Guinea: Africa’s latest coup

What will it mean for the poor masses?

Africa’s latest coup

The successful military coup in Guinea of December 2008 has once again exposed the weak underbelly, of what the imperialist west often erroneously calls “democracy”, in Africa. Hours after the death of Lansana Conte – the military coup leader turned President for life – full-blown military rule was imposed in the mineral rich, but largely impoverished country. At first, the survivors of the Conte government were urging Guineans to reject the coup. However, these shameless, corrupt leaders soon went on to pledge their personal loyalty to the junta, the moment they discovered that the people, and the youth in particular, were hailing the coup plotters as heroes and its leader, Moussa Camara, as an Obama-like figure!

In what seemed like a choreographed reaction, the US, EU, France, African Union (AU) and the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) all severely denounced this latest coup in Guinea and demanded the immediate restoration of ‘constitutional rule’. According to a typical statement, issued by the US, “the United State condemns the military coup … we reject the announcement by elements of the Guinean military, that an election will not be held for two years. We call for an immediate return to civil rule”. The AU not only condemned the coup, but in fact took prompt action, suspending Guinea from the continental body, until it reinstated civil rule. ECOWAS, after its initial dilly-dallying, eventually endorsed the AU resolution on Guinea

However, despite this, the new military junta has further consolidated its hold on power. For now, it seems to be enjoying a considerable degree of mass support in Guinea. Riding on this wave, the junta has pledged to rid Guinea of corruption, as well as raise the living standards of ordinary Guineans, before allowing elections in two years time.

Arising from these developments are certain questions that must be posed and answered. Firslty, why did this coup happen and instantly appear to enjoy the general support of Guinean people? Secondly, why have the working masses of different African countries always initially supported military coup plotters, who invariably ended up perpetrating the same, and often worse, despotic and corrupt crimes than those they removed from power? So will the Captain Camara-led junta be able to fulfil its promises? Following on from the condemnation of this coup by the international community, are we now to expect the West to lead a coordinated democratic mass struggle, to chase out the military junta from power, and call genuine, democratic, free and fair elections?

Background to the coup

Despite having more than half of the world’s bauxite deposits, as well as vast iron ore reserves and rich agricultural land, most people in the former French colony of Guinea live on less than one dollar a day. While generating more than 60% of the country’s export revenues, the mines provide only 20% of its taxes. One of the Conte regime’s worst crimes was the siphoning off – in secret deals with his friends – of mining revenues. The country was once a food exporter, but its 10 million people are now amongst the poorest in the world. This, it must be underlined, is the direct result of ruthless capitalist exploitation, presided over by Rio Tinto, Alcoa, BHP and other western-owned mining companies that had dominated Guinea since independence in 1958. Side by side with this is the corrupt nature of the country’s capitalist elite, particularly Conte’s regime. In his lifetime, Mr. Conte, like many African leaders, staged several rigged elections, in order to maintain his hold on power.

However, about two years before his death, Conte’s hold on power was seriously challenged by mass protests, led by the trade unions. Following an eight day general strike over wages and inflation in June 2006, the immediate spark for even greater protests was provided by the case of Mamadou Sylla, a close confidant of the late dictator. Sylla was jailed in 2006, along with an official of the Central Bank, on charges of stealing $3 million, by inflating the price of cars supplied to government officials and pocketing the difference. In a provocative act of impunity, President Conte personally went to the jail to free his friend Sylla from imprisonment and then the dam broke. The country was immediately engulfed by a series of mass protests and strikes, which lasted for several weeks, demanding the resignation of Conte as President. However, lacking an independent economic outlook, the trade union leaders could not carry through the demands of the protesters a logical conclusion. Consequently, after a 17 day general strike in January 2007 and a further 14 day general strike the following month, a rotten compromise was struck, that enabled Conte to retain power on the condition that he appoint a Prime Minister, since he himself was too ill to rule.

Subsequently, Conte’s Guinea was rocked by several upheavals and protests, including army and police strikes over pay. However, lacking a political movement which was capable of realising their aspirations, by removing Conte from power, many Guineans felt helpless. When a few hours after Conte’s death, a group of military officers announced the suspension of the constitution and the seizure of power by the army, the Guinean masses, who had long been held under bondage by Conte and his looting colleagues in power, must have heaved a sigh of relief. As the saying goes, “good riddance to bad rubbish”!

