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Guinea-Conakry: standing up to a power-hungry President

The technological revolution that enables ordinary citizens to capture and upload video footage on the web has been slow to take root in West Africa. Up to now we haven’t featured any video content from this part of the world on the Human Rights Video Hub Pilot. So this week we're bringing you a rare clip that has made it online from Guinea, the francophone nation whose capital Conakry has been in a state of siege in recent weeks, and where it appears that the struggle continues towards self-rule and sustainable peace:

The clip shows the Guinean Army firing indiscriminately on a crowd of civilians who were demonstrating their growing discontent with the increasingly autocratic ways of President Lansana Conté. Such eye-witness video footage is especially valuable because voices from the Guinean grassroots are difficult to find in the blogosphere. Most of the online commentary about Guinea in crisis has come from international news agencies and bloggers from elsewhere in Africa.

GV author Jen Brea last month put together an excellent overview of the unrest in Guinea. The crisis reached its climax when President Conté declared martial law and deployed government troops with instructions to use armed force to restore order. The ensuing stand-off led to the deaths of more than 110 people, many of them youths and children killed by gunfire on the streets of Conakry.

Organisations like the International Crisis Group warned that unless real change took place in Guinea, chaos would spread quickly with disastrous consequences. On the ground, civil society refused to back down. Further bold resistance to martial law from the labour unions and the wider populace – backed by the Guinean Parliament – brought about a renewed end to the general strike on 25 February 2007 and the appointment of new Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate, who appears to be a product of consensus.

As GV Francophone editor Alice Backer picked up last week, the Senegalese blogger Alex Seck (Fr) is now talking about Guinea exiting out of its crisis. But the prevailing general tone is still cautious: national union leaders (Fr) and their international counterparts are stressing that it is vital to remain vigilant about this so-called return of peace to Guinea

There are many warning signs to be drawn from the recent history of conflict in the West African sub-region. For several years attention has been drawn to the risk that Guinea could be the next country to slide into violent unrest.

Wars in the neighbouring countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire had originally positioned Guinea as a haven for hundreds of thousands of refugees. However, the enormous numbers of people migrating across Guinea’s volatile borders also included former fighters from neighbouring wars who are vulnerable to being recruited into new hostilities. Some international analysts have spent years contemplating responses to possible conflict in Guinea and the wider humanitarian crisis, while significant concerns have developed around the precarious position of Guinea’s Forest Region as a source of instability in its own right. Yet in essence the central causes of conflict in the sub-region have always been traceable to bad governance and failures of leadership.

So who holds a leader like President Conté to account when his tyrannical tendencies spiral out of control?

Here on the Human Rights Video Hub we’ve been trying to make the point that accountability can stem from ordinary citizens equipped with the technology to capture abuses on film – as the video clip in this piece demonstrates. The problem is that local media in countries like Guinea are still weak, with little access to the tools required to document or disseminate evidence of such abuses of state power. Nor is there much of a Guinean blogosphere to speak of, leaving most people reliant on news websites like AllAfrica.com and Guineenews (Fr), or blogs like Friends of Guinea, to receive reports or analysis about the latest developments.

These sources were supplemented in recent weeks by bloggers from elsewhere who were moved to drive the online debate. For example, Senegal’s Alex Seck (Fr) declared that Guinea was on the brink of imploding (Fr) and that the failure of the international community to condemn or put pressure on President Conte was “shameful”. East African blog Charcoal Ink said the turmoil was a reflection of familiar political trends in Africa: “there is a power struggle going on and power is that delicious elixir that my African leaders can’t get enough of”.

Finally, one of the most interesting responses to the unrest in Guinea was the defiant posturing of the national youth music scene, represented most prominently by the Fonike collective (Fr), which produced a hip-hop video (Fr) in solidarity with the citizens who protested against Conté’s “dictatorial regime”, as well as the following reggae clip:

Unfortunately these voices of the musical youth seem to have little genuine impact, partly due to the fact that much of West African politics is oblivious to grassroots opinion and only really responsive to its “big men”.

So now the most immediate challenge is for one such big man, Prime Minister Kouyate, to seize the momentum (Fr) that the emergence from this violent period has afforded him. To make tangible progress and to prevent Guinea slipping into conflict, Kouyate will need robust assistance from his national and international allies. And most importantly he’ll have to stand strong against the whims and excesses of power-hungry President Conté, in order that the clashes witnessed last month do not become the forebears of yet another devastating West African conflict.

