Guinea’s military junta appears unrepentant a day after troops open fire on a pro-democracy rally, killing as many as 200 civilians. The ruling National Council for Democracy and Development refuses to negotiate with opposition figures.
“The protest is yet another example of African civil society groups pushing oppressive governments, though not always successfully, for reform,” one account suggests.
The head of the junta, Moussa Dadis Camara, seized control a day after President Lansana Conte, who had ruled for nearly 25 years, died on December 22 last year, in a military coup initially welcomed by most citizens. Thousands of cheering supporters thronged the streets of the capital, shouting: “Welcome to this change! Welcome to this change!”
“Soldiers reeking of alcohol fired into the air Tuesday,” Associated Press reports, “terrorizing residents a day after troops killed 157 people at a pro-democracy rally and shattered hopes that this West African country was shedding the yoke of dictatorship.”
Dominique Dieudonné, the National Endowment for Democracy’s West Africa Program Officer, writes:
I spoke to NED grantees today and the situation seems to have calmed down in Conakry from yesterday. Independent verification of the events is difficult, but from what I could gather from our grantees and the internet, yesterday’s event was organized by political parties who oppose a presidential run by current military ruler, Dadis Camara.
Civil society activists confirmed that the military junta barred this massive demonstration on the pretext that September 28th is a holiday, and that the stadium where the event was to be held was closed for an upcoming soccer match. Apparently Camara even called the leaders of the various political parties and urged them to cancel the event.
The political parties opposed to military rule feel stifled because of Camara’s interest in running in the presidential elections scheduled for January 31, 2010, contrary to promises to usher in genuine democracy made when he seized power. Camara has yet to make his candidacy official but the international community, including the African Union, has strongly voiced opposition to his plan.
Camara has reportedly announced that he is organizing consultations with religious and traditional leaders and civil society. After these consultations, he intends to formally announce his plans.
As it stands now, things are calm in Conakry because everyone is staying home and streets are heavily patrolled by military officers. There is no official curfew and our grantees expect to be back to work tomorrow.
One NED grantee ventured outside today to investigate nearby police stations which were burned and looted of weapons reportedly by supporters of the opposition. He was unable to confirm reports that troops raped dozens of women in the aftermath of the massacre.
Four prominent leaders of the opposition who were at the stadium were severely beaten and arrested. They were released today and are meeting to assess the outcome of yesterday’s events and strategize on their future plans.
This is an incredible turning point for Guinea and our grantees’ personal safety is of utmost concern to us. They will exercise caution as they continue with their activities throughout the country and adjust as dictated by the political situation.
Guinea is one the most mineral-rich countries in Africa, with considerable deposits of diamonds, gold, iron and half of the world’s reserves of bauxite, the raw material required to make aluminum. But its people remained mired in poverty while two consecutive dictatorships plundered the country’s wealth.