Hey Gals and Guys,
Greetings from Guinea!
What a tense week for Africa! In South Africa of all places, locals have killed African immigrants and looted foreigner-owned shops. Despite anti-xenophobia protest, Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tanzanians have been murdered this week in Durban. The locals believe immigrants take their jobs. What is most unfortunate to me is that the locals don’t understand that the immigrants are not their problem. South Africa is the second-largest economy is Africa (it was THE LARGEST until some Nigerians did their voodoo math and declared that Nigeria were the largest)-It can support everyone. But due to extreme discrimination and inequality, the poor are left competing for the scraps.
This morning I read that a representative from Nigeria’s newly elected APC party said that South Africa had 48 hours to stop xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals and their shops or else their companies abroad will be shut down. The representative was specifically talking about MTN, Shoprite, and Multi-choice.
REALLY? And who loses when that happens? The poor, xenophobic, unemployed South African sitting in a shantytown? I don’t think so. It will be the millions of Nigerian customers and the thousands of Nigerian employees. Are these the half-baked policies we can expect from Buhari’s government? Let’s hope not!
It’s also been pretty tense here in Conakry. On Monday and Tuesday, the main opposition political party in Guinea, Union pour le Progrès et le Renouveau (UPR), organized street protest in Conakry. Unfortunately, the protest turned violent very quickly and three men died from gunshot wounds. The protest took place at Hamdallaye, a suburb of Conakry and a stronghold of UPR. Hamdallaye also happens to be a stone throw away from the U.S. Embassy.
Okay, so some background on politics in Guinea.
After independence in 1958, Sékou Touré, Guinea’s first president quickly aligned himself with communist Russia and turned Guinea into an authoritarian, socialist country. Due to the Cold War, Guinea was left out in the cold (no pun intended) when the West was establishing economic ties with newly established African countries. This caused a pretty bad economic decline in Guinea. In 1984, after the death of Sékou Touré, Lansana Conté took over the government in a coup d’état and abandoned the socialist experiment. This opened the door to free trade, reestablished the judiciary and allowed other political parties to exist.
Conté ruled Guinea for 24 years as both as a military dictator and as a “democratically” elected president (I don’t know if any of his elections were rigged, but it’s always safe to put quotation marks around the word “democratic” when talking about Africa). In 2008, after a long illness, Lansana Conté died. Within six hours there was another coup and Captain Moussa Dadis Camara became the next head of state. This started a bloody transition for Guinea. In 2009, during protest against the government, 157 were killed. In January 2010, Camara agreed to return Guinea to civilian rule within six-months at a meeting held in Ouagadougou. At this meeting, it was also agreed that the local/district elections would be held BEFORE the 2015 elections.
In 2010, Alpha Condé was elected president for a five-year term (2010-2015). President Condé is a Malinke, the second-largest ethnic group in Guinea. Of course, his main opposition is aligned with the Fula, the LARGEST ethnic group in Guinea. This leads to a “bit” of tension. In 2013, during a week-long opposition protest, nine people died. For the past couple of months, there had been a lot of back and forth between the government and the opposition on the date of the next round of elections. Condé’s first term should end this year, and remember, local/district elections should be held BEFORE the 2015 presidential elections.
Shortly after I arrived in Conakry, the electoral commission announced the dates: October 11, 2015 for the presidential and “the first trimester of 2016” for local/district elections. The opposition did not find that “cute” at all. Since the announcement, there have been several street protests against the government and electoral commission.
The fighting continued this week.
On Monday, the first thing I noticed on our way to the office what that there were very few cars on the road. As we made our way towards the embassy, Hassmiou and I both received a text message from the embassy’s head of security: “Rue de Prince, in between and including the Bambeto and Hamdallaye Cirlces is currently blocked. Rue de Donka is currently blocked at the Stadium”. When the RSO starts blasting text messages to all U.S. Embassy personnel, it’s safe to assume things are very serious.
When we got to the office, it was pretty quiet; several people decided not to venture out of their homes (hence the light traffic). At around 2:00 p.m. Motor Pool sent a blast email informing staff that all requests after 3:00 pm would be cancelled due to the protest. Since I’m totally dependent on Motor Pool to get around, I decided to call it a day and head back to my Hotel. I wasn’t getting much done at work because the network was down and I couldn’t even log in. I’m convinced the North Koreans were behind it, but that’s another story for another day!
On our way back to the hotel, Hassmiou pointed out two Police cars parked at Donka Hospital, one of the main hospitals in Conakry. Once we saw that, we just knew things had gotten ugly. On Tuesday we learned two protesters had died the day before. Protest continued on Tuesday, but after additional deaths, the opposition decided to postpone until next week.
The memories of the 2009 violence are fresh on most Guineans minds and no one wants to end up back there. I suspect that the electoral commission will reschedule both the local/district elections and the presidential elections to later this year.
On a happier note, I started French classes and working out this week. My plan is to leave here skinny, speaking French!
Wish me luck!