Residents of the West African state of Guinea were bemused to find their small country pushed into the spotlight by an attempted rape scandal at the top of the International Monetary Fund — and divided over how to react.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned as head of the IMF on Thursday after a New York hotel maid, believed to be a Guinean, accused him of attacking her, dashing his hopes of becoming president of France, Guinea’s colonial-era ruler.
“From what we’ve seen in the media, she’s a Guinean from the Labe region,” said Conakry resident Souleymane Bah of the woman, whose name is not being published for legal reaons, Reuters reports.
“We don’t understand why the Guinean authorities have not yet taken a position on this case.”
Guinea’s forays into the world headlines in the past have typically centered around its own frequent upheavals since independence from France in 1960, or around big mining deals aimed at bringing its bauxite and iron ore deposits to market.
But on Thursday the bars and cafes of Conakry, the crumbling seaside capital of the country of 10 million, were abuzz with competing views on whether Strauss-Kahn’s accuser was a victim, or part of a plot to wreck his French presidential ambitions to the benefit of the sitting head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy.
“It is a strategy to smear the man because Sarkozy saw him gaining ground,” Sene Djaboula, a taxi driver, theorized.
“Guineans shouldn’t interpret this in any other way.”
Others disagreed — the dividing line between rival theories often seemed to follow the country’s ethnic divisions. Those from the woman’s ethnic group, the Peul, who are a major group across the region, tended to accept her allegations as true.
“There’s a division. There are some people who say it is a conspiracy, but me, I think it was not a conspiracy,” said Conakry resident Mandian Keita.
Polls in France on Wednesday also showed support for conspiracy theories, with 57 percent of respondents saying Strauss-Kahn was definitely or probably the victim of a plot.
Strauss-Kahn has denied “with the greatest possible firmness” the allegations against him, while the woman’s lawyer has said she was unaware of the identity of her alleged attacker until a day later.
After more than two years of military rule following decades of harsh authoritarian leadership, Guinea held its first free election last November bringing veteran opposition figure Alpha Conde to power.
But the vote triggered days of street clashes that highlighted deep divisions that have lingered for centuries between the Peul and Malinke peoples.
Guinea’s L’Independant weekly fronted its latest edition with the headline “Trouble Brewing”, raising concerns the Strauss-Kahn affair could set back Guinea’s efforts to restart an IMF borrowing programme suspended after the military coup of 2008.