11 comments

  • suha cassim

    I think Africa is doomed. I was in Conakry a few months ago…the expolitation goes on unabated, the corruption goes on with no interupption and the many levels of Guinean life continue in parallel worlds. How does one even start to unravel the mess??

  • I know we should called the way things are but stating such thing as Africa is doomed is insulting!
    However, I am a Guinean and I believe one of the biggest problem we have their is the fact that we trust every body with out any plausible previous work. People cannot really sacrifice for what they haven’t earn and. I believe the premier minister should be someone who really fought for it and should have something to lose if things don’t work out. Look in the example of the first one, He had nothing to lose all his possession and family were out of the country.
    We leave in the states (USA) and there or any developed country, people just don’t get such responsibility overnight. they prove them self over years of public or at least private commitment to their local citizens.
    The true Guineans living on the soil should be the one fighting not those opportunist. The president was there by opportunity and he never had to fight anyone (I mean proving he is the best to lead us)to get his place.
    Also having too much change is even worse for the so called change. How many premier minsters we had in Guinea under the same president? Every time there is a problem, a new person is called, so a new called government is in place and what that get us? We lost few years to trying to follow the new ones.

    The solution is simple and clear:
    The division of the power in three like it should:
    the legislative the executive and the judicial.
    until then no premier minister or even a new president could ever fix nos problems.

    By the way the westerners should definitely stop their hypocrisy by supporting only by interest. In Africa, our president are worse than Saddam Husein.

  • Angela

    Wow, I have to say that I am quite shocked and heart broken to be hearing and reading this. I am from the USA, and this is the first time I have heard about the unrest in Guinea. It is sad because when the people in the USA hear about this kind of thing that goes on in other places in the world, it doesn’t hit our hearts the way that it should. However seeing the videos, even though I couldnt understand everything they were saying, gave me a slap of reality and made me realize that this is really happening.
    I am truly sorry for the way people in the US view the violent situations in Africa and all over the world. Many people in the US want to help, but don’t know how. But many people in the US also don’t care. We as civilians need to make a change and start caring and change our perspective about these situations. I know that there is only so much I can do, but I will tell my friends about this and we will be praying for everyone in Guinea and all over Africa as well. If there is any other way that I can help, please let me know and I will do what I can. Thank you.

  • Clay C.

    Are real bullets being used, or rubber ones?

  • Real bullets are being used on real people!

  • I am from sierra Leone living in Uk. i dont like some one just to use words without weighing them, to say Africa is doomed, if you dont understand the situation just keep quiet and wait what will be the solution. Lansana Conteh want to die in power,he is using the military to achieve his goal, the military must know that, is the people power they are fighting,” THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE IS THE SUPREME LAW” for every onme who is against the voice of the people he/she is against the constitution of that land, the struggle continue.

  • When I say Africa is doomed I meant in the larger scheme of events in the world. Most of the world’s richest resources are found in the African continent. And so are the world’s poorest. Seven years of being in African countries can help you form an opinion. They are doomed because they do not have a clue about what might befall them in the future (god forbid though); There are roughly Three Countries fighting for the control of Africa; The USA, Russia, and China. I feel fatalistic and sad about this situation; when more ‘civilised ‘countries in the world could not stop their countries being taken over by other regimes, what hope has Africa? I am from a -the new buzz phrase- economically recovering country, or to put it brutally, a thrird world country, And I can see what is happening. The west just keep the few dictators happy to serve their purpose.

  • I dare to make a bold prediction: Soon the world shall meet several profoundly talented children from Africa. Africa has thousands, yea millions of profoundly talented children. The mainstream media does not consider good news from Africa “newsworthy.” so we will have to seek out the information. I will look at http://www.sagoodnews.co.za.

  • BRE

    I am viewing this video for the first time today because Global Voices and WITNESS have been honored with the One World Media Award 2007 for the Human Rights Video Hub project. Congratulations!

    Many of us in the “Sphere” were aware of the violence and unrest in Guinea thanks to the coverage of bloggers who write about sub-Saharan Africa and the mainstream media coverage as well. I have two questions:

    1. Did this video clip ever make it to the MSM? CNN’s I-Report or the BBC equivalent for example?

    2. How did the cameraperson shooting the video get such a birdseye view of the demonstration and subsequent police/military violence (the shootings)? Was he/she atop a highrise building adjacent to the boulevard?

    O.K. that’s 4 questions but who’s counting.

  • I felt very much touched in this song and i will love to get a direct touch with the artists who sang this song.

    I am an African but now residing in the united state of America.

    please get back to me for details discusions.

    peace,

    salifu kamara

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