Republic Of Guinea: Africa’s Newest Perennial Disease
It is one of life’s most ironical situations, that although the republic of Guinea is potentially one of Africa’s richest countries, like many other African countries, it is among the poorest. Some will say that God has a good sense of humour, by blessing the continent with riches but boasts of a monopoly on poverty. In spite of these, Guinea has proved resistant to the kind of political upheavals that have characterised neighbouring countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire, to name a few. In spite of its image as a bulwark against instability, recent developments in the country should be sending chilling spasms along the political and social spinal cord of all those concerned. This is more so for its neighbours, namely Sierra Leone, which is just slumbering from a decade of political interregnum. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray [Zoztik Mayanga], UK)
Guinea has just made a bold attempt to savour the taste of democracy, but the omens conjure caution. When Guinea broke the shackles of colonialism from the French in 1958, late president Ahmed Sekou Toure made sure that he subjected his people to 26 years of poverty, economic mismanagement, and serfdom; in his pursuit of his Russian backed revolutionary socialist agenda. Enough of the history lesson, but with failed attempts to organise a democratically elected government, Guinea has been plunged into a political powder keg; the potential consequences of which one cannot bear contemplating.
Since Guinea decided to take the democratic highway to solve its political malaise, lanes have been drawn along tribal lines. Since the death of Sekou Toure, the political parcel has been passed, with varying lengths of tenure, from different but major tribal groups except the Peul (Fullah) Tribe. During Sekou Toure’s rule, you may be forgiven to think that he was the first African leader, even before the Tutsi-Hutu debacle (pardon the euphemism), to embark on ethnic cleansing. Sierra Leone became the safe haven for the Fullah people, who sought refuge in their thousands, if not millions in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia as well. He crushed every sign of opposition, as tens of thousands of people were tortured, executed and made to “disappear” into the bowels of his notorious “Kambuaru “prison. Incidentally, one of the most prominent of his prisoners was Diallo Telli, a Fullah, who has come to symbolise the apparent marginalisation, or so they see it, of the Fullah people at the hands of their so-called leaders. History teaches us that the Fullahs have been well known to lead a nomadic life, traversing the African plains from Futa Djallon to the Horn of Africa; in search of new markets and pasture for their livestock. This demographic dispersal meant that many who had come to settle in Sierra Leone saw it as their home, until one celebrated idiot unleashed his carnage in Sierra Leone in 1990.
Democracy in Guinea is still in its embryonic stage, but with it has come a wave of self actualisation. The Fullahs have never held the reins of power in Guinea. So when Cellou Dalein Diallo and veteran politician Alpha Conde; the two candidates vying to lead the country out of its political slumber, happened to be of Fullah and Manlike persuasions, it was not surprising that the battle lines were drawn along tribal lines. Even the local musicians have cashed in on the act, with each faction producing chart battling lyrics on the musical scene. Talk of top of the pops. The Malinke’s may be inclined to think that the country is their bona fide property, by virtue of Sekou Toure, who they may see as the political mid-wife of modern-day Guinea. Having being marginalised for so long, the Fullahs may see it as “this as our time”, for a slice of the pie. The wrangle for power between these similarly different groups stretches as far back to the days of Samory Toure( the great-grandfather of Sekou Toure) and Djanke Wali.
The circumstances are very different today. When Sierra Leone was plunged into the abyss of savagery for ten years, many opportunists and war merchants tried arduously to give the war a tribal slant. Accusations and counter accusations, mainly between the Mende and Temne tribes were traded along the length and breadth of the country about the origin of the war. Every theory as to the proponents of the war was peddled in a bid to divide the country and fuel the carnage. The Temne tribe seemingly accused the Mendes because the war sipped into Sierra Leone through the Eastern Area, an area that is dominated by latter. In equal measure, The Mendes accused the Temne tribe because in comparison, the ravages of war were not as widespread in the Northern area. These can be misguided and painful memories. Thankfully, the people of Sierra Leone did not rise to the bait, although there were pockets of tribal sentiments expressed along the way. Unlike the Hutu-Tutsi conundrum, the people spoke with one voice and tackled the problem together as one.
