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Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand

October 8, 2009

Image removed.The international reaction to the events in Guinea, horrific though they were, virtually guarantees the repetition of that violence in the near future. Everyone claims to ‘know’ what happened in Guinea without any wisdom of why it happened and the contribution of the world community to perpetuating the crisis which the December 2008 coup sought to resolve. The events in Guinea were not about just another African military leader seeking to extend his rule. It was about the failure of the international and African communities to come to the aid of a leadership that was trying to reform the nation after two decades of rapacious corruption by its last president and his followers. The most important question, and one which will resound across other African countries, is how can an African economy live and thrive without corruption and what mechanisms are there to make the transition from corruption to good governance possible.


The search for reform in Guinea predates the December 2008 coup. The President of Guinea, the late Lansana Conte, was an ill man. He was also a thoroughly corrupt leader who pocketed much of the national revenues earned by Guinea’s export of minerals: bauxite, iron ore, diamonds, gold, salt and uranium. Guinea is the world’s richest source of high-grade bauxite, the ore from which aluminium is refined. The two main centres of bauxite are Boke and Kindia. From 1992 to 1996 our company shipped over three million metric tons a year of bauxite to Nikolayev in the Ukraine. A little later a company, Friguia, was created to turn some of that bauxite to alumina, and important stage in aluminium processing. Lansana Conte intervened and directed that a large part of the nation’s earnings from bauxite, alumina and gold be paid to his personal accounts; not to the national treasury.

Lansana  Conte’s  troubles  started  in  earnest  in  2005  after  the  resignation  of Prime  Minister  Lounseny  Fall  in  April  2004  and  Conte’s  emergency  visit  to Switzerland shortly after when the effects of his diabetes were becoming publicly visible. It had become clear that his days were numbered and his friends were few.

The  year  2005  started  badly  with  an  assassination  attempt  on  Conte’s motorcade in January coupled with the return of Alpha Conde, head of the main opposition Guinean People's Rally, from exile in France in July. Alpha Conde was welcomed by thousands of supporters.  Unrest was seen in both the labour movements and the army. What was particularly upsetting to the country was the great deterioration of the infrastructure, the decline in social services, the drop  in  the  standard  of  living  and  the  arrears  in  pay  at  a  time  when  the President  was  receiving  more  and  more  money  for  awarding  and  renewing mining concessions; money that never made it out of his own pocket. The Russians, Rusal, and Anglo-Ashanti Gold paid vast sums to Conte, but the average Guinean earned US$91 a month.

The government response to protests against the falling standard of living and the high prices of fuel was carried out by army violence against the demonstrators, with frequent deaths and jailing of protestors. Added to this was the problem of rampant corruption, which allowed top officials to earn fortunes. Transparency International’s latest corruption index placed Guinea as 173rd out of 180 countries.  Guineans  had to  bribe officials  in  order  to receive water,  electricity,  and  basic  health  care. With  policing and the court system in a shambles, Guinea had also become a major hub for Latin  American  cocaine  traffickers,  who  increasingly  used  West  Africa  as  the conduit to the lucrative cocaine market in nearby Europe.

The drug business was organised at the top. The drugs squad are still seeking Moussa Traore and Sidikaba Kaba, who ran the drug connection under Lansana Conte along with representatives of the First Lady Henriette Conte (nee’ Bangoura) and her brother Saturin Bangoura.  The drugs arrived in Guinea from South America, often on chartered aircraft that landed at night on airfields in the interior. This was run by the President and the First Lady but operated by the Colombians and the Army. Things continued to deteriorate.Image removed.

In  March  2006  Conte  was  again  airlifted  to  Switzerland  for  urgent  medical treatment.  The  opposition  parties  called  for  an  interim  government  but  failed when  Conte  returned  home.  In April he returned home and sacked Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo. However, everyone knew he was weak and losing friends. Protests were frequent. In June 2006 the unions called a crippling general strike which was suspended after eight days after the trade unions and the government agreed on wages and prices of basic goods.

In January 2007 another strike was called by the unions and the political opposition in protest against the rule of President Conte. Several people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and the police.  Protests  continued  and  in  February  2007  President  Conte declared a state of emergency and instructed the army to restore order following days  of  violent  protests.  In order to end the protests the President agreed to name Lansana Kouyate as prime minister under a deal to end the general strike. By this time the soldiers were fed up with their pay and conditions and decided to demonstrate on their own.

In May 2007 there were violent protests as the soldiers demanded better pay. They agreed a settlement but the Red Berets (the Presidential Guard) acted on the President’s orders to force a return to the barracks of the other soldiers. This didn’t end the disorder but postponed it. In  May  2008  the  President  sacked  Lansana  Kouyate  as  prime  minister  and replaced him with former minister of mines and partner in crime Ahmed Tidiane Souare. The soldiers maintained their mutiny in sporadic outbursts and mutinies which were repressed and settled for cash. On 22 December 2008 President Lansana Conte aged 74, after 24 years in power finally passed away.

Within hours of his death, an announcement on state radio said the army had dissolved the government.  Troops  and  tanks  were  sent  on  to  the  streets, manning  roadblocks.  There was no violence and the country remained calm. Captain Moussa Dadis Camara named himself president and the junta pledged to hold free and transparent elections after a two-year transitional period, at the end of 2010. The coup makers had significant popular backing from citizens disgruntled by almost a quarter of a century of corrupt rule.

