What’s behind the military coup in Guinea-Conakry?
Published Jan 11, 2009 5:34 PM
After years of political and economic turmoil, lower-ranking military
officers—led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara—in the West African
nation of Guinea-Conakry took power on Dec. 23 in the aftermath of the death of
longtime Western-backed dictator Lansana Conté. The coup appeared to have
enjoyed support among some segments of the population in the capital of
This is the second military coup that has taken place on the African continent
since August when military officers took power in Mauritania. Both Mauritania
and Guinea were former French colonies and have, since independence, moved
closer politically and economically to the U.S.
Lansana Conté came to power in a military coup in April 1984 during the
immediate aftermath of the sudden death of President Ahmed Sékou
Touré, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG).
Conté, 74, who had fallen into bad health over the last several years,
turned in his military uniform and ran for president in 1993. Amid allegations
of vote rigging and repression of the opposition, Conté won the election
and continued to rule despite continuing controversy among civilian political
parties as well as lower-ranking elements within the Guinean military.
The first indications that a change of power was underway took place with a
radio broadcast over Guinean national radio on Dec. 23, which stated that the
military had taken control of the national government and suspended the
country’s constitution. Immediately key leaders within the higher
echelons of the military and the government were detained, while key regiments
of the army moved into the streets in the capital of Conakry to set up
positions in strategic locations.
Captain Moussa DadisCamara, representing what he called the National Council
for Democracy and Development (CNDD), read a statement that included: “At
the time of celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence on 2 October,
Guinea was ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world despite its
abundant natural resources.
“Guinea could have been more prosperous. Unfortunately, history and men
have decided otherwise,” Capt. Camara continued. (news.bbc.co.uk)
According to Capt. Camara: “Embezzlement of public funds, general
corruption, impunity established as a method of government and anarchy in the
management of state affairs have eventually plunged our country into a
catastrophic economic situation which is particularly tragic for the
overwhelming majority of Guineans. All these woes have been worrying the
population for a long time and have caused deep despair for the
Yet the widespread poverty, underdevelopment, corruption and poverty did not
begin in recent years. The entire reign of Lansana Conté was marked by a
deliberate repudiation of the founding principles of the Guinean state under
the late President Ahmed Sékou Touré. In order to fully understand
the developments that arose in Guinea in December, it is important to review
the political history of Guinea within the context of the development of its
political economy, particularly since its national independence a half-century
The betrayal of the revolution
Guinea was set apart from other states in West Africa that were colonized by
France when in 1958, under the leadership of the Democratic Party of Guinea,
the people broke with the neocolonialist scheme of Charles de Gaulle, who
sought to keep all the former colonies within the political and economic
framework of imperialist domination.
As a result of the growing mass agitation in the aftermath of World War II and
the emergence of the armed revolutionary struggle for national independence in
the North African colony of Algeria after 1954, the French colonial regime
offered their subject territories in West Africa the option of becoming part of
a semi-independent, neocolonial federation or striking out on their own as
genuine independent nations.
Guinea, under the leadership of the PDG and its Secretary-General Sékou
Touré, voted a resounding “No” and, on Oct. 2, 1958, declared
itself an independent state. In retaliation for this act of political defiance,
the French colonial authorities withdrew all structural, monetary, material,
political and diplomatic support for the transitional Guinean state.
The independence process in Guinea became a model for other liberation
movements in Africa and other parts of the world. In a study of decolonization
movements in West Africa, Guy de Lusignan, in his 1969 book entitled
“French-Speaking Africa Since Independence,” notes that “The
Guinean venture was seen as a challenge to the rest of Africa and the Third
World: a country starting without help, beginning everything from scratch,
gathering together all the national effort within one strong nation-wide party
that would reach out to and rouse everyone, even in the remotest bush
Characterizing the political atmosphere of the times in Guinea, Lusignan wrote
that “Around President Touré there was an integrated team,
intelligent and selfless; responsible party members were few but earnest and
hard-working. In the towns, in the bush, people were busy organising party
cells and passing on slogans.
“Youth brigades built bridges, village women brought their crops,
everyone toiled, with or without recompense, for the country’s sake. As
early as 1956, before independence, Sékou Touré, then a young
trade-union leader and party dialectician, had argued that human investment, so
easy to come by in Africa, could replace or at least supplement the financial
investments from overseas.”
The country was well-endowed with mineral resources and agricultural and
hydroelectric potential. Encompassing 95,000 square miles, the center of the
country has the high mountain ranges of the Fouta-Djallon, which reach almost
5,000 feet. At this range are four of the greatest African rivers: the Senegal,
the Niger, the Gambia and the Konkoure. Another northern mountain range on the
border with Liberia holds tremendous resources in timber and minerals.
During the colonial period the French considered Guinea one of its most
prosperous territories. There are gold and diamonds mines, iron ore and the
largest bauxite deposits in the world. In the Kaloum area, near the capital of
Conakry, iron ore mines have been exploited for decades. One of the most
abundant bauxite deposits is to be found on the small island of Loos, which is
opposite Conakry. Other deposits are found in the Fria mines in the western
region of the country.
