21 January 2009

Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply

Rich governments and corporations are triggering alarm for the poor as they buy up the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land in developing countries…

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09 January 2009

Anti-democratic nature of US capitalism is being exposed

"Financial liberalisation has effects well beyond the economy. It has long been understood that it is a powerful weapon against democracy. Free capital movement creates what some have called a "virtual parliament" of investors and lenders, who closely monitor government programmes and "vote" against them if they are considered irrational: for the benefit of people, rather than concentrated private power."

Noam Chomsky

Read the ful article here

21 November 2008

WEST AFRICA: Do high food prices warrant a cash response?

DAKAR, 3 September 2008 (IRIN) - Experts say many of the right conditions are in place across West Africa to make cash distributions work in the current global food price crisis.

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Safety nets help to climate-proof the poor

A unique safety net programme being piloted in Ethiopia, which attempts to break away from the traditional humanitarian model, is being punted in the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report 2007/2008 as a "bold attempt" to tackle food security threats posed by an uncertain climate.

Copyright © IRIN 2008

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19 April 2008

Indian Institute of Data Interpretation and Analysis

Ladli-smykket laget av gatebarn i India.

Tekst: Camilla FlaattenFoto: Camilla Flaatten og promoDato: 05.10.2007
Ladli-smykket laget av gatebarn i India.
A&C-gründer Birgit Løitegaard. «Arts & Crafts»-gründer Birgit Løitegaard reiste på ferietur med datteren sin til India da de fikk tilbud om å besøke smykkebyen Jaipur. Der møtte Birgit Abha og hennes ektemann Prabhakar Goswami som startet prosjektet «i-india» og barnehjemmet Ladli med sikte på å hjelpe foreldreløse gatebarn i byen. - Det var en fantastisk opplevelse å møte disse to menneskene som siden 1993 har viet sitt liv til å hjelpe barna i slummen. De har tatt barna inn, gitt de et sted å sove, mat og skolegang. Jeg visste intuitivt at dette var noe jeg ville være med på, forteller Birgit til HENNE.no.
Hjelper mange
Ladli-smykkene er laget av halvedeslstener. De små posene er sydd av guttene og kjedene er laget av jentene. Inntektene fra kjedene går i sin helhet til barna å barnehjemmet. - Et solgt smykke betyr mat til femti gatebarn, og absolutt alle pengene går til å hjelpe barna. Jeg har selv merket hvor mye prosjektet engasjerer. Til min 50-års dag fikk jeg alle venner og familie til å gi pengegaver til Ladli, barn har hatt basar til inntekt for gatebarna der og barneskoler har engasjert seg med innsamlinger, sier Birgit. Ekteparet Goswami driver i dag barnehjemmet Ladli for 140 barn og de hjelper rundt 400 gatebarn daglig. Barna selv deltar i produksjonen og daglig lages det smykker ved barnehjemmet. Jentene lager smykkene og guttene syr de små posene kjedene kommer i. - Produksjonenekan hjelpe barna ut i arbeidslivet ved at de lærer seg håndverket og må ikke forveksles med barnearbeid, forteller Birgit.Ladli-smykket selges i norske «Arts & Crafts»-butikker over hele landet og koster fra 200 til 250 kroner for henholdsvis et kort og et langt smykke.


From street child to surgeon, Indian girl follows dream

FEATURE-From street child to surgeon, Indian girl follows dream
19 Feb 2007

By Jeremy Lovell

JAIPUR, India, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Former child prostitute Chand has a burning ambition -- to be a doctor helping India's destitute millions.
And the 16-year-old girl is bright enough to realise her dream, according to the charity that 10 years ago rescued her from the teeming streets of the northern Indian city of Jaipur with a population of some three million people.
"I want to be a surgeon. There are too many people and too few doctors here," the slim youngster told Reuters on a visit to the Ladli centre where she lives and learns in the sprawling metropolis dubbed the Pink City from the colour of its walls.
"That is my goal. In my society girls have very little chance to get an education. Here I have a chance," she added, seated under a tree in the dusty yard of the school.
Her story is as heart-rending as it is common. Only the end is different -- maybe.
Women, still considered by many as a commodity even in the 21st century, are neglected in the educational system and often sidelined in the social hierarchy.
According to UNICEF -- the United Nations' Childrens' Fund -- there are over two million prostitutes in India of whom some 500,000 are children or minors.
Some reports suggest that up to 200 women and children a day are forced into the world's oldest profession to pay debts or simply to provide an income for their families.
Chand's mother was a prostitute with 16 children living in Japiur's red light area, and the girl -- her family name has been withheld to protect her -- was already a child prostitute when she ran away to eke an existence on the streets aged six.
Ladli outreach workers found her and took her in to the sanctuary that it offers for abused, orphaned and destitute children in the Rajasthan state capital of 2.8 million people, 260 km (160 miles) southwest of Delhi.
"We try to give the children here their lives back," said founder Abha Goswami, 50. "We are giving love to our children. We are giving care to our children."
Goswami, whose mother died when she was just 18 months old and who was orphaned at 16, founded the I-India project in 1993 giving help to 500 of Jaipur's street children.
Three years later it set up the Child Inn boys home and the Ladli girls home and in 2000 it got its two School on Wheels buses touring the streets offering basic reading and writing lessons to children who would otherwise have no education.
Last year some 3,000 children passed through the hands of Goswami and her helpers -- either through the buses or the four homes and one vocational centre -- also called Ladli -- that I-India now operates.
But resources are scarce. The organisation can not offer residential care to more than a handful of children, so the majority go back home or onto the streets every night.
"We have street children, runaways, orphans, children of prostitutes -- often child prostitutes themselves -- and abandoned children from divided families," Goswami said. "But we can't feed everyone in our homes."
Even for Chand, there is the constant threat of her past dragging her back to wreck her future.
"If I saw my family again they would want me back to become a prostitute again to earn money," she said simply.
It is an endless struggle with scant help from the government and the centre heavily reliant on its own fund raising and foreign sponsors of individual projects.
One such project is for the children to make and sell jewellery.
At the moment it is 50 percent funded by a sponsor, but the goal is to make it completely self-sufficient -- and for each piece that is sold some money is put into a bank account for the girls for when they grow up and leave.
The projects are a beacon of light in a country whose economy is booming but where some 35 million of the one billion population are orphans and where around 300 million people are living on less than $1 a day -- of whom 140 million are children.
"Our children are safe here. We feed them and teach them ... We give them skills and hope, so they can make their way and earn a living later in life," Goswami said.
"For just a few dollars a day we can give life back to a child here," she added.


28 March 2008

Childrens rights in India.

The Child Labour Act, bans the employment of children, below 14 years of age in specified occupations and processes which are considered unsafe and harmful to child workers and regulates the conditions of work of children in employment?s where they are not prohibited from working.

It also lays down penalties for employment of children in violation of the provisions of this Act, and other Acts which forbid the employment of children;
The Act extends to the whole of India. The Child Labour Act of 1986 applies to all establishments and workshops wherein any industrial process is carried on (excluding one covered under section 67 of the Factories Act, 1948).

An "establishment" includes a shop, commercial establishment, workshop, farm, residential hotel, and restaurant, eating house, theatre or other place of public amusement or entertainment.

It is a very weak law that is not even enforced.

20 November 2007

Western politicians and idle citizens - China taking action

"I have yet to hear a single politician mention that China is closing down more power stations than it is building" Jonathon Porritt

And there is much more in that particular pipeline too. Unlike our politicians (let alone our citizenry), who really don’t understand the immediacy and the seriousness of the impacts of climate change, China’s politicians absolutely get it. They are already experiencing those impacts, directly and very painfully, in terms of accelerating desertification, reductions in agricultural yields, saline incursion into key groundwater aquifers near the coast, changing patterns of precipitation, increased incidence of storms and droughts. As Dong Weng Jie, director general of the Beijing Climate Centre puts it: “Records for worst-in-a-century rainstorms, droughts and heat waves are being broken more and more often.”

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13 November 2007

Sting operation alleges new evidence of state complicity in Gujarat riots

Tehelka’s expose reveals shocking facts about the 2002 Gujarat riots and the part played by senior politicians and policemen in the state

A national newsmagazine and website has put out fresh evidence of the alleged complicity of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in planning and executing the 2002 Gujarat riots, as well as shielding the perpetrators. The publication’s undercover reporter filmed several high-profile individuals giving accounts of their activities before and during the riots.

On October 25, Tehelka released the contents of ‘Operation Kalank’, which was also carried in its story, ‘The Truth: Gujarat 2002’, to widespread outrage across India and beyond.

www.ndtv.com, June 19, 2007
The Indian Express, June 19, 2007
www.bbcnews.com, June 19, 2007
Reuters, June 18, 2007

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01 November 2007

GUINEA: EU aid back but social problems remain

CONAKRY, 25 December 2006 (IRIN)

The European Union and Guinea signed a deal on Friday to turn the spigot on EU aid for the first time in four years, but transparency and economic issues still dog the country’s creaking post-socialist economy, and the aid will not dent the main concerns of powerful unions that called strikes twice this year.

EU aid to Guinea was frozen in 2002 over concerns about the state of democracy in the poor West African country, and blocked completely after roundly criticised presidential elections in 2003 returned septuagenarian President Lansana Conte to power.

In 2005, the government ended decades of state control over information by setting up independent media outlets and earlier this month founded an independent electoral commission, meeting two of the EU’s main criteria.

On Friday, it was agreed that 117 million euros - the ninth tranche of Guinea’s European Development Fund (EDF) money - will hit Guinea’s accounts next year. A tenth, larger disbursement, depends on Guinea’s meeting the final EU condition by holding “free and fair” legislative elections in spring 2007.

