Questions grow over Guinea leadership

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Guinea’s junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara has not been seen in public since he was evacuated to Morocco for hospital treatment after a failed December 3 assassination bid.

The junta’s failure to explain his continued absence is prompting growing questions over the future leadership of the fragile West African state, the world’s top exporter of bauxite and a major source of other minerals including gold.

What is the state of Camara’s health?

With no public sign of Camara for over a month, official reassurances that he is on the mend are meeting with wide scepticism even among ordinary Guineans with no access to independent media.

In the hours after the December 3 shooting, the junta said Camara had merely been grazed in the head by a bullet and that he would leave hospital within days.

Subsequent promises that he would soon address the nation have also gone by the wayside.

The junta denies repeated speculation that Camara’s head wounds mean he cannot talk or make decisions. Defence minister and interim leader Sekouba Konate visited Camara in hospital last week but made no clear statement on his health. The trade union which paralysed the country with strikes in 2007 threatened last Sunday to launch peaceful protests unless the junta agrees to an independent report on Camara’s health.

How is Guinea in Camara’s absence?

Konate, a professional soldier who has shown no sign of front-stage political ambition, has so far held off the threat of an army counter-coup.

The capital Conakry is relatively calm and for now there appears to be no spiking of tensions between Guinea’s diverse ethnic groups, a worst-case scenario that could trigger instability in the wider region.

But the mood of uncertainty is weighing on the economy, with the black market rate of the Guinean franc sliding against the dollar in recent weeks, making many everyday items dearer.

Civil society groups complain of a spike upwards in crime and say Guinea’s administrative services — never the most efficient — have all but ground to a halt.

The doubts over the country’s future leadership are unnerving potential investors, and some independent analysts are advising caution in signing any contracts in the current flux.

AngloGold said last month it had cut non-essential staff but was maintaining mining operations. Russian metals giant RUSAL said business was as normal and added it was taking all measures for its staff’s safety.

What happens next?

International players such as the United States and France have made it clear they want Camara out of the picture, particularly as a UN inquiry named him responsible for a September 28 crackdown on pro-democracy marchers in which over 150 were killed and dozens of women were raped.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Camara’s return could spark a civil war, while Washington has suggested Konate could be better trusted to manage a gradual transition to civilian rule. Moroccan officials have dismissed speculation that Camara is being discouraged from making any return to Guinea, and have been silent about the state of his health.

There are tentative signs of political life moving on without Camara. In a New Year’s address, the country’s Prime Minister Kabine Komara called for elections as soon as possible an appeal which one security source said he made with the blessing of Konate. There has also been renewed speculation that a figure drawn from opposition ranks could take on the post as premier in an interim government leading up to such elections.



But sceptics point to Konate’s failure to make a New Year’s address himself which he could have used to draw a line under the Camara era and set a clear timetable for elections. While the UN report did not name Konate as one of the ringleaders of the September 28 massacre, it said his exact role needed further inquiry. With his lack of political experience and recurrent health problems, Konate may not be the person Guinea and its partners are seeking.