Guinea and the Lansana Conte era

27 December 2008 at 00:51 | 880 views

By Muctarr Jalloh, USA.

Fate has once more rid Guineans of the tyranny and ineptitude of Lansana Conte when his death was announced in the wee hours of Monday morning. But instead of the nation planning a huge and expensive funeral services for the long term dictator, a group of military officers has seized power, leaving the troubled West African nation in chaos and confusion. In their half a century of existence, the people of Guinea have lived only under two leaders, the founding leader Ahmad Sekou Toure and Lansana Conte, both of whom had displayed an innate love for power and intolerance, lacking in vision and vicious.

The international community, especially the African Union (AU), has responded to the coup in Guinea in an appropriate way-its leaders must be shunned, isolated and never be granted any legitimacy whatsoever. The specter of another military leader emerging at the helm of the political scene in Guinea could be unbearable for the long suffering masses of this impoverished and ill-managed nation.

As he lay dead in an undisclosed location, Guineans should care less if Conte is interred in the foot hills of Fouta or in the Atlantic Ocean. At least, they are certain that there will be no eulogies about his greatness or the shedding of crocodile tears. Conte surpassed Toure in terms of ruthlessness, greed and avarice. He was so distrustful of civilian politicians and technocrats that he reduced them to incompetent buffoons. Many of the civilians who served under him had to run out of the country for fear of their lives. He was ignorant and arrogant about society and governance, but with the help of his military machine he held on to power.

In announcing the coup that brought Lansana Conte to power in March 1984, Diarra Traore, his deputy, spoke for many of his compatriots when he described the 26-year-rule of Ahmad Sekou Toure as full of waste and disillusionment. But in a typical military dictatorship style, this duo (Conte and Traore) immediately suspended the constitution, arrested Lansana Beavougui, Toure’s erstwhile vice president, and dismantled the so-called Kankan mafia’s hold on to power in Guinea, sending the Toure brothers-Ishmael, Shaka and Abdoulaye to the gallows. They then embarked on shaping the political, social and economic lives of Guineans- abandoning Toure’s socialist ideology- instantly becoming the darling of western governments, introducing a free-market economy, and releasing all political detainees from the notorious Camp Boiro, where Toure had sent more that 25,000 Guineans, including Diallo Telli, the first secretary General of the Organization of African Unity, now the AU, to perish. Guineans then spoke of horror, servitude and hopelessness under Toure and expected Conte to save them from this bondage.

And Contee indeed heard his compatriot’s cries and yearnings to be free from oppression. Initially, what Conte lacked in charisma and intellect, Traore provided with flamboyance and political chicanery. This marriage of convenience in a land of one man rule was not meant to last. Traore was accused of planning a coup a year later, extra judicially tried and executed with alongside 100 Guineans. By now Conte had not only borrowed a page from his political mentor Sekou Toure, but he had mastered the craft of eliminating his opponents swiftly and punitively. The career soldier, who rose to the rank of a general, fought with the French army to unsuccessfully quell the Algerian freedom fighters; and later combated Guinean dissidents harboring in Guinea Bissau, now had the nation all to himself. He would spend the next 23 years running his country based on whims and caprices, mistrust and personal enrichment. Unremarkably, Guinea was consistently ranked as the least developed nation in the world under his reign.

Ironically, the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone offered Conte a new lease on life. He quickly and decisive intervened in these countries militarily so that he did not have to fight a war in his own county. He once bragged that he would not hesitate to decimate a whole village or region if it harbored a single rebel and also displayed low tolerance to leaders who were hesitant in using their military might to control their populace. In a conversation with former Sierra Leone President Joseph Momoh after the latter had sought refuge in Guinea following his overthrow, Conte reportedly asked Momoh, why he left Freetown. According to a source who witnessed this meeting, Momoh reportedly told Conte that he did not want to spill anymore of his people’s blood. Baffled by this response, the unconscionable Conte shook his head, welcomed his former presidential colleague into exile and then left. The next day he welcomed a Sierra Leone delegation from Strasser’s government to Guinea and pledged to work with them.

But Conte hardly kept his word, having outlived most heads of state in the region, he knew only a few of these heads of state could challenge his authoritarian rule, hence the suffering masses of Guinea never received any comfort and support like the ones they received during the tyranny and mayhem of Sekou Toure. This should never have happened. The world must not turn its back on the people of Guinea, never again!

Since the Conte era has ended in death, the international community must step in to prevent another military leader from assuming power or allowing Guinea to disintegrate into a civil war. The consequences of such crises would impede the peace gains made in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia and reduce the suffering people of Guinea to further misery and mayhem. Further, it is time for Guineans to experience a change of leadership through constitutional means and not by the barrel of the gun. Conte’s demise should put an end to any military hope of ever getting power in Guinea.

Photo: The late president Lansana Conte of Guinea.