Map of Guinea

"Ninety one percent of this money will go into infrastructure development", Mamady Conde, Guinea’s foreign minister told IRIN, and almost all of that will be ploughed into roads.

"We also attach priority to water and electricity because they are essential to improving the peoples' lives" he said, but added that Spanish and Japanese development assistance would be tapped for those sectors.

Development officials have compared Guinea’s run-down public infrastructure to that found in post-conflict countries. The disintegration of the only road which links Guinea’s second largest city Nzerekore in the remote southeast to Conakry triggered a major protest in the 500,000-strong city in November.

In the capital Conakry, a sprawling palm tree-fringed maze of shacks, gutted buildings and rutted tracks, things are not much better. Electricity is rarely on even in government buildings. Hunger, violent crime, diseases and unemployment are all soaring among ordinary cash-strapped Guineans.

Transparency still a problem

The EU's democracy-tied money will not address the governance problems that diplomats, donors and civil society blame for Guinea’s economy barely registering 2 percent growth this year, despite billions of dollars of investment in the country’s valuable iron and bauxite mines, and for worsening living conditions for the poorest.

“The real priority is to fight corruption and increase the level of governance, then the economy would work better and there would be more money for education and health services,” a senior western diplomat said.

Since March 2005, when the government liberalised its foreign exchange market, the local currency’s value has plummeted, meaning prices for imported goods like rice and textiles have soared. Even small purchases now require armloads of cash.

High global oil prices have contributed to a tripling of pump prices and inflation is still hovering around 31 percent.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2000 offered to drop US $545 million of Guinea’s debt under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. However, the IMF’s offer is tied to the country’s financial management and transparency - conditions which the Fund deems unmet.

“Our objective is to make sure some of the resources flow to the poor,” the IMF’s Guinea representative Alvin Hilaire said.

Strikes could turn nasty

Striking Guineans protesting inflation and high oil prices ground the capital city Conakry to a halt twice in 2006. The main plank of the union’s demands to the country’s government is that energy prices should be cut and inflation curbed.

“An ordinary worker still cannot afford to have an education, or to educate his children, or have running water in his house,” Rabiatou Serah Diallo, secretary-general of the National Federation of Guinean Workers and a mastermind of the strikes, told IRIN in an exclusive interview in late

Rabiatou Serah Diallo, union leader, doesn't rule out more strikes


Rabiatou Serah Diallo, union leader, doesn't rule out more strikes

Union leader Diallo refused to rule out the possibility of more strikes, while other civil society leaders have warned that as the strikes appeal has extended far beyond union members, there is a risk the movement could easily spiral out of control.

A strike in November 2005 turned violent when protestors clashed with security forces and smashed up cars and taxis. Then in June 2006, the government confirmed 11 dead across the country after strike-related clashes between college students and police. International human rights groups put the toll at between 13 and 21 dead.

“The corruption and failure of public services we see in Guinea now looks very much like what we saw in the pre-conflict period in Liberia and Sierra Leone,” warned the Conakry-based secretary general of the Mano River Union regional organisation, Aliou Diallo.

“If the government continues to ignore civil society, it is completely plausible that there will be an uncontrollable uprising because everyone agrees this situation cannot go on.”

Diplomats say another question mark hangs over how the government and the military will orchestrate a transition when the ageing and ailing Conte dies.

“Other countries have come undone over far less,” a second western diplomat in Conakry told IRIN last month. “Guinea is a country on the brink, but of what we are not sure.”

GUINEA: Civil society crystallising around unions

Guinea is one of just 34 countries in the world with life expectancy less than 49 despite vast natural wealth

CONAKRY, 11 January 2007 (IRIN)

Guineans in the capital Conakry have already shuttered their shops and stayed home twice in the past year for citywide strikes, but a third, more ambitious indefinite national strike underway this week is proving a strength and unity among Guinea's civil society not seen since independence.

"There's really a growing solidarity among the movement now, it's becoming more like a social movement and the strength of civil society is really showing itself," Elisabeth Cote, Guinea representative of the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) said on Thursday, the second day of the strike.

The strikes in March and June last year and again this week were organised by the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) and the Guinean Workers Union (USTG), two formerly rival unions that united in 2005 to protest 30 percent inflation, tripling fuel prices and worsening standards of living for ordinary Guineans.

After last year's strikes, opposition political parties and other civil society members complained that if they had been consulted by the unions beforehand they could have contributed support and weight.

This time, two non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the National Council of Civil Society Organisations, an umbrella group for NGOs, and the Civic Alliance, a new grouping with branches nationwide, have coordinated with the unions. They plan to hold demonstrations calling for "a return to the rule of law" in the wake of persistent human rights abuses and impunity on and after 15 January, despite a government ban on demonstrations issued on Tuesday night.

Both Guinea's main political opposition parties, the Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) and Union of Republican Forces (UFR), have also thrown their support behind the unions and called for their members to follow a campaign of civil disobedience, also from 15 January onwards.

"We have supported the unions that have taken all the responsibility for saving the republic and have given the word ordering the general unlimited strike. We call on our members not to wait with their arms crossed," Sidya Toure, president of the UFR, said on Tuesday.

Leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and the city's mosques, and the two NGO alliances, met with Guinea's First Lady Henriette Conte on Wednesday to present a proposed exit strategy from the strike. President Conte is in his 70s and is said to rarely make public appearances or attend meetings.

"While there is a hard dividing line between what are considered unions, political parties and civil society as far as Guineans are concerned, there is definitely a dialogue or a conversation happening at all levels, and that is as true now as prior to the strike," a senior Western diplomat in Conakry said.

Representatives of the unions, political opposition and civil society have also been meeting a military committee set up after the June strike to avoid repeats of clashes between students and riot police when 11 youths were shot and dozens injured. The civil-military committee does not include any members of the government. There have been no reports of fighting between civilians and state security services anywhere in Guinea this week, although soldiers are maintaining a heavy presence in Conakry.

The union-led movement is able to unite Guinea's previously weak and fractured civil society because Guineans perceive it as more legitimate than the political opposition, Mike McGovern, a Guinea expert at Yale University said. "The opposition parties have shown themselves intent on capturing power but have not presented a credible programme showing how they would govern differently to the government in place."

"When people say politics in Guinea it means dirty politics, where the game is to come out on top, but the unions are talking about the wider field of politics in which social, economic and cultural factors come into it," McGovern said. "[The unions] are talking about people's life chances, so when they say they are only concerned with people's well-being, that's tremendously powerful."

Guinea's unions are seen as symbolically important because of their key role in ending colonisation in Guinea and installing the country's first post-independence president, former union leader Sekou Toure in 1960, although Toure went on to break up and then ban the unions because they threatened his heavy-handed one-party rule.

After Toure died in 1984 and Conte took power, unions and opposition parties were nominally reauthorised, but it was not until 2004 when the unions started agitating for improved standards of living and stabilisation of Guinea's runaway economy that they won support from beyond their traditional bases.

The ruling Party of Unity and Progress (PUP) party has nonetheless accused union leaders of moving beyond their social mandate to adopt political goals, and of being backed by opposition political parties.

"Behind these unions are the opposition parties that do not want peace in this country," Sekou Konate, secretary general of the PUP said on Tuesday. He pointed to a new demand this week by the unions that a prominent businessman accused of corruption, who has ties to President Conte, be imprisoned, and the transport minister be removed as evidence of politicisation.

Ibrahima Fofana, secretary general of the USTG, dismissed the accusation of politicisation but said it is impossible to talk about the economic and social problems in the country without criticising the nation’s leaders. "All the country is tired of this regime that has shown its incapability at every level in the course of the last years," he said on Wednesday evening.

Guinea has some of the richest seams of gold, iron and bauxite in Africa, as well as thousands of kilometres of fertile land and vast water sources but Conte, an eccentric military colonel known for his love of fast cars and cigarettes, has failed to translate the vast natural wealth into either improved employment, income or life expectancy for the majority.

Although he is credited with overturning Toure's authoritarian regime and improving human rights, elections returning him to power have been widely discredited and the country has been deemed among the most corrupt in the world.

"If the strike goes on longer than one week the economic and political consequences are going to be felt," McGovern predicted. "The condition for the strike going forward is that people have little to lose. Staying home, not working or collecting a paycheque is inconsequential given the lack of purchasing power. The longer it goes on, the more cards are in the hand of the unions."

GUINEA: Conte mulling union ultimatum as security forces crack down

CONAKRY, 15 January 2007 (IRIN)

After a day of violence during which security forces clashed with protestors in several Conakry suburbs, union leaders on Monday evening presented Guinean President Lansana Conte with an ultimatum to either reform his government or face mass nationwide demonstrations.

The National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) and the Guinean Workers Union (USTG), which last Wednesday called an indefinite and widely observed national strike, met with Conte on Monday night and demanded he hand over all his presidential powers, name a new prime minister, and authorise that person to name a new government, according to a senior union leader who attended the meeting.

The unions said the new candidate should not come from the military, which is still effectively headed by Conte, a former colonel now in his 70’s who seized power in 1984 in a coup.

“We asked the president to nominate a new prime minister and give him power to run the country because we now know the president’s health has deteriorated and he is no longer in charge of the day to day administration of the state,” said the union official, who requested anonymity.

The ultimatum marks a serious turn in the small, impoverished country led by Conte, one of the region’s longest-serving rulers. Regional analysts and civil society in Guinea have been warning since 2005 that Guinea’s spiralling national economy, growing inequality and rampant corruption have put the nation on the brink of the same kind of institutional failure and factionalism that plunged its neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone into conflict in the 1990s.