Capt Moussa Dadis Camara pledged to rid the country of graft and nepotism and improve living standards for the country's population of 10 million, among the world's poorest. The first act of the new President was to fire most of the generals. The coup leaders in  Guinea issued  a  declaration  on  state  radio Monday  saying  all  military generals of the former regime had been demoted, raising the spectre of instability  in  the  country.  The  demotions  involved  more  than  20  senior officers, including those  who ran  the  army,  navy,  and  air force.  The list also includes security force chiefs.  Coup  spokesman  Nouhou  Thiam  said the  demotions  were  effective  immediately  and  added  that  the  military heads  of  the  regime  under  long-time  dictator  Lansana  Conte  would  be reassigned.

Capt Dadis Camara said the new 32-member ruling council replacing the government  and  other  institutions  would  hold  "free,  credible  and  transparent elections"  in  December  2010,  when  Mr  Conte's  presidential  term  would  have ended. "The council has no ambitions to hold on to power. The only reason is the need to safeguard territorial integrity. That is the only reason. There is no ulterior motive," he said.

Capt Dadis Camara also said he had no intention of standing in the elections and that he wanted to restore order to the country and rid it of corruption. Dadis Camara and his supporters in the national military junta, the Conseil National pour la Démocratie et le Développement (CNDD), set out to investigate the fraud and corruption in the mining contracts. Much of the work in this field had already been done by the leaders of the opposition parties and dedicated civil servants. One of the most dedicated was Mme Hadje Naye Diao, Deputy Director of the Cabinet of the Presidency. The Cabinet of the presidency had been set up to follow all mining transaction and to study the possibility of create a state mining house which would have represented the country’s interest in all mining contracts. Mrs. Ndiaye had headed la Direction des Enquetes aux Comites de Luttes contre la Corruption, Detournement des Biens et Domaines Publiques (the anti-corruption campaign). Her background as a police detective and then as an Intelligence Officer helped her to pursue her suspects without falling to intimidation.

She had discovered that the gold miners were flying out the gold by helicopter to Mali and Ghana. The President had sold the country’s minority share in the gold mining companies and kept the money. A supposed tax on gold exports was never executed. It wasn’t much better with Rusal. Under Dadis Camara a government audit committee announced it was probing the in-country operations of two gold miners, AngloGold Ashanti of SA and Keno of Norway, UK-based Rio Tinto in the iron ore business and the Russian Rusal in the bauxite industry. The new Minister of Mines is a former UN official and with a record of honest and incorrupt government service, Mamadou Thiam. Rusal’s concession to mine bauxite in Guinea was granted to Compagnie de Bauxites de Kindia (CBK) for 25 years, following a decision by Conte in May 2001. Two-thirds of CBK’s bauxite is shipped to the Ukrainian alumina refinery at Nikolayev, which Deripaska took over, after a bitter contest, in 2000. Additional bauxite and alumina are produced by Rusal at a second Guinean concession, which was awarded in 2002, also by Conte, to the Alumina Company of Guinea which operates the Friguia site. In 2006, Conte agreed to privatise the refinery in Rusal’s favour. Rusal only paid US$22 million for its site while the true market price was closer to US$750 million.

Rio Tinto lost its concession to the Benny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) and the fates of Ashanti and Kenor and Rusal are not yet resolved. Mamadou Thiam is promoting transparency and is successful in this.  The problem is that all this success and transparency has meant that there is no money coming to Guinea. Government revenues from Guinea's CBG, the world's biggest bauxite exporter, will fall some 60% in 2010 due to lower prices and export volumes; instability was likely to be the consequence.CBG exported a record 13,7-million tons of bauxite in 2008, accounting for 80% of government mining income. The revenues from Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinea will go from $101-million this year to $38-million in 2010. It is clear that there are going to be economic problems. Because of the threat of fighting corruption these international mining companies are squeezing Guinea.

The simple fact is that all this honesty, transparency and the obeying of the law has meant that there is no money in the country. Civil servants can’t live on their pay; soldiers cannot manage on what they earn. Without corruption and/or the drugs trade the country is grinding to a halt. That is the background to the rioting and mayhem. Instead of assisting Dadis Camara and those who seek transparency and an end to corruption in Guinea the African Union and the Mano River Union have condemned Guinea for making a military coup after the President’s death. They have insisted that an election be held a year earlier than planned.The US and the European Union have joined in this catalogue of criticism. The elements in the Army, which are barely under CNDD control, need to be paid. The lure of the drug dealers is a powerful and a quick solution. The international mining companies continue to squeeze the country and the sources of foreign aid and assistance are blocked by the blind adherence to the notion that a military coup is a ‘bad thing’.

The frustrations of this situation helped breed the conditions which sparked the outrageous violence of this week. But what is even more important is the overarching question of just how an African country can fight corruption conducted by the President, Cabinet Members, governors and cronies without the support of the international community? What institution in Africa is strong enough to carry it off? It is certainly not a fractured, ethnically-divided opposition; certainly not the trades unions on their own; still less the non-governmental organisations. Who can carry out the fight to end corruption if the world community holds its nose and says that military men should be censured not supported? Until this reluctance is resolved Africa will continue under its burden of corruption, buried under poverty and seduced by the international drug cartels. Violence and frustration will not end, but transparency, good governance and justice will never prevail.

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