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Guinea - 1984-2008 - Lansana Conté

Sékou Touré and the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) remained in power until his death on April 3, 1984. A military junta -- the Military Committee of National Recovery (CMRN)--headed by then-Lt. Col. Lansana Conté, seized power just one week after the death of Sékou Touré. The CMRN immediately abolished the constitution, the sole political party (PDG) and its mass youth and womens organizations, and announced the establishment of the Second Republic. In lieu of a constitution, the government was initially based on ordinances, decrees, and decisions issued by the president and various ministers.

Political parties were proscribed. The new government also released all prisoners and declared the protection of human rights as one of its primary objectives. It reorganized the judicial system and decentralized the administration. The CMRN also announced its intention to liberalize the economy, promote private enterprise, and encourage foreign investment in order to develop the countrys rich natural resources.

The CMRN formed a transitional parliament, the "Transitional Council for National Recovery" (CTRN), which created a new constitution (La Loi Fundamental) and Supreme Court in 1990. The countrys first multi-party presidential election took place in 1993. These elections were marred by irregularities and lack of transparency on the part of the government. Legislative and municipal elections were held in 1995. Contés ruling Party for Unity and Progress (PUP) won 76 of 114 seats in the National Assembly, amid opposition claims of irregularities and government tampering. The new National Assembly held its first session in October 1995.

Several thousand malcontent troops mutinied in Conakry in February 1996, destroying the presidential offices and killing several dozen civilians. Mid-level officers attempted, unsuccessfully, to turn the rebellion into a coup détat. The Government of Guinea made hundreds of arrests in connection to the mutiny, and put 98 soldiers and civilians on trial in 1998. A number of them were executed.

In mid-1996, in response to the coup attempt and a faltering economy, President Conté appointed a new government as part of a flurry of reform activity. He selected Sidya Touré, former chief of staff for the Prime Minster of the Côte dIvoire, as Prime Minister, and appointed other technically minded ministers. Touré was charged with coordinating all government action, taking charge of leadership and management, as well as economic planning and finance functions. In early 1997, Conté shifted many of the financial responsibilities to a newly named Minister of Budget and Finance.

In December 1998, Conté was reelected to another 5-year term in a flawed election that was, nevertheless, an improvement over 1993. Following his reelection and the improvement of economic conditions through 1999, Conté reversed direction, making wholesale and regressive changes to his cabinet. He replaced many technocrats and members of the Guinean diaspora that had previously held important positions with "homegrown" ministers, particularly from his own Soussou ethnic group. These changes led to increased cronyism, corruption, and a retrenchment on economic and political reforms.

Beginning in September 2000, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel army, backed by Liberian President Charles Taylor, commenced large-scale attacks into Guinea from Sierra Leone and Liberia. The RUF, known for their brutal tactics in the near decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, operated with financial and material support from the Liberian Government and its allies. These attacks destroyed the town of Guéckédou as well as a number of villages, causing large-scale damage and the displacement of tens of thousands of Guineans from their homes. The attacks also forced the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate many of the 200,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees residing in Guinea. As a result of the attacks, legislative elections scheduled for 2000 were postponed.

After the initial attacks in September 2000, President Conté, in a radio address, accused Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees living in the country of fomenting war against the government. Soldiers, police, and civilian militia groups rounded up thousands of refugees, some of whom they beat and raped. Approximately 3,000 refugees were detained, although most were released within the year.

In November 2001, a nationwide referendum, which some observers believe was flawed, amended the constitution to permit the president to run for an unlimited number of terms, and to extend the presidential term from 5 to 7 years. The countrys second legislative election, originally scheduled for 2000, was held in June 2002. President Contés Party of Unity and Progress (PUP) and associated parties won 91 of the 114 seats. Most major opposition parties boycotted the legislative elections, objecting to inequities in the existing electoral system.

Despite his failing health, in December 2003, President Conté easily won a third presidential term against a single, relatively unknown candidate after the opposition parties boycotted the elections. Conté insisted in a late 2006 interview that regardless of his health he would remain in office until his term ended in 2010.

In December 2005, Guinea held nationwide elections for local and rural councils. In preparation for the election the government maintained an open dialogue with the opposition parties, 16 of which participated in the elections. Opposition leaders were allowed to campaign freely, and were allowed equal access to government-run media. The ruling PUP won 31 of 38 municipalities and 241 of 303 local councils. Though viewed as flawed, the 2005 elections were much improved over previous elections due to the use of transparent ballot boxes and other reforms.

In 2006 and 2007, Guinea's labor union alliance launched a series of historic, increasingly violent labor strikes. Whereas the unions demands during the March and June 2006 strikes were primarily economic, the January 2007 strike was more political. Security forces were responsible for the deaths of several protestors in June 2006. The 2007 strike also turned violent after President Conté ignored the unions’ demand that he resign from office. Nationwide, protesters began barricading roads, throwing rocks, burning tires, and skirmishing with police. Violence peaked on January 22 when several thousand ordinary Guineans poured into the streets, primarily in the capital, calling for change. Guinean security forces and the militarys "red beret" presidential guard reacted by opening fire on the peaceful crowds.

On January 27, 2007, unions, employers associations, and the government entered a tripartite agreement to suspend the strike. President Conté agreed to name a new "consensus" prime minister, with delegated executive powers. For the first time, the new prime minister of Guinea would carry the title of "head of government" and exercise certain powers previously held by the president of the republic. However, President Contés February 9 appointment of a longtime associate, Eugène Camara, as Guineas new prime minister sparked another wave of violence and protests. In an attempt to quell the violence, on February 12 President Conté declared a "state of siege," which conferred broad powers on the military, and implemented a strict curfew. According to media reports, the following days saw military and police forces scour Conakry and towns in the hinterlands where they committed serious human rights abuses.

When Guineas National Assembly rejected Contés effort to extend the "state of siege," it became clear that the popular protests had widespread support, even among leaders of Contés own ruling party. Soon after, an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation led by former Nigerian President Babangida announced that President Conté had agreed to name a new "consensus" prime minister in consultations with the unions and civil society. Lansana Kouyaté arrived in Conakry on February 27, 2007, just hours after being announced as the new Prime Minister and head of the government. Security forces are believed responsible for having killed at least 137 people and injuring more than 1,700 others during the strike-related violence in January and February 2007.

During his premiership, Kouyaté faced constant speculation that the president and his associates opposed his reform efforts. His failure to alleviate social and economic conditions contributed to the steady decline of his popularity. In May 2008, President Conté replaced Kouyaté with Ahmed Tidiane Souaré, a former minister of mines from a previous cabinet. The Souaré administration quickly began to reinstate presidential loyalists.

President Conte had taken a fifth wife who is 16 years of age. General Sampil was grateful to Conte after the military mutiny since Conte intervened when Sampil was being held hostage by the mutineers. To return the favor, Sampil reportedly gave a young female relative to Conte as a gift. The fifth wife resided in the village and takes care of the president when he was there.

Rumors regarding Conte's health and possible death were a frequent occurrence in Guinea, and had proven false. By mid-December 2008 there were rampant rumors about the president's declining health and possible death. Many people thought that he may already have died. Despite recent public sightings of the president's motorcade, many people thought the government was just trying to make it look like the president was still alive. There were rumors that the president had fallen down and then descended into a "profound" coma. The Minister of Communication's announcement on December 16, assuring the population of the president's health, was unusual. Observers were not aware of the government doing this previously, despite similar rumors of the president's declining health.





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