Ibrahima Fofana, secretary general of the USTG, confirmed later on Monday that the union had demanded that Conte change the government and warned the unions would mobilise widespread protests if Conte refuses to act by Tuesday.

“If the president doesn’t respect the proposition, he is inviting a general movement and we will invite all Guineans to actively participate in demonstrations,” Fofana said.

The unions’ demand and ultimatum marks a significant shift from their policy in two other strikes in the capital, Conakry, last year of backing away from calling for protests. The unions have won support throughout Guinea, and the strike action has shut down almost all business and activity in most towns and cities.

Day of clashes

The union ultimatum follows a day of clashes between Guineans and state security services in some of Conakry’s poorest suburbs.

Intermittent automatic weapons fire was heard in the Matoto, Hambaleye, Koloma and Bambeto Cosa districts of Conakry from around 10 AM onwards after armed police, gendarmes and the Guinean military moved in to fight stone throwing youths who had set up makeshift barricades of burning tyres.

Fighting had died down by midday but there were dozens of tear gas canisters, bullet casings and stones littering the streets after the clashes. There were no reports of dead or wounded, and witnesses said the police were mostly shooting above the heads of people in the crowds.

Local residents nonetheless accused the gendarmes and police of using excessive force, breaking into houses and stealing food, money and mobile phones. “The military came, they beat me, destroyed my house and threw all my food on the floor,” said Marian Silla from the Koloma district.

The police commissariat in Conakry refused to comment on the accusations of excessive force on Monday afternoon.

Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), warned the Guinean security forces still have a “culture of impunity” which led to widespread looting and attacks on civilians during similar operations in Conakry last year. HRW has accused the state security services of committing rapes during those operations but there were no reports of sexual assaults on Monday.

“There have been several incidents over the last several years in which the security forces have killed demonstrators and also gone into neighbourhoods during civil disturbances and perpetrated crimes themselves. There is a real culture of impunity, so we are urging the police to act within the law and to use restraint,” Dufka said.

Violence was also reported in the Matoto and Hamdalaye suburbs on 10 January, the first day of the strike. Then too, barricades of burning tyres were set up, and security officers were brought in.

Several of Conakry’s suburbs have effectively become no-go areas for police and most Guineans. Ruled by armed gangs, the level of violence, including with guns, have led locals to dub the run-down districts “The Gulf” and “Baghdad” after war-zones in the Middle East.

Civil society under fire

Leaders of Guinea’s political opposition called last week for a campaign of peaceful civil opposition to start on Monday, backed by the unions, and two NGOs had also planned to hold peaceful protests in Conakry despite a government order against demonstrations. The ensuing violent protests on Monday were not backed by any of the strike coordinators or unions.

On Sunday, police briefly arrested 12 members of the National Council of Civil Society Organisations (CNOSCG) youth organisation, one of the groups that had planned the peaceful protest. CNOSCG members said the 12 were discovered making placards to carry. Organisers subsequently cancelled Monday’s peaceful demonstration, which had been expected to take the form of a prayer meeting.

At least another 80 people from throughout Conakry were arrested on Sunday, diplomatic sources said. IRIN correspondents there saw three military trucks of prisoners being driven away from the Bamboto district on Monday morning.

“Everyone who was arrested overstepped the bounds of the strike because they attacked the police and tried to break into shops. They will face justice,” said a police official who identified himself as Superintendant Mansare on Guinean national radio on Monday afternoon.

Guinea’s unions have called the strikes to protest what they say is a rising cost of living and growing hardship among ordinary Guineans as inflation has topped 30 percent, fuel prices have tripled, and basic road, water and communications infrastructure has crumbled.

The country achieved just two percent growth last year despite having extensive reserves of precious metals and growing foreign investment. It is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world, according to international corruption monitoring groups.

In two strikes last year, the unions called for the government to take action to curb the cost of living and stabilise the economy, as well as to raise the minimum wage. Union leaders say they called off the strikes after promises from the government that were not honoured.

In this latest strike the unions have explicitly linked the country’s economic decline to its leadership and said they will not stand down until their demands are met.

GUINEA: Strike violence spreads nationwide

CONAKRY, 17 January 2007 (IRIN)

At least three people were killed in demonstrations against Guinean president Lansana Conte that rocked Conakry and several provincial towns on Wednesday, and a late evening meeting between strike leaders and the president failed to bring an end to the crisis.

Guinea’s powerful unions called a nationwide strike a week ago. Union leaders said they orchestrated Wednesday’s march because Conte "ignored" a written demand delivered on Monday that he retire the current cabinet and appoint a new prime minister to take over all his presidential powers.

A meeting late on Wednesday between union leaders and president Conte ended acrimoniously, according to Rabiatou Serah Diallo, head of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) union. "He threatened to have us killed if we didn't call the strike off," she said. Click here for her exclusive interview with IRIN

On Wednesday evening, a banner reading “End the Conte regime, we want change” was still hanging in Kaloum, Conakry’s government district, after peaceful protests there in the morning that turned violent when riot police broke up the crowds with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

One demonstrator died of gunshot wounds, and at least six others were critically injured in demonstrations in Kaloum that continued throughout the day, witnesses and Conakry-based diplomats said. One man was also shot dead during separate clashes in the lawless Bambeta Cosa suburb of Conakry, residents said.

Marches in the provincial towns Mamou, Kankan, Fria, Nzerekore, Pita, Labe and Kindia were also broken up by armed police. In Labe, 250 km northeast of Conakry, demonstrators sacked government offices, and one was killed, according to residents.

Speaking on Guinean national radio, police superintendent Mansou Mansare denied that the security services were responsible for the deaths and said they were there to "protect the marchers".

Previous skirmishes in Conakry between youths and police have been confined to the sprawling city’s remote suburbs, mostly Matoto and Bambeta Cosa, and none has reached the centre before. There were no demonstrations in the city centre during two city-wide strikes last year.

The unions accuse Conte of having presided over the mismanagement of the mineral rich but impoverished country’s economy, and allege the aging president is now too sick to deal with the country’s chronic problems, a claim backed by foreign observers.

In a statement read on state television on Tuesday evening, Conte said he needed more time to consider the union’s demands that he change the government, but did offer to cut the cost of fuel and to force foreign mining companies to keep their revenues in the country.

“The solution to the strike is in the hands of President Conte and the institutions of the Republic,” Rabiatou Serah Diallo, secretary general of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) union said on Wednesday, before the meeting with Conte. “We will continue the fight until our demands have been met satisfactorily.”

Conte seized power in a coup in 1984 and has been returned to power in successive elections since 1993 that have been widely criticised by the international community.

Donors and human rights groups feted the growing strength of civil society's opposition to Conte’s regime while protests were peaceful, but warn that civil strife in Guinea could threaten progress made in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone which both experienced devastating civil wars until 2003, dragging the region back into war.

GUINEA: Union leader vows to fight on

CONAKRY, 17 January 2007 (IRIN)

In an exclusive interview, Rabiatou Serah Diallo, leader of one of two main unions behind Guinea’s strikes, told IRIN that a march on Wednesday that turned violent was supposed to be peaceful, and blamed the security forces for instigating the violence, but said the unions will not back down.

Guinea’s two largest unions, the Guinean Workers Union (USTG) and the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG), of which Diallo is secretary general, launched a widely observed nationwide strike in Guinea last Wednesday.Click here for news of situation in Conakry

Veering away from their previous demands that the government improve living conditions for ordinary Guineans, the unions last week explicitly linked the country’s economic problems to its leadership.

On Monday Diallo and her USTG counterpart Ibrahima Fofana delivered an ultimatum to President Conte to reform his government and relinquish his powers, but on Tuesday in a message delivered by the president of the National Assembly, Conte asked for more time to consider.

On Wednesday three people were killed and at least six injured by security forces in demonstrations in Conakry and seven provincial towns. A subsequent meeting between Diallo, Fofana and President Conte failed to draw a line under the strikes.

IRIN: Why did you call for the march on Wednesday?

DIALLO: “We organised it because we are convinced that the message delivered yesterday evening by the president of the National Assembly did not come directly from President Conte. We do not have confidence because the head of state told us that he would study the document and would respond personally to the proposals.”

IRIN: What happened that made the march turn violent?

DIALLO: “We marched until we saw a tank and military trucks ahead of us. We were very satisfied because we had a well-attended and pacific march. But I believe that the security forces got the order to fire on us. They opened fire and launched tear gas.”

IRIN: What other incidents did you experience on the march?

DIALLO: “We returned to the union headquarters where we had the impression that a crowd was waiting for us. We were suprised to see riot police firing at the crowd with rubber bullets. They were shooting and breaking windows until we were inside the building. Everything is broken there.”

IRIN: What will you do next?

DIALLO: “The solution to this strike is in the hands of President Conte and the institutions of the Republic. We have made our proposition. It is up to President Conte to take us seriously, because we say [he] is incapable of leading the country because of his sickness. We will continue to fight until the total satisfaction of our points. The movement continues around the country.”

GUINEA: Unprecedented violence hits capital and provinces

CONAKRY, 22 January 2007 (IRIN)

Security forces shot dead at least 20 people on Monday as tens of thousands of Guineans turned out to demonstrate against President Lansana Conte in the biggest nationwide show of discontent in his 23-year rule.

In the capital, Conakry, violent clashes between protestors and the Guinean army were reported in most of the sprawling city’s suburbs, with protestors “pouring” into main city streets from as far as 20km outside the city centre, witnesses said. Eleven corpses with gunshot wounds were admitted to one city morgue, and six others to morgues elsewhere, hospital staff told IRIN. Three other people were reported killed in the often violent suburb of Hambaleye.

