Guinea Suffering Under the Latest In Long Line of Military Strongmen
Dakar, Senegal. International action may be needed to prevent the tensions behind this week’s lethal crackdown on antigovernment protests in Guinea from igniting regional instability.
But even if confronted with sanctions and sent into isolation by neighbors and Western powers, Guinea’s erratic new junta leader, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, will not cede control of the world’s top bauxite exporter without a fight.
“He is a strongman, and strongmen tend to be immune to outside pressure,” Corinne Dufka of the Human Rights Watch group said of the army officer who seized power in December 2008 on the death of Lansana Conte, another soldier-turned-leader.
Since independence from France in 1958, Guineans have suffered years of repression under the country’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, and then Conte, who came to power in a 1984 military coup.
Yet even long-time observers were shocked by the brutality of troops who fired live rounds and, according to eyewitness accounts, subjected women to vicious sexual abuse as they dispersed a rally in the capital Conakry on Monday.
A local rights group citing hospital sources put the death toll at 157, three times the official figure, while the wounded ran into the many hundreds.
Camara insisted uncontrollable army elements were to blame.
But others said it was merely the latest proof that his pledge to stand down within a year and allow the transition to civilian rule had fallen by the wayside.
“It finally reveals the very nature of the junta, both inside and outside Guinea,” independent analyst Gilles Yabi said of a leadership that has stepped up arrests of political rivals and questioned contracts with investors like Rio Tinto and the Russian metals giant UC RUSAL.
Camara’s volatile performances, including humiliations in public of foreign diplomats and junior officials, have turned him into a minor Internet star, with a “Dadis Show” clip getting over 31,000 hits on the Youtube video Web site.
Guinean opposition leaders have vowed to launch fresh protests in defiance of a ban on “subversive” meetings announced by Camara late on Tuesday.
But it is unclear how many Guineans will be ready to take to the streets again, and analysts said the international response to Monday’s bloodbath could now be the critical next step.
France, which until now had given Camara the benefit of the doubt, has suspended military cooperation with its former colony and called a meeting of European Union counterparts in Brussels to discuss further measures, including possible sanctions.
Neighboring Senegal — whose president only weeks ago called Camara his “spiritual son” — issued a stiff condemnation of the violence in a sign of growing regional concern over potential chaos in the country of close to 10 million people.
“There is a great self-interest among neighbors to prevent Guinea from blowing up,” said Sylvain Touati, of the French research organization IFRI.