Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Conté cracks down, hangs tough.

Any président pour la vie worth his salt knows that it's going to take more than a little civil unrest to get him to leave office.

And so it goes with Guinean dictator Lansana Conté, who has declared a state of emergency following three more days of intense rioting aimed at his ouster. In my previous entry about the unrest in Conakry, I reported that Conté appeared to be meeting some of the political demands of striking unions halfway (short, of course, of stepping down himself). Under this deal, Conté would have offloaded some of his executive powers to the prime minister, but apparently, union leaders felt the minister was too close to Conté politically, and rioting and striking resumed. Conté, clearly, has had enough.

Orders have been given to the heads of the armed forces to take all necessary measures to re-establish public order and protect the people of Guinea from a civil war.
Conté has finally responded by declaring a state of emergency, and has ordered the army to "restore order". At least 15 people have been reported killed since the declaration, as the army has tackled the rioters head on. Obviously, this includes an as yet unreported number of persons missing and arrested.

The real question is: can Conté hang on? Observers say that Conté is seriously ill, and may be dying of complications from diabetes. It also appears he may be grooming the next kleptocrat in chief to take over where he leaves off. Under Conté's mismanagement, Guinea has become one of the poorest countries on earth, with an economy ruined by inflation, primitive physical infrastructure, and rampant official corruption. Even if Conté were to die, or even more unthinkably, step down, it's hard to imagine the quality of life transforming overnight for Guinea.

... but you have to start somewhere.

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