In the far-eastern town of Kankan, observers estimated that 20,000 people began marching in the morning, but three hours of violence ensued after the army started shooting into the unarmed and largely peaceful crowd. At least three people were critically injured, but casualties could not be confirmed as shooting was still ongoing, residents said.

In Kissidougou, local residents also reported a peaceful demonstration in the morning, which by mid-afternoon had been broken up by the army. Residents said soldiers were chasing unarmed protestors through the town streets and shooting into crowds.

Demonstrations and shooting by the army were also reported in the towns of Labe, Pita, and Dabola. The restive southeastern city of Nzerekore, where residents say three people were shot and at least 21 wounded in protests over the weekend, remained calm on Monday.

“These were huge crowds and it wasn’t like other days when it was more like gangs. This time it was normal families, women, teenagers, heads of family marching. It was a vast crowd,” a resident in Kankan said.

“There were different groups around the city that started marching towards the government buildings,” he said. “Then the military came and started shooting randomly. There were bullets going everywhere.”

Guinea is now in the 13th day of an “indefinite” strike called by the country’s powerful trade unions to protest the rising cost of living, which they say is caused by economic mismanagement and corruption at the highest levels of government.

Leaders of the trade unions behind the strike warned on Monday afternoon that they have “lost control” of the movement.

“The unions cannot control certain movements organised by associations that we do not know about,” Boubacar Biro Barry, negotiator for the trade unions, told IRIN.

Several youth members of the Guinean Workers Union (USTG) and the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) were arrested on Monday afternoon, and the union headquarters was sacked by an army unit led by President Conte’s son, Army Capt. Ousmane Conte, union staff told IRIN.

Union leaders, who were last week threatened by Conte in an acrimonious meeting that failed to end the strike, could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon, but Barry said talks with the government are “on hold” until the army stops shooting protestors.

The unions have accused septuagenarian President Conte, a former army colonel who seized power in a coup in 1984, of being too ill to manage the country, and called on him to retire his government and hand over all his powers to a new prime minister.

Conte has refused to relinquish his powers, but has resigned the country’s current prime minister and offered some concessions to the strike-leaders.

On Friday, West African heads of state at a meeting of the regional ECOWAS grouping called for calm, and proposed sending a high-level delegation to Conakry to meet President Conte.

GUINEA: More trouble in Guinea could shake region

CONAKRY, 23 January 2007 (IRIN)

Guinea's long borders and central position mean analysts view it as a regional lynchpin, saying serious domestic instability could easily spill over, ending tenuous progress towards the consolidation of peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which both experienced devastating civil wars in the 1990s.

Bram Posthumus, an independent West Africa analyst with 10 years of experience studying Guinea, said although he does not believe enough of a critical mass of demonstrators has been reached to seriously threaten the Guinean government, which is reinforced with a thus-far loyal 8,000 strong army, he does think Monday’s uprising marks a major change in the country’s mindset.

“What these strikes tell me is that people in Guinea have been tipped over the edge. The strike will continue,” Posthumus predicted. He said it “remains to be seen” how much Monday’s violent response from the government has affected people.

“People have been scared [of the government] for a long time, and for them to go out on the street like this is an enormous change in attitude,” he said.

West Africa expert Mike McGovern at Yale University attributes the country’s previous stability to its socialist past, which he said bequeathed a sense of “Guinea first” among the half-dozen ethnic groups there. He said decades of ruthless dictatorship in the 26 years after independence from France in 1958 drummed popular protest out of the national psyche.

However, McGovern also said in an interview on Friday that Guineans have reached a breaking point. “People seem to be recognising if thousands of people face hundreds or dozens of security forces, even if a few people die they have the capability to take power into their own hands,” McGovern said.

Posthumus said it is Guinea’s army, not the people, that will decide whether Conte stays in power or goes. “If they say they’re not prepared to keep supporting a corrupt government then that might be the tipping point,” Posthumus said. “The army is the only agency able to decide.”

Monday was the bloodiest day in over a decade in Guinea and was the first time people have risen up in such numbers against Conte. Rough estimates put 30,000 people on the streets in Conakry, and tens of thousands of others in towns across the country.
The day’s death toll meant at least 45 people have been killed during protests and riots in Conakry and provincial towns since the strike began, according to witnesses and hospital sources.

Apart from eruptions of violence in 1977 when market women briefly protested in Conakry, and in 1991 when some 1,000 people were killed in 36 hours of inter-communal violence during mayoral elections, Guinea has previously been spared the internal instability and conflict that have dogged its neighbours in the Mano River region: Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

On Tuesday, soldiers quickly quashed early morning protests in Conakry’s restive suburbs, after which light traffic circulated in the city amid heavy army patrols, IRIN correspondents said.

Shops, including those in the country’s vast informal sector, schools, and government offices remained shut as part of the “indefinite” nationwide strike, called by the country’s powerful unions to protest the rising cost of living, which union leaders blame on government mismanagement and corruption.

Ibrahima Fofana, leader of the Guinean Workers Union, who said he was arrested and beaten on Monday, told IRIN on Tuesday that the strike would go on, and unions were sticking to their demand that President Lansana Conte hand over all his powers to a newly appointed prime minister.

“The strike will continue until the final victory. Almost no solutions have been found to the problems we have posed,” he said. Union leaders entered a meeting with Conte at 6pm on Tuesday.

GUINEA: Strike suspended again

CONAKRY, 29 January 2007 (IRIN)

Shops opened for business and Guineans returned to work on Monday after President Lansana Conte apparently agreed to weaken his grip on power and union leaders subsequently suspended an unprecedented 18-day nationwide strike.

After three days of talks with union leaders and civil society, Conte agreed on Saturday to sign over some of his authority to an as-yet unnamed “consensus” prime minister, who should be agreed on by union, business, religious and civil society leaders, union leaders said.

Conte also pledged to stop food exports to help shore up Guinea’s provisions, and to work to combat corruption, according to a “final declaration” signed by the unions and Conte. The president also said he would cut the cost of rice and petrol - promises he also made to end two previous strikes in February and June last year.

The naming of a new prime minister with the power to control the government was a key demand of the unions. They blame Guinea’s downward spiral on Conte’s failing health and inability to manage affairs of state.

The new prime minister must be in high standing and “not have been implicated in the embezzlement which has brought the country to chaos,” Ibrahima Fofana, secretary general of the Guinean Workers Union (USTG) said. Fofana said the strike was a “success” because it showed that Guineans are a “social force capable of changing the regime”.

The unions’ populist platform has won backing from far beyond their traditional bases. By speaking about the issues affecting ordinary Guineans, the majority of whom live in poverty despite Guinea's vast natural wealth, the unions won far more support than the traditional political opposition.

Guinea’s Health Ministry said at least 59 people were killed during the strike, with more than half shot by security forces during large protest marches in various parts of the country on 22 January.

Regional political analysts attached some significance to the scale of the anti-Conte demonstrations, saying an often brutal post-independence history had left most Guineans unwilling to participate in mass protests. However, with crowds never larger than 30,000 in Conakry, a city of over six million people, and the continued loyalty of the military, Conte's regime was never seen as being seriously threatened.

GUINEA: Emergency funds needed as more violence looms

CONAKRY, 7 February 2007 (IRIN)

Union leaders in Guinea are threatening to call another nationwide strike starting next Monday, but emergency relief agencies say the country is ill-prepared for a round of violence similar to one last month and urgently needs $4m in emergency assistance.

“Guinea is heading for another strike because nothing has been done by President [Lansana] Conte toward naming a new prime minister,” Ibrahima Fofana, head of the Guinean Workers Union (USTG), told IRIN on Tuesday. “Our patience has limits.”

He said Monday was Conte’s deadline.

Unions suspended their last 18-day national strike on 29 January after Conte, an aging autocrat, agreed to devolve some of his powers to a new independent prime minister.

If a new strike is called, youths interviewed by IRIN in Conakry’s suburbs said they would be ready to take on security forces as they did during the January strike. That violence left at least 51 people dead and 1,400 injured across the country, according to the Guinean National Health Crisis Committee.

Alpha Ousmane Diakite, a mechanic in the Hamdallaye district of Conakry, said on Tuesday that the security forces “do not scare any young Guinean”.

“We have decided to protest next Monday. If Conte wants to stay in power, he has five days to name a new prime minister,” he said.

Emergency needs

The United Nation’s humanitarian coordination agency (OCHA) in Conakry told IRIN it appealed within the “rapid response” window of the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) on Tuesday for US$2.7 million, to fund stockpiles of blood, trauma kits, medical supplies, communications equipment, and the Humanitarian Air Service (HAS).

OCHA said an additional $2 million needs to be committed by other donors for the additional supplies. The money would also go towards providing relief for over 600 of the people wounded in last month’s clashes, including securing legal services for some of the people allegedly shot by state security services.

Georg Cunz, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Guinea, said the country’s national health services are “in an appalling situation”, and the country’s needs are “enormous” if it is to cope just with the fallout from last month’s violence. He warned about the impact of more fighting.

“Everything depends on how the situation evolves next week,” Cunz said on Wednesday. “We have a stock of material for war wounded which would allow for the hospitalisation and treatment of several hundred people, but not much more.”

Other agencies contributed to emergency relief during and after last month’s violence. They included the World Health Organisation, the UN children’s agency, the World Food Programme, and the nongovernmental organisations Terre des Hommes and Mèdecins Sans Frontiéres.

Analysts have warned that persistent violence in Guinea could easily spill over into its neighbours Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, threatening relative stability there.

However, OCHA said last week that its missions to the Guinean border with Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire had found no population movements over the border during the last strike.