Martial law vs Constitutional rule

To attempt to reduce recent developments in Guinea to a simple struggle between military and constitutional rule is a gross misconception and/or an outright deception. The 25 years spent in power by Lansana Conte were characterized by massive pillaging of Guinean resources by the capitalist ruling elites, side by side with the Western capitalist corporations that dominated Guinea’s economy. Guinea’s rich agricultural land came to count for nothing, while its citizens’ social and living standards experienced a dramatic collapse. It should be recalled that the late President Conte himself came to power in 1984, via military coup, after the demise of Guinea’s founding President, Sekou Toure. From his position as martial leader, he subsequently organised a ‘kangaroo election’ to transform himself into a civilian president.

Of course, characteristic of many African, pro-imperialist, capitalist leaders, Guinea under Conte had its own fair share of stage managed and rigged elections which always invariably returned Conte to power. When, in 2006, the masses, under the leadership of the trade unions, started massive industrial strikes and demonstrations against Conte’s regime, the regime responded with brutal attacks on unarmed protesters. At the end of the day, about 150 ordinary Guineans were massacred in just one instance. But lacking a coherent working class economic and political alternative, the trade union leaders, who led these mass protests, proved utterly incapable of defeating Conte’s government or of taking the movement to a higher level.

Against this background, the rapid acceptance of the coup and its leaders, by sections of the masses and official trade union movement, is understandable. For the masses, the demise of the despotic Conte and the consequent sacking of his government, made up of his accomplices in crime, was one of the best things that could have happened. However, the uncritical manner with which the Guineans have embraced their current military usurpers can only be validly explained as an act of political innocence on their part. On the other hand, it is an expression of the utter failure and bankruptcy of the trade union leaders, who lack both the ideas and the strategy that could lead the masses to ultimate victory over the capitalist exploiters and dictatorial leaders. In other words, only the existence of a conscious mass working class opposition and agitation would have enabled the masses to distinguish between welcoming the end of a hated regime and the acceptance of a new set of martial rulers.

“Democratic” Toga

As noted before, the opposition of the so-called ‘international community’ to the coup in Guinea is, to say the least, very dubious and deceptive. So is the so-called opposition of the African Union and ECOWAS. First and foremost, the point must be stressed that it was the ‘profit first’ philosophy of imperialism and capitalist corporations that has enabled Lansana Conte and his kleptomaniac colleagues to subject Guineans to his despotic rule. Therefore, their current stance – of immediate return to civil rule – as far as the Guineans are concerned, is seen as no more than a demand for the official looting and political repression of Conte’s regime to continue unabated, behind a democratic facade.

The idea of expressing tough opposition to coup plotters in Africa gives the false impression to the working class citizens of more advanced capitalist countries that their leaders are really democratic. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In the first instance, all of Africa’s kleptomaniac and repressive rulers are the creations of international capitalism itself. Thus, notwithstanding the current rhetoric, the ‘profit first’ ideology of capitalism will, sooner or later, turn these imperialists countries into eager collaborators with Guinea’s current military .

The AU and ECOWAS opposition to the coup and the suspension of Guinea from these continental bodies is both self-serving and ineffectual. It is self-serving because this opposition merely expresses the collective interests of the various African looters and election riggers, who would not want to be thrown out of power by their competitors within the military. It is ineffectual because the mere suspension of Guinea from the continental body, on its own, will not aid the struggle of the Guinean masses for justice and genuine democratic rights. A few years back, the Commonwealth not only suspended Nigeria’s military rulers – in the wake of the brutal state murder of Ken Saro Wiwa and nine other Ogoni minority nationalist fighters – but went on to impose some sanctions on Nigeria. But notwithstanding these “actions”, Britain, Nigeria’s former colonial ruler, went on to broker its greatest arms-deals with the murderous Abacha Nigerian junta. Similarly, once the major national corporations that dominate Guinea’s mining sector have been accommodated by the military leaders, it will be business as usual.

The Moussa Camara junta

Just like their counterparts, that have usurped power in several other African countries, Guinea’s new military rulers initially appear to know of the specific socio-economic problems that are holding Guinea and the Guinean masses down. Its maiden media broadcast states, “Guinea could have been more prosperous. Unfortunately, history and men have decided otherwise. 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”. In addition, the broadcast further identified the following as some of the specific problems and challenges that are hindering the growth of Guinea’s economy and the well-being of its citizens.

