Guinea’s armed heart relaxes, but change demanded

New, unmarked green pickup trucks, laden with soldiers sporting wraparound sunglasses and assault rifles, tear through the streets of Conakry, Guinea’s sweltering and otherwise sleepy seaside capital.
Forcing other traffic off the roads, they come and go from Alpha Yaya Diallo, the sprawling military base that has become Guinea’s seat of government since the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte led to a bloodless coup last December.
Despite widespread condemnation from abroad and rumours of counter-coups from within, the world’s biggest bauxite exporter has been spared the chaos some feared it faced when soldiers led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power, Reuters reports.
But Guinea’s history — Conte ruled for nearly 25 years after seizing power in 1984 when the previous president also died — is marked with instability and uncertainty lingers over what the new men in uniform will do now they are in power.
“They must respect the promises they made, they must organise elections as soon as possible,” said 29-year-old Conakry resident Aboubacar Soure.
Alongside cracking down on corruption and fighting the drug trade, Camara’s Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) junta has vowed to hold elections by the end of the year.
Tensions rose late last month after Camara cancelled a trip to Libya and heavily-armed soldiers deployed overnight at strategic points around the ramshackle city of 2 million.
More than 20 soldiers have since been arrested for plotting to overthrow the government and the mood in the camp is relaxed — but leaves little doubt over who is in charge.
Lifesize posters of the young captain turned head of state hang from buildings in the barracks, which are painted in the fading red, yellow and green of Guinea’s national colours. Doorways are crowned with the words “Long live the CNDD.”
Cars inside Alpha Yaya are bedecked with stickers of Camara, often looking stern, sometimes smiling, but always in green camouflage dress and the red beret of Guinea’s paratroopers.
A coffee shop just outside the camp proudly calls itself “Cafe CNDD — Long live peace.”
Nearby walls are covered in pro-junta graffiti, and on the road into the city centre from the airport, hand-painted signs read “The youth of Guinea supports the policies of the CNDD”.
The CNDD was initially welcomed by a population sick of the corruption, abuse of power and decay during the Conte years but old fears are creeping back.
“They have tasted power,” Soure said. “Once tasted, it’s difficult to leave.”
Guineans, who live in one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt countries, want the new administration to tackle the lack of basic infrastructure that blights the country.
“We don’t need demagogues, we need people who are competent and credible,” said Dumar Camara, a 35-year old Guinean who trained as a computer technician but has no job.
He lives in Conakry’s Dixinn district, where young men selling phonecards pick their way through slow-moving traffic, and goats and sheep graze next to the low concrete huts topped with rusting corrugated iron.
“There’s neither water nor electricity here, they should fix this first of all. The government is responsible for these structures, it must organise, build things,” Camara said.
Instead, the administration has been sidetracked by the fallout from accusations that soldiers have raped and robbed.
Last week, US-based Human Rights Watch called on the junta to bring its troops to heel, after which hundreds of soldiers at Alpha Yaya chanted in unison that they had renounced violence, a ceremony which was broadcast on national television.
“Not everything they do is good. The fact that soldiers attack people, that’s not good, but these are isolated, indisciplined, they are not part of the CNDD,” Dumar Camara said.