GUINEA: New clashes follow PM appointment

CONAKRY, 11 February 2007 (IRIN)

Mobs burned police stations, looted warehouses and attacked the homes of government ministers in Guinea on Saturday to protest President Lansana Conte’s choice of prime minister.

At least four people were confirmed dead and scores injured during riots in the capital, Conakry, and several other towns around the country.

The violence is the latest sign of deepening discontent over the rule of autocratic President Lansana Conte, who has ruled the resource-rich but revenue-poor country for the past 23 years.

Conte, who refused to step down in the face of a crippling 18-day strike last month, announced late on Friday that he would appoint his chief of staff, Eugene Camara, as premier.

Demonstrators say Camara is too close an ally to the president and is not the independent candidate Conte promised when he negotiated an end to last month’s strike. Security forces shot at least 59 people dead during those protests.

Some of the worst violence on Saturday happened when stone-throwing rioters attacked a convoy they believed to be carrying Conte. His presidential guard fired into the crowd, killing three and wounding at least 20 others, according to an IRIN correspondent who witnessed the shooting.

Residents in Conakry's sprawling suburbs also reported extensive looting of shops and rice warehouses. Mobs of stone-throwing youths smashed windows, threw garbage into the streets and set up roadblocks with burning tyres before clashing with armed police.

Protesters also looted private residences belonging to Guinean government ministers in Conakry and Segre in the remote northeast. A mansion in Conakry that belongs to Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, a close ally of President Conte, was also looted, IRIN correspondents reported.

Rioters also burned houses and offices belonging to local officials in Nzerekore, 1,000km southeast of Conakry, and in Labe in the centre of the country.

Two police stations and two petrol stations in Conakry were burned during Saturday's violence.

Clashes between civilians and police were also reported in Kankan, 500km
east of Conakry, and unconfirmed reports said at least one Guinean soldier was burned alive. Protesters also attacked the city jail and released prisoners.

Clashes were also reported by residents in Kissidougou in the Forest Region, Faranah, 300km east of Conakry, and Kindia, 100km north.

On Friday, before Conte's announcement, clashes between anti-government protestors and police were also reported in Koyah in the west and Duinguiraye, 400km north of Conakry.

On Sunday a tense calm had returned to the capital but new demonstrations were reported in Kankan.

Union leader Ibrahima Fofana of the Guinean Workers Union (CSTG), one of the unions behind last month's strike, told IRIN the union was calling for a new strike starting on Monday, although the weekend's violence had already ground most of the country to a halt as people sheltered at home from the violence.

But Bama Maddou, spokesman for a coalition of 14 opposition political parties, said it is too late to talk about a strike.

"This is not a strike," he said. "This is an insurrection against Conte. The people are demanding his resignation."

Communications infrastructure is poor in Guinea and hospitals are so under-stocked and expensive that most people prefer to treat wounded and dead at home.

The United Nations last week appealed for US$4.7 million in emergency aid to stock hospitals with blood, trauma kits and oxygen to prepare for what diplomats and aid workers in Conakry expect to be an unpredictable and unstable period in Guinea.

GUINEA: Strike resumes, violence steps up

CONAKRY, 12 February 2007 (IRIN)

Mobs looted guns from police stations in Conakry over the weekend and began blocking roads and battling riot police and soldiers in various suburbs around the capital Conakry. The groups set up dozens more roadblocks on Monday and continued running battles with security forces.

Groups have also been seen attacking cars and passers-by, IRIN correspondents in Conakry said. Shops are being looted and residents in various suburbs said their houses were being broken into.

The latest fighting comes on the first day of a resumed general strike, after President Lansana Conte failed to meet demands to appoint a prime minister who did not come from his inner circle. The previous strike was suspended on 29 January after at least 59 people were shot dead in 18 days of anti-government protests in towns and cities throughout the country.

On Monday the headquarters of Liberte FM, one of two independent radio stations in the country, was ransacked by soldiers wearing red berets which identify them as members of the presidential guard. The station went off the air by mid-morning.

Then, around midday, shots were heard from inside the main army barracks in Conakry. Soldiers were demanding salary payments and promotions, senior army officials told IRIN. The matter was quickly settled after President Lansana Conte issued an edict promoting every soldier in the country by one grade.

In riots over the weekend, the houses of at least two government ministers were looted, as were the offices and houses of local officials in the regional capitals of Nzerekore in the southeast and Labe in the country’s centre. In the regional capital of Kankan, in the east, which saw some of the largest demonstrations and worst violence outside Conakry in January, protestors fought police on Saturday and broke open the city jail.

The violence and lawlessness is unprecedented in Guinea’s recent history. Regional analysts had considered the country to be politically stable with a security force that was so repressive that Guineans would rarely make public protests.

However, union leaders started calling strikes around a year ago to protest skyrocketing inflation and plummeting standards of living.

GUINEA: Martial law hindering help for wounded

CONAKRY, 13 February 2007 (IRIN)

Guinean President Lansana Conte imposed martial law in Guinea on Monday effectively blocking the few emergency agencies that were working to treat people wounded during one of the worst days of violence.

The Guinean Red Cross, which had been running the only ambulance service in the country during violent protests in January and in the last three days, is now grounded by the curfew, Georg Cunz, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Guinea said on Tuesday.

“We are not able to operate today,” said Cunz. “We are in negotiations with the army to try and get freedom of movement, but they have not yet agreed. We are all at home trying to find out what’s happening,” he said.

Cunz said 15 ICRC and Guinea Red Cross ambulances worked throughout the day in Conakry on Monday transporting hundreds of wounded to the city’s dilapidated hospitals.

The Guinea Red Cross also operates in all 33 of Guinea’s provinces.

Following the widespread looting and fighting on Monday, Conte made an address on national radio on Monday evening, saying those protestors calling for his resignation were, “sending Guinea into civil war”.

He said the army would impose a strict curfew and that civilians would only be allowed to leave their houses between 4pm and 8pm. The military would also take control of all internal security, which is normally under the control of the police and gendarmerie, Conte said.

On Tuesday most of the streets in the capital Conakry and other towns were empty except for a heavy military presence. However in the morning there were some reports of clashes between youths and soldiers in some suburbs of Conakry, and later in the day in the provincial capital Labe in the centre of the country.

During the fighting on Monday, 245 wounded people arrived at Donka Hospital in Conakry, staff told IRIN. Media reports estimate that at least 20 people had been killed during the day.

Marie Jeanne Hautbois, head of the NGO Terres des Hommes, which is working to support Guinean staff at Donka, said conditions at the hospital are difficult but functional.

“The main problem is that most staff live in the suburbs and it’s very difficult for them to come to work now,” Hautbois said.

“The situation is difficult but the medical teams gained a lot of experience during last month’s violence and have made preparations to organise themselves,” Hautbois added.

However conditions in smaller hospitals in Conakry and elsewhere in the country could be worse, she said.

Guinea’s hospitals are so run down that Guineans usually rely on their families to bring them food and to shop for drugs and even the surgical equipment doctors need to treat them. Family members are often called on to donate blood for their relatives.

Many of the wounded at Donka came unaccompanied and are being treated with medical kits and supplies relief organizations provided during and after January’s violence, Hautbois said.

Also on Tuesday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that 550 metric tonnes of food worth more than US $350,000 was looted on Saturday and Monday from WFP warehouses in Labe and Kankan, and the WFP’s representative in Kankan had been evacuated to Mali after stone-throwing youths attacked the WFP compound.

The agency had suspended its operations in Guinea the week earlier, a WFP statement said.

The US Embassy flew a plane with 25 non-essential embassy staff and expatriates from Conakry to Dakar on Tuesday, but in a public alert to its citizens resident in Guinea said it was not conducting an evacuation.

GUINEA: Life means terror in army-run Conakry

CONAKRY, 16 February 2007 (IRIN) - “The boss made reference to President Lansana Conte and gave us the order to shoot anyone provocative, so whoever provokes me, I will shoot him without any hesitation,” said a Kalashnikov-toting soldier in the main street outside the Donka hospital in central Conakry on Thursday, who refused to give his name.

The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday security forces have killed at least 22 people using this justification since last weekend.

Of those, HRW said at least one was killed since President Conte imposed 10 days of martial law on Monday night, although news reports have recorded nine people killed around the country since then.

In addition to the HRW count, IRIN has confirmed that a seven year-old girl, Aicha Diallo, was shot and killed during random shooting by uniformed soldiers in the Taouyah suburb of Conakry on Thursday. CLICK to read Aicha Diallo’s story

Guineans say uniformed soldiers have also been looting, raping and beating people at random in most of the sprawling city’s suburbs.

Violence erupted in Conakry and in towns across Guinea on Saturday after President Conte announced on Friday evening he would appoint a man seen as his close ally to the prime minister post, a position populist unions now leading calls for his resignation say he promised to an independent candidate.

Most areas of Conakry are calm since the army took over, although demonstrations have been reported in the towns Banankoro in the south and Labe in the centre of the country.


Guineans struggling to live in Conakry, the rundown capital, where they are only allowed out of their houses between noon and 6pm, say ‘provocations’ can include staring, wearing a desirable pair of shoes, or simply being in the wrong place when the jeeps of soldiers careering around the city start shooting their guns in the air.

Photo: Pierre Holtz/IRIN
Conakry is a sprawling maze of tin shacks and dirt roads

Alseny Bah, 21, was leaving his house in the maze of alleyways in the Petit Lac areaof Taouyah district in the north of Conakry on Thursday, looking for an open kiosk to buy food.

"When I left the house, a soldier saw me straight away. I ran away but he trapped me in a corner and beat me with his fists. When I fell down he went through my pockets,” Bah said on Thursday.

