Guinea Fragments

Does this story seem familiar, a former colony of Western occupiers, rich in resources, a chaotic struggle for power, an impoverished people, arms sellers making their profits, atrocities and other than the IMF/World Bank plans, no help offered, ‘investor confidence’ indeed.

Thousands of people have gathered at a mosque in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, to identify those killed in Monday’s opposition rally against military rule. Security forces struggled to cope with the crowds, after 57 bodies were taken to the mosque from a hospital morgue and lined up under nearby trees.

Cellphone snapshots, ugly and hard to refute, are circulating here and feeding rage: they show that women were the particular targets of the Guinean soldiers who suppressed a political demonstration at a stadium here last week, with victims and witnesses describing rapes, beatings and acts of intentional humiliation. “I can’t sleep at night, after what I saw,” said one middle-aged woman from an established family here, who said she had been beaten and sexually molested. “And I am afraid. I saw lots of women raped, and lots of dead.” One photograph shows a naked woman lying on muddy ground, her legs up in the air, a man in military fatigues in front of her. In a second picture a soldier in a red beret is pulling the clothes off a distraught-looking woman half-lying, half-sitting on muddy ground. In a third a mostly nude woman lying on the ground is pulling on her trousers.

The situation remains very unpredictable. The military is at risk of fracturing further while public finances, already in a parlous state, will likely deteriorate in the coming months. The junta may find their honeymoon period short-lived in the face of popular economic desperation.

Guinea possesses major mineral, hydropower, and agricultural resources, yet remains an underdeveloped nation. The country has almost half of the world’s bauxite reserves. The mining sector accounts for more than 70% of exports. Long-run improvements in government fiscal arrangements, literacy, and the legal framework are needed if the country is to move out of poverty. Investor confidence has been sapped by rampant corruption, a lack of electricity and other infrastructure, a lack of skilled workers, and the political uncertainty because of the death of President Lansana CONTE in December 2008. Guinea is trying to reengage with the IMF and World Bank, which cut off most assistance in 2003, and is working closely with technical advisors from the U.S. Treasury Department, the World Bank and IMF, seeking to return to a fully funded program. Growth rose slightly in 2006-08, primarily due to increases in global demand and commodity prices on world markets, but the standard of living fell. The Guinea franc depreciated sharply as the prices for basic necessities like food and fuel rose beyond the reach of most Guineans. Dissatisfaction with economic conditions prompted nationwide strikes in February and June 2006.

In August 2003, a South African company, Alvis OMC, then a subsidiary of UK company Alvis and now a subsidiary of UK-based BAE Systems, signed a multi-million rand contract to supply the Ministry of Internal Security of the Republic of Guinea with ten “Mamba Mk3” 4×4 armoured “mine-protected” vehicles for immediate delivery from South Africa. A spokesperson for Alvis said these armoured vehicles would be used for “border control” in Guinea and that a three-week in-country training programme would form part of the contract.

On the other hand, the South African government should have been aware in 2003 of the foreseeable and significant risk that the security forces in Guinea would most likely use such vehicles to facilitate serious human rights violations if it granted permission for their export. The Guinean security forces had violently suppressed, in particular, demonstrations organized during the December 1998 presidential elections, the local elections of June 2000, and the 2001 referendum. Tensions were evident, and erupted again during the demonstrations of February 2004, November 2005, February and June 2006, and January/February 2007. Amnesty International has gathered information showing that the security forces in Guinea used armoured vehicles, including of the type imported from South Africa, to commit human rights violations while policing demonstrations held in January and February 2007 in Conakry. Photographs taken in Conakry on 20 January 2007 show the deployment by security forces of Mamba and other vehicles in the city.Film footage, reportedly shot on 22 January 2007 in Conakry, shows security forces firing on participants in a peaceful demonstration using what appear to be Mamba and other vehicles matching those in the photographs.

Apart from the armoured vehicles from South Africa referred to above, which would appear to be recorded under the UN trade data as being delivered in 2003, France has been a significant source of supply of military and lethal equipment to Guinea, especially cartridges for shotguns in the period 2003 – and again in 2004, 2005 and 2006, totalling a value of $6,213,611.Both Portugal and Spain have also supplied cartridges in 2003, 2004 and 2006 worth $246,388, and in 2003, $105,841 respectively.In 2005, Senegal delivered equipment under the category of munitions and cartridges and Turkey delivered firearms in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

On Wednesday, France announced it had suspended military co-operation with its former colony and said it was considering freezing aid to the country. But analysts say international bodies have little leverage as Guinea is a resource-rich, wealthy nation enjoying heavy investment from foreign mining firms.