GUINEA\’S LATEST MILITARY USURPERS AND THE WORKING MASSES
GUINEA’S LATEST MILITARY USURPERS AND THE WORKING MASSES
Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary
Guinea’s successful military coup has once again revealed the weak underbelly of what the imperialist west often erroneously called “democracy” in Africa. Within a few hours after the death of Lansana Conte, the military coupist turned life civilian President of Guinea, full-blown military rule was imposed on the mineral rich but largely impoverished working people of Guinea. At first, the rump of government left behind by Lansana Coute was urging Guineans to reject the coup. However, these shameless, corrupt leaders hurriedly thereafter went to pledge their personal loyalty to the junta the moment they discovered that the people and youth in particular were hailing the coupists as heroes and its leader, Moussa Camara as junior Obama!
In what appeared like a choreographic reaction, the US, EU, France, AU and the ECOWAS have all severally and collectively denounced the latest coup in Guinea and more or less demanded immediate restoration of constitutional rule. According to a typical statement issued by the US: “the United State condemned the military coup â€¦ we reject the announcement by the elements of the Guinea military that the election will not be held for two years and we call for an immediate return to civil rule”. The AU not only condemned the coup, but in fact took prompt action to suspend Guinea from the continental body until it returned to civil rule. ECOWAS, after the initial dilly-dally, eventually came round to essentially endorse the AU resolution on Guinea.
However, despite all this cacophonic verbal radicalism, the new military junta has further consolidated its hold on power. And for now, it seems to be enjoying a considerable degree of mass support and/or equanimity on the part of Guinea’s populace. Riding on this crest wave, the junta has assumed the self-imposed duty of riding Guinea of corruption as well as achieving an enhanced living standard for the ordinary Guineans within a period of two years before it would allow elections to elect new sets of constitutional rulers.
Arising from these developments are certain pertinent questions that must be posed and answered. One, why did this coup happen and instantly appear to enjoy the general support of Guinean people? Put differently, why have the working masses of different African countries always initially throw their arms to military coupists who invariably always ended up perpetrating the same and often worse kind of despotic and corrupt rule than those they unconstitutionally removed from powers? Looked at from another angle, will the Captain Camara-led junta be able to rid Guinea of pervasive corruption and achieve enhanced living standards for the ordinary Guineans and thereafter go ahead to conduct a truly free and fair elections as promised? On the basis of the radical condemnation of this coup by the international community, are we now to expect the West to lead coordinated democratic mass struggles of the ordinary Guineans to chase out the military junta from power as well as instituting 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 live on less than a dollar a day. While generating more than 60% of the country’s export revenues, the mines provide only 20% of its taxes. A big complaint against Mr. Conte was that so much of the mines’ revenue was siphoned off in secret deals with his friends. The country was a food exporter at independence in 1958 but its 10 million people are now amongst the poorest people 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 always dominated Guinea and its mineral rich land since independence. Side by side with this is the reign of impunity and pervasive corruption which the capitalist ruling elite has unleashed on the country, most especially aggravated under late Conte’s rule. In his lifetime Mr. Conte, characteristic of many African leaders, staged several heavily rigged elections in order to maintain his stranglehold 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 in over wages and prices in June 2006 the immediate spark for the even greater protests was provided by government reaction to the case of one 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 jail to free Sylla, his friend, from imprisonment and then the dam broke. The country was immediately engulfed by a series of mass protests and industrial strikes which lasted for several weeks, demanding the resignation of Conte as President. However, lacking independent economic outlook, the trade union leaders could not carry through the demands of the protesters to a most logical conclusion. In consequence, 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 with the only caveat that he must appoint a Prime Minister since himself was too ill to rule.
Subsequently, Conte’s Guinea was rocked by several upheavals and protests including army and police strikes over pay. Since that period and up till the time of Conte’s death, there was an atmosphere of pervasive discontent among the Guineans, who however felt helpless, lacking a political movement, which was capable of actualizing their aspirations by removing him from power. Thus, when a few hours after Conte’s death, a group of military officers announced the suspension of the constitution and that the army have taken over powers, 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 apparently stating good riddance to bad rubbish!