Bah lost his cell phone, and the equivalent of US $8 in cash. The soldier even took his worn Nike running shoes.

Shot hiding in the closet

In the Hafea district in the east of the city, Aminata, 30, didn’t even leave her house but still got caught up in the violence, according to her sister, who gave her name as Djenadob.

“We heard trucks pulling up outside and shouting, then shooting started,” Djenadob said. The girls hid inside their wardrobe, but when the shooting stopped Aminata was slumped, bleeding.

Neighbours said later the soldiers were shooting into the air as a warning to people not to come outside. One of the bullets pierced the flimsy tin walls of the sisters’ shack and clipped Aminata.

The family borrowed a neighbour’s car and risked the long drive to the city’s only functioning hospital. Aminata’s condition later was unclear.

Stoned, raped

At the Donka hospital, the mother of a young boy who was hit in the head with a rock thrown by soldiers on Wednesday says he has not eaten or spoken since the attack.

“The soldier was going to shoot him but his colleague stopped him, so he threw a rock instead and it cracked his head,” she said.

In its statement on Friday, HRW said at least three women living in Conakry’s suburbs have been raped by uniformed personnel, including soldiers and presidential guardsmen.

“At least one victim was reportedly gang-raped,” the statement said.

“People in the suburbs are terrified because they say the soldiers are going to come in and ‘kill and rape us and send red berets into our homes’,” said HRW researcher Dustin Sharp who was in Conakry until Thursday.

Culture of impunity

Guineans say they are far more afraid of the army than the regular police or gendarmes.

“It’s the army that kills,” said a 33-year-old journalist, who did not want to be named. “We have much more reason to fear them than the police or gendarmes.”

HRW has previously accused the Guinean security services of torture and murder and said there is a “culture of impunity” compounded by a weak judicial system.

The army chief-of-staff, Gen Kerfalla Camara, told journalists in Conakry on Friday that a commission has been set up to look into allegations of army abuse.

But Sharp said no Guinean security personnel have ever been prosecuted for serious crimes, including the shooting of 13 unarmed students during a strike in June last year.

Despite the unrest, Sharp said many people he met in Conakry still wanted to demand Conte’s resignation when martial law is lifted.

“It’s an open question to what extent the resistance has been broken,” Sharp said.

Civil society leaders are due to sit down with the military on Saturday to start negotiations to end the crisis.

GUINEA- Aboubacar Diallo “I buried my seven-year-old niece this morning”

February 2007 (IRIN) CONAKRY,

Aboubacar Diallo says his seven-year-old niece, Aicha, was shot and killed by uniformed soldiers shooting randomly in the Taouyah suburb of Conakry on Thursday night. The girl made it to hospital, but died because blood and medicines were not available. She was buried without a ceremony on Friday morning.

Conakry and other towns have been under martial law since President Lansana Conte called in the army on Monday to end days of rioting and looting by youths demanding his resignation. Residents say the army is spreading terror by robbing and raping residents in the suburbs, and shooting in the air and at people.

“Last night after the start of the curfew at 8pm soldiers came into the district and started shooting into the air to warn people not to come out. They are doing that in all the areas where there was rioting before, shooting into the air to announce the start of the curfew.”

“One of the bullets came through the wall and hit Aicha, who was lying in her bed. The bullet hit her in the head.”

“She was unconscious and haemorrhaging blood and we knew she had to go to hospital.”

“When the shooting stopped, her father took her in his arms and went out into the street. It was deserted. He walked about half a kilometre to the main road and waited a long time until a private car with two soldiers passed and took them to the Donka hospital.”

“By the time they got to the hospital she was almost dead. The doctors there tried to help but they had no blood and no medicines. The bleeding could not be stopped and she passed away not long after they got there.”

“Today her father is so devastated he can’t speak. We can’t stop her mother crying. She is crying and crying.”

“God gave us Aicha and it’s him who took her back.”

“She was buried this morning at 11 am in the cemetery close to her home. Hardly anyone came because of the curfew. It was done very fast, without any honour.”

GUINEA: Martial law relaxed but strike continuing

CONAKRY, 20 February 2007 (IRIN) - Life is slowly returning to relative normalcy in Guinea now that the government has eased a curfew imposed after nationwide unrest, but a general strike is ongoing.

President Lansana Conte called the curfew on 12 February to curb widespread looting and rioting, which had swept the capital, Conakry, and towns across the country during protests calling for his resignation.

Originally in force for 20 hours every day, authorities cut the curfew to six hours at the end of last week, and on Monday reduced it further to keep Guineans off the streets between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

On Tuesday, pedestrians ventured onto the main roads of Conakry, but taxis were still a rare sight. Long cues formed at service stations in Conakry. Many of them were looted during the unrest on 12 February.

In the first days of martial law, Conakry was deserted as Guineans cowered at home from truckloads of soldiers careering around the city, shooting in the air, and according to human rights watchdogs and many Guineans, looting, raping and beating people they found outside.

Banks, shops and government offices were still closed on Tuesday, respecting a strike order called by Guinea’s powerful unions last Monday to protest President Conte’s choice of prime minister, who they say is not independent.

But at the market of Yenguema in the neighbourhood Kaloum some stalls opened again.

“We are very happy about the relaxation of the curfew,” said Macire Fofana, a market trader.

Hawa Bangoura, shopping for food at the market, said she was worried that the army would start attacking people again.

“I am certain that some people are dying of hunger in their homes,” she said.

“We will perhaps go out to because of the need for food, and the army will perhaps start using their guns to kill us,” she said, adding that she only left her house once all the food was gone.

At least 113 people were killed in demonstrations in Guinea in recent weeks, according to government and aid agency officials in Conakry.

Guinea’s union leaders and other members of civil society, including religious representatives and the political opposition, have been in talks with government officials since Saturday aimed at ending the crisis.

The unions have previously said they will not call off the strike until President Conte resigns, and had said they would not enter into negotiations until martial law was revoked.

West African leaders have appointed former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida as its special envoy to Guinea.

Babangida met with Conte on Saturday and said on Tuesday in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou, that he will go back “soon” to meet with Conte again.

According to Babanguida, his mission to Guinea followed concerns expressed by African heads of state about the regional implications of Guinea’s unrest. "We must be able to come and have a look at the situation so that we don't allow it to deteriorate,” he said.

GUINEA: Consensus prime minister’s appointment ends strike

CONAKRY, 27 February 2007 (IRIN)

Guinea’s union leaders on Tuesday once again suspended a nationwide strike after President Lansana Conte agreed to appoint a new prime minister approved by civil society.

Tuesday’s suspension follows two months of unprecedented anti-Conte protests in the capital, Conakry, and towns and cities throughout the country that left over 100 people dead and hundreds more injured, raising fears that the country could follow its neighbours Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire and slip into civil war.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in January and early February. They first demanded that Conte relinquish some of his powers to an independent prime minister and then called for his resignation after he appointed a close ally instead.

The new appointee, chosen from a list of four candidates proposed by civil society leaders in Guinea, is Lansana Kouyate, a former Guinean ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Until 2002 he was executive secretary of the West African regional body ECOWAS.

“I welcome this appointment favourably,” Kouyate told IRIN by telephone from Côte d’Ivoire on Tuesday morning before leaving for Conakry. “It is a heavy burden that we will carry together to lift Guinea out of the situation it currently finds itself in.”

Former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, was removed by presidential decree in April last year. The premier’s post was vacant until Eugene Camara, Conte’s personal chief of staff, was briefly appointed in late January.

Diallo’s predecessor, Francois Fall, resigned while visiting France where he sought exile, complaining of corruption in the government and saying that his position as prime minister was repeatedly compromised by President Conte.

According to civil society leaders, Kouyate is expected to serve with more independence and autonomy than other prime ministers.

After the unions suspended the strike most shops, restaurants and government offices were open for business in Conakry on Tuesday, with long lines forming outside banks.

Guinea’s only two independent radio stations remained off the air on Tuesday after being closed down by the army during martial law last week.

Kouyate’s appointment followed several meetings between Conte and senior ECOWAS envoys, and with the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for West Africa.

ECOWAS announced on Tuesday that it would set up a permanent liaison office in Conakry and appoint an official to “accompany Guineans in the implementation of reform”.

"I am very pleased that President Conte kept his word to appoint a prime minister from the list provided by the Unions," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, current ECOWAS executive secretary.

"Kouyate is a diplomat of good reputation and he deserves to be given a chance to help Guineans by undertaking political reforms with the support of the international community," said Chambas, speaking in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou.

GUINEA: Students demonstrate in interior

CONAKRY, 27 March 2007 (IRIN)

Tensions continue to run high in Guinea with some 3,000 students taking to the streets on Monday in the town of Labe, 600 km north east of the capital Conakry, which saw violent clashes between protesters and police during several weeks of anti-government riots earlier this year.

“We are the forgotten people of the republic,” said Amamdou Toure, a protesting student from the University of Labe. “This place does not have what it needs to make it a normal university.”

The demonstrations mostly took place around the university where students have been on strike since 22 March, according to university authorities and students contacted by telephone.

The students said they were protesting the shoddy state of their campus and the lack of investment in the education system. Guinea’s universities, like most public institutions in Guinea have suffered from years of neglect. With a lack of teaching staff, class sizes are sometimes in the hundreds.

Motivation is low as many students say they believe it is under the table cash not hard work or intellect that wins them high marks. And once students have completed their education, few are likely to find meaningful work afterwards.

Observers say it is chronic problems such as these which have pushed many people to participate in unprecedented anti-government demonstrations over the last year.

