Friday, October 16, 2009
Guinea: Oil Wealth Draws Mercenaries & Misery
The BBC reports on 64 British mercenaries who allegedly plotted to overthrow the oil-rich government of dirt-poor Guinea. “In 2004 [Guinea] had the world's fastest-growing economy. It might not be reflected in the life of the average citizen -- but it was enough to attract the attention of people with plans for a coup,” the BBC reports. The takeover failed, but democracy in Guinea is as fragile as ever.
After a lunge towards accountability inspired by public uprisings over the past two years, Guinea appears to be losing ground in its battle for a more democratic government. According to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), there are few signs that life in Guinea is improving for the average citizen despite the discovery of large oil reserves -- a find that has attracted large scale international investment. The few concrete results of President Conte's appeasement tactics following the 2007 union strikes are quietly being revoked. Most prominently and recently, in May 2008, Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate was dismissed and replaced by Tidiane Souare -- a close ally of President Lansana Conte who is unlikely to help Guineans benefit more from Guinea’s economic success. Without clear divisions between the Presidential and Prime Minister positions, democratic reform and budget transparency seems unlikely. Corruption, on the other hand, is certainly a possibility. Meanwhile, ICG indicates the credibility of the much-awaited December 2008 legislative elections is already being undermined.
The Prime Minister position of Guinea is no longer a fulcrum of popular will as it was once hoped to be. Once there is no one to keep Conte accountable to the public, Guinea seems headed firmly back toward dictatorship. The divide between resource wealth and common poverty is profound, and highly visible. Without efforts to distribute this wealth, the people of Guinea may again turn to striking and there is a real possibility of violence.
Intervention points are few, but aid agencies may play a role. The International Crisis Group recommends, “Direct assistance to the government should be made conditional on the organization of legislative elections in December 2008 and the provision of financial and logistic support and security measures necessary to launch the independent commission of inquiry into the events of June 2006 and January-February 2007.”
-- by Lacy Clark --
-- image by Jon & Mel Kots (CC) --