The situation may not be the same in Guinea, and with the little pockets of violence already etched on the political canvass, I would hate to imagine the unimaginable. It is obvious that political divides have been based on ideologies, beliefs, religion, colour, etc. It is this variety that adds spice to the life. A chronological timeline of Guinea’s political life has been showing signs of tremor on the Richter scale for some time. It started in 2005, when Alpha Conde, the then head of the main opposition Guinean People’s Rally returned from exile in France. In 2006, late President Lansana Conte was flown to Switzerland for medical treatment. The Prime Minister, Cellou Dalein Diallo was sacked, immediately after Lansana Conte left the country. Coincidence? .You see my drift. This seeming political vacuum marked the beginning of strikes and protests. New found political oxygen.
The mystery surrounding Lansana Conte’s health saw new kids on the block jostling for positions as heirs apparent. Uncertainty over a successor to Guinea’s authoritarian president had prompted a European think-tank, the Crisis Group, to warn that Guinea risks becoming a “failed state”. It has taken a coup attempt, coup d’états, strikes, riots etc to get Guinea to where it is today; so near but so far. Since 2006, Guinea’s political landscape has been littered with violence, police and army brutality, attempted coups, coup d’états, and civil unrest. A new wave of democracy seems to have been born and the fever has been very contagious with dire consequences for the Guinean people. With Lansana Conte leaving the scene in 2008(am not being cynical), it appears that democracy was thrust upon the people, who now find themselves on alien territory.
Change is a necessity in life. However, change should be from within. It should be evolutionary and not revolutionary; as it is obvious that any form of change that negates its culture is bound to fail. It appears that Guinea has not had the luxury to evolve into a democracy, as we know it. Instead, the process has been rather revolutionary, with the hand brakes taken off. It is therefore not surprising that it required a run-off to get a political mandate, via a democratic election. It is the same scenario in Iraq. Like Guinea, the people of Iraq were subjected to tyrannical rule for a very long time. With Saddam gone, it is not surprising that it was only recently that a parliament was agreed, following “democratic elections” This was only after outside interventions by the Saudi’s and other interested parties. Guinea has had its fair share of failed “democratic” elections. Sadly, the demagogues of democracy are standing by to see the country descend into chaos and oblivion, save for some lip service. You wonder how long will the disciples of democracy remain as onlookers. It is like the proverbial “shutting the barn door when the horse has bolted”. I admit that as Africans, we should be able to sort our own problems…
Although these two countries are juxtaposed in every sense of the word, save the religious persuasions, we can begin to see the common denominations. Both countries suffered untold sufferings from brutal regimes. They are predominantly Muslim countries. Both have experienced political gridlocks, following “democratic” elections. It is obvious that the concept of democracy is alien to both. It has been brought to them by outside forces. While in Iraq, it took billions of dollars and a death toll of holocaust proportions, a few strikes and sporadic killings by the army has characterised the Guinean death fields. When more than 150 were killed in a seeming attempt to silence opposition to military rule, a Human Rights Watch report concluded that it constituted a crime against humanity. In the Guinean case, democracy has been thrust upon them by remote control, while in Iraq, you don’t need any telling. In Iraq the pursuit of democracy has been fought mainly along religious lines while it has been tribal in Guinea.
I hate to sound like a doomsday merchant, but I cannot help fearing for the worst in Guinea. This is because of the tribal ingredient that has been added to the broth. Like religion, tribal affiliations can be lethal. As Sierra Leoneans, we all know the impact of war. Every Sierra Leonean felt and continues to feel the impact of this savagery. For some of us, the impact was, and continues to be closer to home; with the emotional scars to show for it. Guinea is a powder keg.
Thankfully, the elections have been conducted, in spite of the ongoing accusations and counter-accusations from both factions. One would only hope that common sense will prevail. As I finish this piece, I do so with a heavy heart. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If so, whether a Christian, Muslim, or Rastafarian, please take some time out and offer a silent prayer for divine intervention in Guinea. As the saying goes….” If your neighbour’s house is on fire …”
Abdulai Mansaray (Zoztik Mayanga), UK
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