GUINEA: Government tasked to address impunity

CONAKRY, 24 April 2007 (IRIN)

An international human rights group has called on the government of Guinea to take concrete measures to hold security forces accountable for killings, beatings and other abuses linked to strike-related protests in January and February.

In its report, “Dying for Change: Brutality and Repression by Guinean Security Forces in Response to a Nationwide Strike”, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday documented how Guinean security forces “brutally repressed” demonstrations across the country.

At least 129 people died in the violence and more than 1,700 were wounded, according to the report, which is based on interviews with 115 victims and witnesses. They said security forces fired directly into crowds of unarmed demonstrators.

“Scores of Guineans, many of them mere bystanders to the demonstrations, were severely beaten and robbed at gunpoint by security forces, often in their own homes,” the report said.

For the first time in Guinea’s post-independence history tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand better governance in January and February. At one point they called for longtime ruler Lansana Conte to step down and only relented after labour leaders negotiated an end to the standoff that led to the installation of a new prime minister, Lansana Kouyate. He was chosen by the president from four candidates approved by the unions.

Although calm has returned to Guinea, those who were caught up in the violence continue to relive the terror.

“At night, around 8 p.m., a soldier going after a young man passed by me. He then threatened to kill me before convincing me that he wouldn’t hurt me if I accepted to ‘understand’ him,” a young woman identified as M.B. told IRIN recently. “He forced me for his dirty need without a condom. I struggled in vain.”

HRW said the attacks on demonstrators appeared to be a well-organised operation.

“Guinean security forces beat, robbed, threatened and arbitrarily arrested trade union and other civil society leaders, as well as journalists” the report said. “Scores of other Guineans, including children, were killed or wounded by undisciplined and reckless fire.”

CLICK to read an IRIN interview with the family of a child killed by security forces

The government had vowed to investigate the abuses and created a national commission of inquiry including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, civil society, trade unions and the Ministry of Defense. But Guinea’s bar association and the country’s main human rights group, the Guinean Organisation for the Defense of Human Rights (OGDH), declined to participate in any investigative body established by the government.

“The presumed authors of these crimes are not well placed to carry out the investigation of these acts,” said Thierno Madjiou Sow, OGDH president.

Conte agreed to sweeping pay rises for the military in March following a mass promotion in February, which observers said was tantamount to rewarding bad behaviour. In addition, each soldier receives a sack of rice each month for a quarter of the price that other Guineans pay.

Under the new prime minister, a new minister of justice created a panel including judges and lawyers appointed by the bar association to look at the possibility of drafting a statute to create an independent judicial mechanism to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the abuses in January and February.

“At some point they will have to present [the statute] to the government and National Assembly to be voted on,” said HRW Guinea researcher Dustin Sharp. “But it seems like at least initially the new team... is more sincere in its desire to put in place a commission that can actually do its job.”

Whether the action will go further than the National Assembly remains to be seen, analysts said. The legislature is dominated by Conte’s ruling Unity and Progress Party.

“While there are some really good minded people… there are a lot of countervailing forces in Guinea,” Sharp said. “It is certain the violence cannot be attributed to a bunch of bad apples in the lower ranks of security forces. It’s pretty clear that things went higher than that in the government.”

“Things are still very tenuous and the level of anger and the possibility of an explosion remains very real,” Sharp said.

GUINEA: High-level meeting to end military protest

CONAKRY, 4 May 2007 (IRIN)

Senior military officers and government officials in Guinea were meeting on Friday to end a two-day protest by soldiers in Conakry and three other major towns demanding pay rises and payment of salary arrears.

The soldiers fired their guns into the air from their barracks in the capital, Conakry, and the western town of Kindia, the central town of Labe and the southeastern town of Gueckedou near the border with Liberia, reports said.

Sources at Donka Hospital in Conakry said about nine people had been treated for gunshot wounds sustained from stray bullets.

“The Guinean security forces have a history of acting with utter disregard for Guinea’s citizens,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Ending impunity and making the armed forces accountable for their behaviour is a key test for the new government.”

A new government, led by consensus Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate, was established following massive strike-led protests in January and February. The unrest left at least 129 people dead after the military intervened to quash the demonstrations.

Efforts are underway to establish an independent commission to investigate abuses allegedly committed by the military during the protests. At around that time, soldiers had received promotions and pay hikes.

Soldiers angry over President Lansana Conte’s rejection of demands for pay rises staged a two-day violent mutiny in Conakry in 1996. They seized the country’s international airport, bombed the presidential palace and engaged in widespread looting. Dozens of people were killed. The mutiny ended after Conte promised to increase the soldiers' salaries.

Conte, an ailing former general, seized power in 1984 and has been heavily relying on the military’s support through out his 23-year rule.

Sources close to the soldiers protesting on Wednesday and Thursday say the mostly low-ranking troops want the government to give them 300-billion Guinean francs [US$82 million] Conte allegedly promised them to end the 1996 mutiny.

GUINEA: Military warns of more protests if demands not met

CONAKRY, 17 August 2007 (IRIN)

Guinean soldiers warn they could stage fresh protests within weeks if the government fails to meet demands that were at the centre of military-led riots in May that left two people dead and several injured.

Soldiers say they are giving the government until 8 September to pay long-overdue salaries. “After that deadline, we’ll make ourselves heard as we did in May,” said one sergeant major who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid problems with superiors. Many soldiers IRIN spoke to echoed this position.

Demanding back salary and the dismissal of top military officials, soldiers rioted in the capital, Conakry, and in two other towns, shooting into the air and strafing a residential area with machine guns, killing at least two people.

The bulk of the soldiers’ demands have yet to be met, military sources told IRIN. “What we want is to obtain, at the end of this month, what is our due, as promised by the government under [President] Lansana Conte.”

He said soldiers will refuse their salary for this month. “We have decided not to touch our money at the end of this month to protest the failure to meet the commitments made by our leaders.”

The military has long demanded back salaries, the reintegration of soldiers sacked after a rebellion in 1996 and promotions. Troops want the government to give them 300 billion CFA francs (US$77 million) Conte allegedly promised them to end the 1996 mutiny.

After the uprisings this year Conte dismissed his defence minister and other top officials but the government will be hard pressed to meet the salary demands. “The Guinean government does not have the means to deal with these salary arrears – the military’s principal demand,” Himourana Soumah of the Ministry of Economy, Finances and Planning, told IRIN.

Other government officials and spokespeople contacted by IRIN declined to comment on the situation.

Observers say the government cannot keep deferring the problem of the military. “The artificial promises from government will only hold for so long,” said Kissy Agyeman, sub-Saharan Africa analyst with the London-based research group Global Insight.

“Without the materialisation of concrete financial solutions, the political machinery, already teetering on the brink, could be pushed over the edge as the military’s loyalty is reaching its limit.”

For now it is citizens who suffer the military’s discontent, a lawyer in the capital, Conakry, told IRIN. “The military makes the population pay, instead of those responsible,” said Boubakar Sow, president of the bar association. He said even in relatively calm times it is common to hear of military robbing citizens, as in a case two weeks ago when some soldiers commandeered a truck full of food in Boke – about 300km from the capital, Conakry – and made off with the contents.

“The military can’t get at those responsible. All they can do is kill and pillage the citizens.”

GUINEA: Cholera epidemic multiplying despite intense efforts

CONAKRY, 20 August 2007 (IRIN)

Almost 1,800 people have been affected by a cholera outbreak in Guinea which has caused 67 deaths, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Conakry.

In the same period last year, just 30 cases of cholera were reported, resulting in zero deaths, according to OCHA.

“The epidemic is quite serious this year, but the government and humanitarian partners are doing everything they can to treat cases and prevent the spread of the disease in Guinea,” Madeleine Maka Kaba, OCHA spokesperson told IRIN.

The seafront capital Conakry where 2 million people live, many of them packed close together in squalid slums without running water or sanitation, is being hit hardest. 370 of the cases and 18 deaths have been recorded there.

Cholera is caused by a bacteria contracted by eating food or drinking water contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. The disease is most common in countries facing inadequate sanitation, overcrowding and lack of access to clean water. It is preventable with a course of vaccines, and infected people can be treated but if left uncared for will die.

The epidemic is also hitting hard in other towns and cities around the country, many of which have had neither piped water, sanitation or electricity for several years.

In Kindia, 135km east from Conakry, 46 cases and six deaths have been reported since Saturday when a woman infected with the disease travelled there from Conakry, according to the Ministry of Health.

Agencies working to prevent the spread of cholera in Guinea include the Guinean Ministry of Health, OCHA, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Medecins sans Frontieres, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and local organisations.

UNICEF is currently working with the local Conakry government, ICRC and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Conakry to distribute 17,000 bottles of ‘Sur Eau,’ a water treatment product for use in individual households, to sections of the city most affected by the outbreak. UNICEF has made the doxycycline antibiotic available to the Ministry of Health as well as one tonne of disinfectant.

The Guinean government has also spearheaded a communication campaign in partnership with UNICEF and the Red Cross, spreading messages via national and rural community radio concerning the prevention and treatment of cholera.

At least 15 public and private radio stations are carrying messages in local languages urging the population to take extra care during the cholera season.

“This campaign is carried every year during the cholera season, however this year efforts are more intense and focused,” OCHA’s Kaba told IRIN.

GUINEA: Cholera cases still rising

DAKAR, 28 August 2007 (IRIN) -

At least 800 more people have been infected with cholera over the last week, bringing the total number of reported cases to 2,500 since January out of which 90 people have died, according to the Guinean Ministry of Health.

“The number of people infected by the disease in Conakry has considerably increased since July,” said Sergio Martin Esteso, programme head for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Guinea, in a statement. “Of the 1,260 patients treated in the three centres where MSF works, more than 1,000 have been in the past three weeks.”

