Thursday, October 8, 2009

The struggle for democracy in Guinea

 The global condemnation of the official violence unleashed on the people of Guinea, who had embarked on a peaceful pro- democracy demonstration is justified in every sense. There can be no excuse for the Guinean military authorities to open fire on defenceless people who were only asserting their rights to choose how they wish to be governed. Guinea’s military Head of State, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara should be told in unmistakable terms that his arm- twisting tactic is no longer in vogue.

       If anything, the general condemnation of the massacre of over 150 pro- democracy protesters last week is a clear pointer to the fact that leaders who break faith with their people deserve no respect. While they have a right to contest for their country’s leadership position, they can only exercise that right in a civilised manner, not through the brute force. Obviously, Camara who had forced himself into office last December following the death of President Lassane Conte, has no intention of subjecting himself to a democratic process. After declaring himself head of State contrary to the country’s Constitution, he promised to guide the country to democratic rule. Specifically, he named himself President of the National Council for Democracy, which he called a transitional body that would oversee the country’s democratic elections.

Suddenly, a few weeks ago, he changed his mind about not standing for election and declared that he has a right to contest. That was enough to raise the people’s suspicion that his original plan is to manipulate the Presidential election scheduled for next January 31, and possibly perpetuate himself in power. Concerned Guineans were right to have embarked on a peaceful protest against Camara’s anti- democratic plot, which they did in a stadium near the capital, Conakry.

Guinean security forces subsequently opened fire on thousands of defenceless Guineans. This is unacceptable. Local rights groups reckon that about 157 persons were killed. Quoting hospital sources in the capital, which suggested the casualties’’ figure would be higher; the Guinean Human Rights Organisation estimated that more than 1, 250 people were injured in the violence. Camara’s explanation been unconvincing, it only confirms that the attack on the defenceless people was premeditated. First, he blamed the shootings on ‘’uncontrollable elements’’ in the military who allegedly responded to provocation by the people. Then the government said most of the victims were crushed in stampede at the stadium. However, the same government later blamed certain political leaders for staging the demonstration in alleged disregard for prior warning against the protest. Government further accused the leaders of causing the stampede, violence and looting of two police stations, and that the demonstrators let prisoners out of jail and stole weapons.

Nevertheless, the international community has rightly condemned the violence. The United Nations Security Council expressed ‘’ utmost concern’’ about reports that troops fired on people attending political rally and that women were raped. Similarly, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the United States, African Union, European Union, and France (which has suspended military cooperation with the country) have all condemned the unprovoked violence on defenceless citizens.

The least Camara can do is to end the repression, identify and punish those responsible for the killings, set political detainees free and allow a return to democratic rule in Guinea. In particular, Camara needs to reaffirm his earlier declaration that he would not stand in the way of a free and fair election. Attempting to do otherwise is a clear signal that democratic principles would be negated. It should also be clear to him that Guineans are not prepared to compromise true democracy, tired as they are already of autocratic rule.

Since 1958 when Guinea gained independence from France, the country has only had 2 presidents- Lansane Conte who came to power in 1984 when the military seized power in 1984 after the death of the first president, Sekou Toure. Camara seized power in December 2008 when Conte died. Captain Camara’’s tactics are indecent. He and the Guinean military are dragging AFRICA backward. They should allow a level playing field and respect the people’s right to choose their own leaders. In the meantime, all the trigger- happy state agents who opened fire on innocent citizens, should be charged for murder and be made to face the full wrath of the law.

Culled from The (Nigerian) Guardian October 7, 2009

Submitted by Kemi Bello

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