Lansana Conté | presidency

Presidency

1984 coup and military rule

President Ahmed Sékou Touré, Guinea's head of state since independence, died on 26 March 1984. Prime Minister Louis Lansana Beavogui was named interim president, pending elections to be held within 45 days. On 3 April, however, hours before the PDG was to choose a new leader—who would have been the only candidate for president—Conté led a military coup that toppled the government. Conté denounced the Touré regime's human rights abuses and released 250 political prisoners. He also encouraged the return of approximately 200,000 Guineans from exile.

The country's constitution was immediately suspended after the takeover, along with the National Assembly, and political activity was banned. A 25-member Military Committee for National Recovery (CMRN) was set up and led by Conté, who on 5 April was proclaimed President of the Republic.

On 4 July 1985, soldiers loyal to Conté, who was attending an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit in Lomé, Togo, thwarted a coup d'état. Conté, a member of the Susu people (or Sousou), used the opportunity to eliminate rival soldiers from the Malinké ethnic group, including former Prime Minister Diarra Traoré. [5]

On 3 April 1990, Conté was promoted to the rank of Army General.

Economic and political transition

Conté's economic reforms, including currency devaluation and reduction of government spending met with approval of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and realignment with western nations encouraged foreign investments.

He initiated Guinea's transition to civilian, multiparty rule in the early 1990s. A new constitution was approved in a referendum held on 23 December 1990 and the CMRN was disbanded on 16 January 1991. It was replaced by the Transitional Committee for National Recovery (CTRN), a body composed of civilians and military officials. Political parties were legalized in 1992 in preparation for upcoming elections.

Civilian rule

The first multi-party presidential election held since independence was conducted on 19 December 1993. Conté, candidate of the newly formed Party of Unity and Progress (PUP), won 51.7% of the vote—just barely enough to avoid a runoff. Alpha Condé of the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) was second with 19.6% of the vote. [6] The opposition alleged electoral fraud, especially after the Supreme Court discounted as invalid the results in two prefectures where Condé of the RPG had received a large majority of the vote.

Despite Conté's stated commitment to democracy, his regime remained authoritarian. However, he had far less power than Touré, and for the most part his rule was much milder.

Conté's government narrowly survived a 2 February 1996 coup attempt that stemmed from an army mutiny over payment of salaries. Several dozen civilians were killed and the presidential residence sustained significant damage.

In Guinea's second multi party presidential election, held on 14 December 1998, Conté won another five-year term with 56.1% of the vote. [6] The polls, although an improvement over the troubled 1993 election, were considered flawed by opposition parties and observers. A November 2001 referendum that lifted presidential term limits and would extend the term in office from five to seven years was supported by 98.4% of the voters. [6] The results, however, were rejected by opposition parties who claimed that the outcome was rigged.

He went on to win a third presidential election held on 21 December 2003 with 95.6% of the vote [6] after all but one of the opposing candidates boycotted the race, expressing their belief that Conté would never allow a fair election. Conté had been in declining health, suffering from diabetes and heart problems, and his ability to serve and survive another full term in office was doubted by many. He was sworn in on 19 January 2004, and in a television broadcast on this occasion, he vowed to fight corruption. [7]

On 19 January 2005, shots were reportedly fired at his motorcade on its way into Conakry in what was apparently a failed assassination attempt. One bodyguard was reportedly wounded. Conté, who was unharmed, went on state radio and television that night to say that he had survived because God had not yet decided it was his time to die. He also mentioned "threats from those who do not wish to see the development of Guinea or those who obey orders given to them from abroad" and vowed that he would "not be manipulated". On the next morning, he made a public appearance to pray. [8]

While on a visit to France with his family in 2005, Prime Minister François Lonseny Fall resigned and sought asylum. He complained of corruption and increasing interference from Conté. Fall's successor, Cellou Dalein Diallo, endured until April 2006. Conté failed to appoint a new prime minister until the end of January 2007.

In April 2006 he was flown to Morocco for medical treatment. Most people expected he would not return, but he did. Then in May 2006 riots in Conakry over the price of rice and fuel led to around twenty deaths as security forces savagely repressed the popular uprising. In August 2006 he was again flown to Switzerland for medical treatment. This time no crowds met him on his return to Guinea. Meanwhile, Henriette Conté, the President's first wife, was accused of flouting the rule of law and taking advantage of the President's physical and mental incapacity to abuse her power.

In August 2006 Human Rights Watch produced a 30-page report condemning human rights abuses in Guinea, highlighting the power vacuum resulting from the President's ongoing illness, and expressing concern about the future.

In an interview with journalists reported by Guinéenews in October 2006, Lansana Conté said that he intended to stay as President until 2010, which was the end of his seven-year term. Conté also said that he was looking for a replacement who "loves the country and will protect it against its enemies." [9]

In November 2006 Transparency International updated its annual corruption index. Guinea under Lansana Conté was then second equal as the most corrupt country in the world (pride of place for corruption going to Haiti). This is a matter of concern for foreign firms intending to invest in Guinea (for example to exploit its extensive bauxite reserves) as they are unable to operate in Guinea without paying huge bribes to highly placed government officials, but if caught doing so they may face legal action in their country of origin.

In January 2007, a general nationwide strike was held protesting Conté's continued leadership of the country. [1] The strike continued for over two weeks, during which hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in the streets. Within the first two weeks, savage repression by red-caps (Presidential guards) and other security forces left at least twenty protesters dead. By the end of the strike on 27 January, it was reported that at least 90 protesters had died in violent clashes with police [10] and at least 300 had been injured, according to a local human rights group.

The strike ended following an agreement between Conté and the labor unions, according to which a new Prime Minister would be appointed as head of government; Conté also agreed to lower rice and fuel prices. [11] On 9 February, Conté appointed Eugène Camara, who had been Minister of State for Presidential Affairs since January, as Prime Minister. [12] [13] This was rejected by the opposition, and widespread violence broke out after the appointment. [14] The strike resumed on 12 February, and Conté declared martial law on the same day. [15] [16] On 25 February Conté agreed to a deal to end the strike, and on 26 February he appointed a new Prime Minister, Lansana Kouyaté, from a list of individuals chosen by the unions and representatives of civil society; people returned to work on 27 February. [17] Kouyaté was sworn in on 1 March in a ceremony at which Conté was not present. [18]

In an interview with Agence France-Presse and TV5 on 14 June 2007, Conté asserted that he was still in charge of the country ("I'm the boss, others are my subordinates"), rejected the possibility of a transition, and said that his appointment of a prime minister was not due to pressure and that he was pleased with Kouyaté's performance. [19]

On 5 December 2007, a decree restructuring ministries increased the powers of the Secretary-General of the Presidency at the expense of those of the Prime Minister, and on 3 January 2008 Conté dismissed and replaced Justin Morel Junior, the Minister of Communication and Government Spokesman, without consulting Kouyaté. On 4 January, Kouyaté demanded that Morel be restored to his position, and labor unions announced plans to begin a new "unlimited general strike" on 10 January, demanding that Conté's agreement with the unions be properly implemented and that Morel be restored. [20] On 9 January, the unions withdrew their call for a strike. [21]

In a surprise move, [22] on 20 May 2008, Conté dismissed Kouyaté and replaced him with Ahmed Tidiane Souaré. [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] Kouyaté was widely considered a disappointment in his role as Prime Minister, and his unpopularity meant that his dismissal was not greeted with any major unrest of the kind that led to his appointment a year earlier. [26] Through this dismissal and the appointment of Souaré, who was considered close to Conté, [22] [25] [26] Conté was considered to have strengthened his position. [26]