Guinea army arrests: Payback time or Democratization?

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Guinea’s top military officers close to former military ruler, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt last year, have been detained at the Matam gendarmerie barracks, in the suburbs of Conakry ahead of the country’s presidential election slated to take place on June 27. Members of General Sékouba Konate’s transitional government have decided to clean up after former junta leader Dadis Camara’s rule to ensure a new beginning only two weeks before the presidential elections in Guinea.

The wave of arrests came a day after a speech by General Sékouba Konate during which he had issued a strong warning to those seeking to disrupt the presidential election on June 27. And it is widely believed that the speech, delivered at a meeting with the country’s top military command, directly concerned the eight men. For the transitional president, disrupting the progress of democracy in the mineral-rich West African country remains unacceptable. “My men have an eye on the movement of soldiers desperate to sabotage the process underway,” he said Thursday on state radio and television. Analysts believe that the criticism is tantamount to slapping the officials, who were loyal to former junta leader general Dadis Camara, with charges of seeking to disturb the June 27 election.

Among the eight senior officers arrested at the end of last week are; Colonel Sanoh Umar, former Chief of General Staff of the Armed forces, Colonel Mamady Mara, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Colonel Ansoumane Kaba, former Chief of Staff of the Army. Lieutenant-colonel Haba Abel, former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, Lieutenant-colonel Samake Amara, former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Lieutenant-colonel Alpha Ousmane Diallo, former Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Navy have also been placed under arrest. Only Lieutenant Colonel Abdoulaye Keita, former Chief of General Staff of the armed forces, has so far managed to evade arrest. He is being actively sought after. All the arrested officers are being held in Matam, a suburb of Conakry.

According to officials close to the Chief of General Staff of the Armed forces Nouhou Thiam, the eight officials have in the past demonstrated a “lack of descipline in the management of funds for military garrisons.” The charges have been linked to the misappropriation of funds at the time of former junta leader Dadis Camara’s rule when they exercised power within the Guinean army. An audit conducted by the current Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces Nouhou Thiam, who was then the Inspector General of the Armed Forces, revealed the state of mismanagement, although the audit in question has failed to prove the guilt of the suspects. “Payback time?”, some people would like to suggest. The men in question were mostly chiefs of staff of the army and allegedly pro Captain Dadis Camara.

But the army chief Col Nouhou Thiam has said the officers were picked up following the publication of the internal audit report on the armed forces that implicated them in the alleged misuse of funds running to tens of thousands of US dollars. “You know, when you’re managing the funds of others, you have to keep and show accounts. In the Guinean army, we grew used to embezzlement, we have accused our elders of financial mismanagement, and now that transparency rules, we need to show accounts,” Col Thiam told French radio.

The military have ruled Guinea since the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte in December 2008, and the recent detentions of top army officers, according to some analysts, were over allegations of financial lack of decorum and not connected to the elections as widely reported. But as the presidential election, deemed the most open the country has ever seen since independence, approaches the arrests which lack an official explanation raise questions over Guinea’s vague attempts to democratize a system that has been bogged down my military whims for far too long. Nonetheless, after the army’s promise to ensure that the elections proceed smoothly and step down after the poll on 27 June, all eyes are on the Interim junta leader General Sekouba Konate who took over in December 2009 from Capt Camara, currently in voluntary exile in Burkina Faso.

Although Guinea’s mineral wealth makes it potentially one of Africa’s richest countries, its people are among the poorest in West Africa. The country severed ties with France and turned to the Soviet Union after independence and has since had been ruled by strong-arm leaders.

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