In the early days of the Guinean Revolution, the country was assisted with a
loan from the government of Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah. The creation of the
Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union in 1960 sought to set the pace for larger political and
economic alliances among independent states in Africa.
Despite the country’s break with the former French colonialists, during
the early days of independence, the mining sector was still dominated by
several French-based firms. By the end of 1961, the French firm Societé
des Bauxities du Midi was ordered to cease operations. The government began to
work with the socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
In fact, according to Lusignan, “Aid agreements with Eastern countries
enabled Guinea to start on its industrial programme—brick and cement
factories, a light hydro-electric plant, printing works—but they worked,
at the beginning especially, at a low capacity.”
By 1962, Guinea signed new mining agreements with a number of U.S. and Canadian
aluminum firms. Bauxite was utilized in the production of aluminum, which
therefore made Guinea a valued partner for the international mining
Again Lusignan reports that “An agreement related to the Boke scheme was
signed with Harvey Aluminum for the building of three factories—one for
bauxite, one for alumina, one for aluminum—a harbour and a railway line.
The firm was also granted exploitation rights for the bauxite deposit of Kassa
on Loos Island.
“In 1965, Alcan Aluminum, a Canadian firm, joined Harvey Aluminum in the
proposed exploitation of Guinea’s bauxite. These arrangements were
maintained through the mid-to-late 1960s when relations between Guinea and the
United States became strained in the aftermath of the right-wing, US-backed
coup against Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana.”
Nkrumah, who was overthrown with the backing of the U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency on Feb. 24, 1966, relocated to Guinea and was made co-president by
Sékou Touré. By 1967-68, a new international consortium was created
known as the Compagnie Bauxite de Guinee. The arrangements were that the
Guinean government controlled 49 percent of the firm and receive 65 percent of
However, despite the tremendous potential for economic development, Guinea
remained an underdeveloped country. Due to the fact that it was virtually alone
among the countries in West Africa that sought an independent course, it
continued to be isolated from other countries in the region that followed a
pro-Western course of development.
During the 1960s the country declared itself committed to building a scientific
socialist society and maintained alliances with the nations of the Soviet
Union, Eastern Europe and China. The PDG government revealed numerous
imperialist plots aimed at overthrowing the ruling party.
In 1970 an attempt to invade and overthrow the country was backed by Portugal.
Guinea had provided a rear-base for the armed struggle being wage by the
African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which was
fighting to destroy Portuguese colonialism in neighboring Guinea-Bissau.
President Touré made two trips to the United States in 1979 and 1982 in an
effort to build closer ties with the successive administrations of Jimmy Carter
and Ronald Reagan.
However, Touré’s death from a heart attack in a hospital in
Cleveland in 1984 portended much for the future of the country.
In the immediate aftermath of Touré’s death, a military coup against
the PDG led by junior officers took place. Lansana Conté and Diara Traore
took control of the state and subsequently abolished the PDG and other popular
organs of the state. In 1985, a dispute between Traore and Conté led to
the removal of Traore from his position of leadership. Later Traore was lured
back from exile and then tried and executed under Conté’s aegis.
After the military coup against the PDG, the country moved closer to France and
the United States. Despite this neocolonial political orientation, Guinea
remained underdeveloped and still dependent on the Western mining companies for
the generation of foreign exchange.
Over the last several months, there have been a series of strikes and
rebellions in Guinea in response to the worsening global capitalist economic
crisis. Conditions within the military and the police became acute with rising
discontent over working conditions and pay that helped to lead to the present
Lessons for the anti-capitalist movement
The fifty-year history of the postcolonial struggle in Guinea illustrates the
difficulties in developing and sustaining an economic and political course
aimed at genuine national independence and socialism. Even though the early
years of the liberation movement brought about tremendous strides in the
struggle for a noncapitalist path of development, the relative isolation of
Guinea along with other anti-imperialist and Pan-African states such as Ghana
created the conditions for imperialism to place a stranglehold on the efforts
to build development strategies that would prove beneficial to the workers and
peasants of these states.
During the 1980s, other African states, which had set out to extend the
national democratic revolutions into a socialist-oriented phase, met with
fierce resistance from the imperialist world. In addition, the decline and
eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe further
strengthened the imperialist camp.
Nonetheless, despite these setbacks, in reality there is no way forward under
imperialist domination in Africa as well as other former colonial, semicolonial
and currently neocolonial states. With the deepening economic and political
crises within the United States and the European Union member-states, even the
facade of creating a consumer-based society allied with the West and capitalist
Japan has become even more elusive.
Ultimately, the popular classes of workers and farmers must regroup to build
revolutionary movements and parties that will effectively challenge imperialist
domination and hegemony. Only when this movement takes root will there be the
potential for real development and the elimination of poverty and economic
Abayomi Azikiwe has been closely following the political and economic
situation in Guinea over the last several months.
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