These are:

  • “The government’s obvious failure to provide basic social services such as water and electricity.
  • The marginalisation of youths and women in the decision-making process.
  • The worsening insecurity in the entire country and the general corruption in the administration.
  • A fresh upsurge of drug trafficking throughout the country.
  • The government’s flat refusal to further review mining agreements for fear of harming the personal and selfish interests of some government officials, lobby groups and Mafia-like clans.
  • The failure to prosecute people involved in embezzlement of public funds.
  • Arbitrary appointments to key government positions
  • The government’s lack of political will to hold free and transparent elections for a year now.
  • The fact that some lobby groups have held the government to ransom, preventing the government from initiating the necessary customs, fiscal, and monetary reforms that are necessary for an economic recovery of the country”.

To “end the agony of the Guinea people”, a self-styled National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), the highest ruling organ of the military junta, whose membership is made up of unelected individuals, has resolved to cure all these ailments, within two years. Specifically, the junta has outlined a five-point agenda as “measures that will guarantee a peaceful transition in the highest interest of the Guinean nation”.

These are:

  • “To fight corruption
  • To restore state authority and public administration
  • To ensure the actual liberalisation of airwaves throughout the national territory
  • To initiate a constitutional amendment
  • To provide basic services like water, electricity, and healthcare to the people”.

However, all the talk of problems and projected solutions are the usual initial rhetoric, normally proffered by military usurpers throughout Africa’s history, as they struggle to consolidate their hold on power. By virtue of its analysis and the specific policies which the junta has so far implemented, it is as certain that none of the major problems confronting the Guinean masses will substantially be solved.

To start with, the point must be underlined that Guinea’s underdevelopment and the mass poverty of its working people is the direct result of the imperialist capitalism, which places profit for capitalist corporations above the well-being of the people and the proper economic development of society. As long as this remains, no amount of verbal radicalism will bring about a fundamental transformation of the deplorable living conditions of the masses. But to transform this unjust capitalist system and defeat imperialism would require the conscious mobilisation of the Guinean working masses, economically and politically, for the seizure of power and the formation of a democratic, working class, socialist government of working people.

There is however, no inkling that the junta is prepared to challenge the imperialist, capitalist domination of Guinea. In fact, all the steps it has taken so far suggest a desire to quickly seek the acceptance of the mining monopolies. Firstly, the junta has requested the mine corporations to come forward and renegotiate their contracts/licences. Secondly, it has made demands on the imperialist countries to give it financial aid for its self-imposed task of making Guinea corruption free! Very significantly, however, it has appointed a former banker as Guinea’s new Prime Minister, a measure calculated to assure imperialism that nothing would be done to alter the prevailing neo-liberal capitalist policies of the Conte regime.

In a most bizarre manner, the new junta, which had earlier promised to make a clean break with a quarter century of misrule by Conte, unexpectedly announced it was to give the same generally loathed Conte a “grandiose” state burial, declaring a national public holiday on the day of his burial. National television and radio were use to play songs and music in praise of Conte.

In sharp contrast to the ‘appeasement’ policy of the new military junta towards the capitalist elite, the junta’s policy regarding the organisation of the masses is brutal and unceremonious. The junta announced: “all political and trade union activities are.. suspended”. Thus, the very forces with an objective interest in waging a fight against capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination are caged by the new regime.

For socialists, this is decisive. While opposing the utterly hypocritical criticism of the coup from imperialism and African semi-despots, socialists stand fully in defence of the working class and poor’s democratic rights, including the right to organise and struggle. Bitter experiences, in countries such as Ghana, after Rawlings’s second coup, have repeatedly shown that the working class and poor cannot rely on military “saviours” to transform their lives. All too often, even “progressive” military officers have a top-down ‘barracks mentality’ and oppose independent workers’ activity by workers’ and poor, especially in the direction of a break with capitalism.

