Guinea Junta Chief Camara Claims to Be New President


Power struggle … Captain Moussa Dadis Camara joins supporters on the streets of Conakry, a day after seizing power following the death of President Lansana Conte.
Photo: AFP

Dec. 25 (Bloomberg) — Guinea’s military junta chief, Captain Moussa Camara, declared himself the new leader of the resource-rich nation following the death of President Lansana Conte and ruled out elections for two years.

Related article: Military tightens control following coup in Guinea

Camara is heading a council of 26 army officers and six civilians that has ordered a nationwide curfew and told generals and ministers of the previous government to report to a military camp within 24 hours. A faction of the armed forces seized power in the west African country on Dec. 23, a day after Conte died.

“I am convinced, reassured that I am the president of the republic,” Camara, 49, told reporters late yesterday. Earlier, he and several hundred soldiers paraded through the streets of the capital Conakry before cheering crowds.

Guinea, which holds the world’s biggest reserves of bauxite, has never had a democratic transfer of power. The military group set up the National Council for Democracy and Development on Dec. 23 and said it plans to establish a government representing all ethnic groups.

The nation of 9.4 million people is divided among three main ethnic groups, with the Peuhl, or Fulani, accounting for 40 percent, the Malinke 30 percent and Soussou 20 percent, according to U.S. government data. Former President Conte was a Soussou, while the military faction that seized power consists of Malinke officers, according to analysts.

Ethnic Tensions

Camara, who has a diploma in law and economics from the University of Conakry, joined the military in 1990.

Conte ruled for 24 years and died three days ago after a long illness. He was a career soldier who seized power on April 3, 1984, after the death of President Ahmed Sekou Toure. Conte had diabetes and was once diagnosed with leukemia.

The council ordered generals and ministers to report to a camp in the Conakry suburbs. If they fail to appear, they will be hunted down, council spokesman Captain Nouhou Thiam said in a statement.

Most of the ministers, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré, reported to the camp this morning, arriving in a convoy of off-road vehicles.

The curfew due to be imposed late yesterday was delayed to Dec. 26 for the Christmas holiday, the council said. Mines are exempt from the curfew, though companies will be responsible for their own security.

The junta must approve all government expenditure and general secretaries, the civil servants who oversee the government departments, will temporarily assume responsibilities previously accorded to their ministers, Thiam said.

Free Elections

Camara told reporters yesterday that free and transparent elections will be held in 2010. “I am not interested in remaining in power” and won’t run for office, he said.

State radio earlier said Camara will be sworn in as president at the Palais de Nations in Conakry.

Guinea is a former French colony and the world’s fourth- biggest producer of bauxite, an ore used to make the aluminum precursor alumina, after Australia, Brazil and China. Bauxite and related industries account for about 80 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

The nation produced 14 million metric tons of bauxite last year, according to the U.S. Geological Service. Violent protests in early 2007 caused the price of alumina to jump 76 percent in two months. Rio Tinto Group, Alcoa Inc., United Co. Rusal and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. operate in the country.

Guinea’s economy grew 1.8 percent last year, down from 2.4 percent in 2006, according to the International Monetary Fund. It has a gross domestic product of $4.53 billion, according to the IMF. South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, has a gross domestic product of $278 billion.

African Condemnation

Government officials and the army leader, General Diarra Camara, told Radio France Internationale that the government hasn’t been dissolved and most members of the army are loyal.

The African Union’s peace and security council, meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa condemned the coup.

The 53-nation group expressed “grave concern about the resurgence of the phenomenon of coup d’etat, which constitutes a threat to peace and security on the continent, as well as a very serious setback in the ongoing democratization process in Africa,” according to the statement. The coup plotters will be “held fully and personally accountable for their actions.”

Conte’s rule was characterized by delayed elections, boycotted referendums, strikes and protests. In recent years, he had to contend with increased protests.

At least 110 people were killed by security forces in early 2007 after demonstrations demanding Conte’s resignation, according to Human Rights Watch. The year before, soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed people during protests against rising food prices, the New York-based group said.

A state funeral will be held for Conte tomorrow, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an unidentified family member.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alpha Camara in Conakry, Guinea via Johannesburg at asguazzin@bloomberg.net; Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: December 25, 2008 09:03 EST
By Alpha Camara and Michael Heath

Source: Bloomberg

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