Friday, January 02, 2009

Conte’s parting gift

THE world quickly condemned the coup in Guinea, in line with duplicity called diplomacy. For 24 years, Lansana Conte ravaged his country, guaranteeing its place as one of the poorest countries in the world. Global leaders ignored Guinea.
Now is the time for the condemnation of a coup that was a natural process in a system that Conte’s long dictatorship sustained. Conte came to power in similar fashion, following the demise of Ahmed Sekou Toure.

They are the only two people to have ruled Guinea since its 1958 independence from France. Conte first took power in a 1984 military coup after his predecessor's death, unleashing 24 years of stern-handed, dictatorial rule.

He won presidential elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003, but allegations of fraud were rampant. In the 2003 polls, Conte secured 95 per cent of the votes — an unlikely tally for a man of immense unpopularity.

"The National Council for Democracy and Development has no ambition of staying in power," the representative of the coup plotter said on state radio. "We are here to promote the organisation of credible and transparent presidential elections by the end of December 2010."

Global condemnations have trailed the coup from Nigeria, the United States, France, the African Union, and European Union. Others would follow. What they have all failed to do is prescribe a solution to the situation in Guinea beyond asking the military to leave “soon.”

Where was the international community in the 24 years of Conte? Guinea was once one of Africa's most promising states — blessed with diamonds, gold and half the world's reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminium. Under Conte, it declined to irredeemable poverty: the national average wage of $91 a month, could not buy a bag of rice, the staple food. The Guinean coup was avoidable, if the world cared.

Cote d’Ivoire has not recovered from 33 years of Felix Houphouet-Boigny. After 32 years, Mobutu Sese Seko left Zaire in wars. In nearby Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso has done 30 years. El Haj Omar Bongo of Gabon, 72, last March became the world’s longest serving President, with his 41 years.

Muamar Quadaffi, 39 years; Daniel arap Moi 24 years; Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 28 years; Teodoro Obiang Nguema, 29 years; Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, 27 years; Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, 22 years; Blaise Campaore 21 years; Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, 19 years; Idriss Deby of Chad, 18 years; are the others.

Conte’s parting gift, after 24 years is chaos. Africa has a longer list of rulers with the same intentions. The international community tolerates them if they serve certain interests. It is for this reason that the West sees nothing wrong with Paul Biya’s 27 years in Cameroun.

The destabilisation and wars these rulers cause in Africa are factors in its under-development. Belated chastisement of Guinea’s new leaders serves no purpose. The blames belonged to Conte and his foreign backers.