.

Fitzgerald, whose portfolio includes West Africa, cautioned, however, that the United States has no illusions.

“Part of the reason why we are all reacting to the situation in Guinea beyond even the really horrific violence of September 28 is … looking at Guinea — which stands as the first independent Francophone country in Africa — from 1958 to 2008 they had a total of two leaders. Both served approximately 25 years. Both were authoritarian and both completely ruled the country. There was little democracy or no democracy and that is important.”

Fitzgerald said the last time anyone heard from Camara, elections in Guinea were slated for January 31, 2010. The projected date is quickly approaching and a lot of preparations have already begun, he told reporters. U.S. funds to help hold elections have not been shut off like other development funding, he said, because “we have a strong hope that in fact the elections will take place.”

But right now in Guinea, Fitzgerald said, “there is no political space. The opposition is shut down in the same way that the journalists have been harassed and driven to silence. I think the opposition is in a very difficult spot. Can you have credible elections tomorrow? Absolutely not! Can you have credible elections if Captain Dadis Camara runs? No. The people of Guinea deserve more.”

Fitzgerald said the massacre, the killings of opposition figures and the rapes are meant to intimidate the opposition. “What happened on September 28 should never happen again,” he told reporters.

Asked about China’s role in Guinea, Fitzgerald said the Chinese are now increasing their investment there. “As you know, the Chinese have played a major role inside Africa in recent years,” he said. Fitzgerald called the situation “very difficult — no doubt about it — that anyone should be supporting the Dadis Camara regime and accepting it as the legitimate government of Guinea,” but he credited the Chinese for not blocking a recent U.N. Security Council resolution on Guinea.

Asked about the Obama administration’s policy towards Africa, Fitzgerald recommended that everyone read the president’s remarks delivered in Ghana, which set out “straightforward” goals for U.S. policy. “When I met with Dadis Camara he did not seem to understand that,” Fitzgerald told reporters. “Our goal, our Number 1 objective, is to strengthen democratic institutions and to ensure the basic human dignity and human rights of people on the continent. And he missed the point.”

Fitzgerald said the international community recognizes that “the people of Guinea have put up with authoritarian leaders for 25 years at a time — Ahmed Sékou Touré and President Lansana Conté. My concern is that the longer Dadis is in office, the more likely the Guinean people used to such authoritarian leaders are going to say, ‘Well, he is there. We are just going to have to get on with our lives.’”

The United States is calling for a U.N. commission of inquiry, which would likely be investigative rather than forensic, to begin as soon as possible. Camara has accepted that a U.N. commission of inquiry can enter the country to do such an investigation.

The United States is also calling for Camara to step down and allow a legitimate government to take Guinea to elections next year, Fitzgerald said, noting that the United States is working with Burkinabé President Blaise Compaoré to mediate the situation with Guinea.

Fitzgerald said the United States is also working very closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union to help resolve the situation.

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