“Once again, health facilities weren’t well enough prepared to cope with this emergency,” Esteso said.

The disease has spread rapidly despite sensitization efforts including a national radio campaign organised by the government, the Guinean Red Cross and UNICEF, emphasizing the importance of clean water and proper hygiene.

According to MSF, many Guineans cannot afford to purchase clean drinking water, limiting the impact of any prevention messages, and efforts to battle the disease are further hampered by a lack of trained medical staff at treatment centres, MSF said.

Since the arrival of rains in late May, cholera cases recorded by the Guinean Ministry of Health have multiplied exponentially with each passing week. From 13 to 19 August, the Ministry recorded 723 cases.

The capital city Conakry has borne the brunt of the outbreak, accounting for 1,260 of the 2,496 total cases recorded to date.

Cholera is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae and typically contracted by eating food or drinking water contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. Outbreaks occur frequently in countries with inadequate access to clean water, lack of proper sanitation, and overcrowding.

GUINEA: ‘Open house’ at army base aims to ease military, civilian relations

DAKAR, 29 August 2007 (IRIN) -

In Guinea a civil-military dialogue group is organising an ‘open house’ at the country’s main military base, inviting citizens to meet with military officials to help “ease relations” between the two sectors which in recent months have met in the streets in deadly clashes.

“Our country sorely needs this kind of exchange,” said Mohamed Kouyate, programme coordinator with Guinea’s Centre for International Trade and Development (CECIDE), which is helping organise the 6 September open house at the Alpha Yaya Diallo military base in the capital, Conakry. “The main aim is to ease relations between [defence and security forces and civilians], because a country’s development cannot happen without a solid understanding among the country’s various actors.”

Guinea – where citizens’ patience is running thin over promised political and socioeconomic reforms – is still reeling from demonstrations in June 2006 and early this year when security and defence forces killed nearly 150 unarmed protesters and injured hundreds more.

“That was a bad thing for our country. But we have to come back to an understanding," said Colonel Bissi Michel, who has taken part in ongoing meetings aimed at improving relations between the military and civilians. "Without understanding between us, the military cannot carry out its work.”

He added, “A soldier is first a civilian after all.”

At the open house members of the public will be able to pose questions to security forces, while military officials are scheduled to explain their mission and their constraints to the people, CECIDE’s Kouyate told IRIN. “Civilians and the military don’t understand each other.”

Mixed views

Citizens contacted by IRIN had mixed views of an effort to smooth relations between the two, one professor saying any such move would be but a "game" because the Guinean military has always and will always be "repressive."
...We civilians could express what we have in our hearts in an effort to erase the hate...

But Hadja Mariama Kesso Diallo, a homemaker in the Koloma neighbourhood of Conakry, said after the "savage killings" of earlier this year, dialogue between security forces and civilans is the right thing to do. "We civilians could express what we have in our hearts in an effort to erase the hate. I think that would ease tensions and the reconciliation we seek could materialise."

Mohamed Sanoussy Diaoune, a university student in Conakry, agreed that any effort to improve relations is welcome. "In January and February, the Guinean army failed in its role which is in part...to protect citizens. Instead it massacred innocent people. So civilian-military consultation [would be] very beneficial."

The idea for the open house stems from a civilian-military committee, which includes representatives of the military, police, political parties, unions, non-governmental organisations, the media, religious groups and women’s groups. The committee, backed in part by the US Agency for International Development, holds regular meetings and works to educate both sides about their rights and responsibilities, according to Bakary Fofana of CECIDE.

Repeated clashes

The committee was set up in June 2006 following clashes between riot police and students in which at least 11 youths were shot dead. The group's aim was in part to create a dialogue between security forces and civilians to avoid such clashes.

But less than a year later, in January and February 2007, army and presidential guard troops fired on civilians again during unprecedented nationwide strikes in which demonstrators called for President Lansana Conte to step down. Among the 137 people killed were several children. Nearly 2,000 people were reportedly wounded. And a few months later more citizens were killed and injured when soldiers rioted over back pay and other grievances.

The incidents are supposed to be under investigation by a government commission, but Guineans are still waiting for results. The parliament in May unanimously passed a law creating an investigative commission but President Conte has yet to promulgate the law and the probe has yet to get off the ground, observers say.

While the government apparently has not prosecuted security forces over human rights violations, neither has it answered the military’s longstanding demands. The open house is scheduled for the same week some soldiers have said they would “make themselves heard” as they did earlier this year if the government did not pay up.

GUINEA: Slight boost in water, electricity services but much to be done

CONAKRY, 24 October 2007 (IRIN) - In one of the poorest and most volatile neighbourhoods of Conakry new solar-panelled street lights line a boulevard for nearly three kilometres, the shiny lampposts standing out amid crumbling cinder block buildings and rutted dirt roads.

“That came with ‘le changement’,” one Guinean said, using one of the most often-heard phrases here these days – referring to the change of government that took place in March after weeks of unprecedented citizen demonstrations for better living conditions and the ouster of the president of 23 years, Lansana Conte.

In a compromise Conte named a consensus prime minister, Lansana Kouyate, who came in promising Guineans what most have been deprived of for decades – access to the most basic of services like electricity, clean water and sanitation.

Some seven months later precise data about how many have access to water and electricity is scarce. Sources with international organisations told IRIN they have only anecdotal information to date.

A source with the European Union delegation in Guinea said only: “As far as basic services, namely water and electricity, some improvements have taken place in the last weeks allowing to light some areas of Conakry, but a lot of work is left to do.”

But Guineans and international observers alike say they have seen marked improvement.

In the Cameroun neighbourhood of the Guinean capital, for the past two months running water has been more frequent in some households, residents told IRIN. “Since about two months ago there has been a change for the better,” Fatoumata Binta Lena said on 16 October. A faucet in the family yard, which was usually dry except for a few hours in the middle of the night, now flows more often during daytime hours.

Mamadou Dian Diallo, in Conakry’s poor and crime-ridden Hamdallaye neighbourhood, told IRIN he and his neighbours have electricity far more regularly than in the past. “Before, we could go for a week without electricity – often even as long as a month. For several weeks now, in many areas the power has been coming on nearly every day at 6pm.”

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Mamadou Dian Diallo in the Hamdallaye neighbourhood of the Guinean capital, Conakry

“There has been some progress,” said Rabiatou Serah Diallo, head of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers union which spearheaded this year’s strikes. “Even if we haven’t seen total satisfaction, all the same we’ve seen progress [on the problem of water and electricity in some areas].”

Anything close to “total satisfaction” is a long way off in Guinea, a country rich in natural resources but where – according to the UN – just 8 percent of the population has access to electricity and around 50 percent to clean drinking water.

The new water and power connections have not been consistent and many Conakry neighbourhoods remain in total darkness even as neighbouring houses glow with dim lightbulbs. Many wonder whether the changes are due to quick fixes rather than durable repairs to a decrepit infrastructure and decades of poor management.

Water or riots

How long the people are willing to wait for real and lasting change, and what will mollify them in the meantime, are crucial questions, observers say.

“Today Guinea is a place where one sees immediately and very directly how the lack of access to basic goods and services affects stability and security,” said one international observer not authorised to speak on the record.
...If [access to water and electricity] is not achieved, it goes without saying that we cannot even talk about stability or peace in the country...

A leader of Guinea’s labour unions – the sector that launched the January/February strikes – said stability is out of the question if the people’s basic needs are not met.

“If [access to water and electricity] is not achieved, it goes without saying that we cannot even talk about stability or peace in the country,” Ibrahima Fofana, secretary general of the Guinean Workers Union, told IRIN on 16 October.

After the events of early this year – in which at least 137 people died in a crackdown by security forces – Guineans will not be ready for another compromise, observers told IRIN. One analyst who could not be named said, “If people were to take to the streets again it would be far worse.” He added, “The next time they would go all the way” – referring to youths who stood ready to continue their protests, in the face of deadly military force, until President Conte was out.

“In January and February there were times when nobody was in control here,” a Western diplomat told IRIN. “And there are a lot of young people in the suburbs who have got nothing to lose. If their frustration comes out because of poor services and such, it cannot be controlled other than by the army shooting them.”

He added, “I still think the prime minister has a lot of support from the general public and they want him to succeed. But I think it’s clear that people are getting frustrated.”

Observers and Guineans alike say they are concerned about the upcoming anniversary of the strikes. “If there aren’t concrete achievements by then, I think a lot of frustration will come out, if it doesn’t come before then,” the diplomat said.

Diallo in Hamdallaye, whose 16-year-old brother was shot dead in the military crackdown, said for now his brother and others cannot be said to have died in vain. “This will turn bad if and only if we don’t achieve what we fought for – that is, improvements in our living conditions.”

Adequate basic services could even play a role in tempering long-simmering ethnic tensions, some observers say. In the past few months, friction among Guinea’s three main ethnic groups – Soussou, Malinké and Peulh – has surfaced with some accusing Kouyate, who is Malinké, of favouring people of his ethnic group in choosing prefects or awarding contracts.

Gilles Yabi, West Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group said if the people were satisfied with Kouyate’s performance they would give less weight to the ethnic question. “Citizens would be less prone to fall into the ethnic debate if they saw the prime minister achieving steps that make a palpable difference in their daily living conditions.”

Back in the Cameroun section of Conakry, university student Oumar Ba held up the end of a gushing water pipe sticking out of the ground, demonstrating that there is water pressure even during the day. This was not the case in the past, he said. Asked why he thought this improvement came about, he smiled and said tentatively, as if he did not want to speak too soon, “Perhaps it’s because of le changement?”