Posted by: Home Strange Home | November 25, 2009

And What About Guinea?

Just over two months ago, the small West African nation of Guinea featured prominently in the news because of the violence that took place in a football stadium in the capital Conakry on September 28th, causing public outrage both within Guinea and in the international community. 

One-hundred and fifty-seven people were killed and 1,200 wounded when the military used tear gas and then opened fire into an unarmed crowd of 50,000 pro-democracy and opposition demonstrators.  In addition to shooting and bayoneting people, witnesses reported that soldiers publicly and violently raped a number of women.  Others accounts suggest that the military removed bodies to cover up the number of dead.  President and Captain Moussa Dadis Camara denied direct responsibility or knowledge for the assaults, saying that his soldiers were “uncontrollable.”  

Camara was initially popular after coming into power in December 2008 through a bloodless military coup hours after the death of Lansana Conte, the former president who had ruled for more than two decades and himself came to power through a coup in 1984.  Some Guineans liked Camara at the start because he came down hard on the drug-trafficking industry and made promises of democracy, including a pledge to hold a presidential election on January 31, 2010 in which he could not run.  

But as time has passed, Camara has held onto his power and started to backtrack on his promises.  Various statements he made led to rumors that he was planning to run in the January elections.  People started to speak out against his military rule and protest against him running for president.  This dissent is what motivated the rally on September 28th which so tragically ended.    

As usual, shock stories of violence tend to dominate the news from Africa, and then the media goes quiet on the longer-term outcomes or deeper analysis.  Unfortunately, Camara is still in power, although the international community has put significant pressure on him.  In response to the attacks, France, Guinea’s former colonial power, suspended military ties with the country, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) instituted an arms embargo on Guinea in mid-October, and the African Union has called for Camara to step down and is threatening sanctions. 

Moreover, The United Nations Commission of Inquiry, with the support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, has begun an investigation into the massacre.  The three-person commission is led by an Algerian judge and former foreign minister, Mohamed Bedjaoui, and its other two members are a former minister of Burundi and the senior lawyer of Mauritius.  Their goal is to get to the bottom of what happened on September 28th while still ensuring protection for witnesses.  The commission expects to be in Guinea for no more than 10 days. 

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