Way forward for the Guinean masses

In the wake of the military putsch in Guinea, President Musa Yar’Adua of Nigeria, in his capacity as current ECOWAS Chairman, sent General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s former military president, to investigate the situation on ground in Guinea. Predictably, Babangida, one of the Nigeria’s most prolific coup plotters, came back with a report that Nigeria – and by extension, ECOWAS, AU, EU, US, France, etc – should accept the coup plotters in Guinea, because they acted as “patriots”, who were merely out to defend the best interests of Guinea. While Babangida’s conclusion was subsequently rejected by the ECOWAS leaders, who subsequently went ahead to suspend Guinea from the body, not too much should be read into this. In reality, given the pro-capitalist and extremely corrupt character of most of the ECOWAS leaders, as well as the leaders of other pro-capitalist international bodies like AU, ordinary Guineans should not expect advancement in their struggle for decent living conditions and freedom from terror and repression, on the basis of ECOWAS diplomatic resolution.

Similarly, the working masses must not place any hope in the new junta’s promises of a better life and free and fair elections within two years. To start with, such promises are usually made by military coup leaders, as they struggle to consolidate their hold on power. Both Lansana Conte and several other military usurpers in Africa, including General Ibrahim Babangida himself, were renowned for making promises, only to be broken later.

Characteristically, the current military usurpers in Guinea first announced that they would conduct elections within a period of sixty days. Thereafter, the junta changed its position in this respect, now promising to hold national elections within two years!. Meanwhile, Moussa Camara, the junta’s de facto leader, had stated that he will not run as a candidate in the proposed elections. Assuming that this military junta will keep its, that would not mean that the junta will not hand power back to the same ruinous capitalist elites and forces that brought Guinea to its present prostrate condition.

Not so long ago, in Nigeria, military usurpers spent almost 15 years in power, ostensibly “fighting corruption” and also promising to organise “free and fair elections”. At the end of their laborious but highly undemocratic transition programme, a most virulent gang of anti-poor, pro-capitalist, kleptomaniacs were unleashed on Nigerians in the name of a “transition to democracy”. Similarly, notwithstanding their current rhetoric, the current military usurpers in Guinea can only lead the Guinean masses to further ruin, both economically and politically. From their conduct so far, it should be very clear that they are more interested in holding back the genuine struggles of the working masses, while preserving the very economic and political structures that have been holding Guineans down.

Of course, under conditions of severe socio-economic crisis, combined with significant mass actions and pressure from the working masses, the junta could be forced to take certain radical actions in the interests of the working masses, which are generally detrimental to the interests of capitalism as a system. However, because of its origins, as an institution designed for the preservation of capitalism, its top-down and autocratic character, the military junta would inevitably reveal its real reactionary character. The more the masses begin to take socially independent and democratic mass actions that call into question the preservation of the prevailing capitalist system, where the overwhelming majority live in perpetual poverty, in the midst of inexhaustible resources.

The point ought to be clearly understood; that it was the working class’ previous mass struggles that exposed Lansana Conte’s regime to be seen for what it was: a repressive, looters paradise! However, it was the incapacity of leaders of this mass movement to take it to its most logical conclusion, removing Conte from power and in his place instituting a government of workers and poor, that has paved way for the military usurpers to seize power from the hated regime.

This development will be instructive for the working class in other African countries, including Nigeria. If the working class fails to use its struggle to achieve a decisive victory in its struggles against capitalist corruption and misrule, the danger of ambitious elements within the military taking power with the support or indifference of sections of the capitalist class will always exist. What is needed in Guinea, as well as other capitalist countries, is the development of a conscious working class economic and political agenda, which both aims at replacing the current, unjust economic and political order with a people-oriented democratic socialist order. Principally, this will involve fighting for an economic arrangement in which the major sources of wealth, including major industries and mineral resources, land, banks and the financial system are collectively owned and democratically run by the working people themselves, to guarantee all the necessities of life for everybody, unlike the prevailing capitalist arrangement, where the vast majority of the population are kept in a state of permanent.

To be able to carry out this revolutionary task, the working class needs to be independently organised politically and armed with the strategy of mobilising the broad mass of the poor to remove the ever self-serving capitalist politicians and looters from power and in their place institute a government of the working people and the poor. From the point of the working masses, only this approach can bring about genuine prosperity and democracy for the Guinean masses. In fact, only the adoption of this kind of outlook and strategy can bring about the quick removal of the current military usurpers from power. The Guinean working masses must not place any illusions in ECOWAS, AU and all other capitalist bodies, to bring about the restoration of a constitutional government that would be truly beneficial to the ordinary masses in Guinea.

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