MARTIAL ROLE VERSUS CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER
To attempt to reduce the ongoing political development in Guinea to a simple issue of military arbitrariness versus constitutional order is a gross misconception and/or an outright deception. Suffice to stress, the almost the entire 25 years spent in power by Lansana Conte was characterized by massive pillaging of the Guinean resources by the capitalist ruling elites side by side with the Western capitalist imperialists corporations that dominated Guinea’s rich mineral sector. With absolute compliance with capitalist neo-liberal economic strategy, Guinea’s rich agricultural land came to count for nothing while its citizens’ social and living standards experienced a dramatic collapse that today make Guineans some of the poorest people on earth. 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 organized a kangaroo election to transform himself into a civilian president. Thus from the beginning till the end of his days in power, the Guineans masses had always been held under political bondage by Lansana Conte, either as military or civilian leader.
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 himself to power. When in 2006 the masses under the leadership of the trade unions started massive industrial strikes and demonstrations against Conte’s regime ineptness and malignant corruption in governance, the regime securities responded with serious bestiality to these unarmed protesters. At the end of the day, about 150 ordinary Guineans were massacred in just one instance. But lacking coherent working class economic and political alternatives, the trade union leaders, who led these mass protests proved utterly incapable of defeating Conte’s government and or 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 the rump 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 the 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 a consistent working class ideas and 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 agitations would have enable the masses to distinguish between welcoming the end of an hated regime and the acceptance of a new set of martial rulers.
IMPERIALIST FALSE DEMOCRATIC TOGA
As noted before, the seeming opposition of the so-called international community to the coup in Guinea is to say the least very dubious and deceptive. So also is the so-called opposition of the African Union and ECOWAS for that matter. First and foremost, the point must be centrally stressed that it was the profit first philosophy of imperialism and its capitalist corporations that has enabled Lansana Conte and his kleptomaniac colleagues in crimes to subject Guineans to a repressive rule for all of his tenure in power. Therefore, their current stance of immediate return to civil rule, as far as the Guineans are concerned, is seen no more than advice that the official looting and political repression of Conte’s dispensation should continue unabated behind a more democratic facade.
Again the idea of expressing tough position against coup plotters in Africa is to give the false impression to the working class citizens of the metropolitan countries that their leaders are really democratic. However, nothing can be farther from the truth. In the first instance, all of Africa’s kleptomaniac and repressive rulers are the objective and subjective creations of international capitalism itself. Thus, notwithstanding its current rhetorics on civil rule and democracy, the “profit first” ideology of capitalism will sooner than later turn these imperialists countries unto eager collaborators of the Guinea’s current military rulers as the latter consolidate its own kleptomaniac and arbitrary reign so long as the economic interest of its mine corporations are satisfactorily protected.
On its part, 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 interest of the various African looters and elections riggers, who nevertheless would not want to be thrown out of powers 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, the body in fact went ahead to impose a certain degree of sanctions on Nigeria. But notwithstanding these “actions”, Britain, Nigeria’s former colonial ruler went ahead, on record, to strike its greatest arms-deals with the murderous Abacha junta. Similarly, once the major national corporations that dominate Guinea’s mine sector have been accommodated by the military leaders, then it would 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 on the surface, appear to know what specific socio-economic problems that are holding Guinea and the Guinean masses down. Its maiden media broadcast in part 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 militating against the growth of Guinea 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 taken 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 total membership is made up of unelected individuals, has resolved to cure all these ailments within a period of 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 liberalization of airwaves throughout the national territory
- To initiate a constitutional amendment
- To provide basic services of water, electricity, and healthcare to the people”.
Critically examined however, all the above-stated expression of problems and projected solutions are the usual initial rhetorics normally proffered by military usurpers in all of Africa’s history as they struggle to consolidate their hold on power. But it is not just the reputation or lack of it that made the current military putsch in Guinea a bad phenomenon. By virtue of its analysis and the specific policies which the junta has so far implemented, it is as certain as the day following the night, that none of the major problems confronting the Guinean masses will substantially be solved, and in fact, that sooner than later, the Camara junta itself will inevitably get absorbed in corruption and arbitrariness of all capitalist dispensations.
To start with, the point must be underlined that the bane of Guinea’s underdevelopment and the mass poverty of its working people is the direct result of the imperialist capitalist arrangement that places profit for capitalist corporations above the well-being of the people and the proper economic development of a given society. As long as this arrangement remains, no amount of verbal radicalism will bring about a fundamental transformation in the deplorable living condition of the masses. But to transform this unjust capitalist system and defeat imperialism and its monopolies that dominates the Guinean mine sector would require the conscious mobilization of the Guinean working masses economically and politically for the seizure of power and the formation of a democratic working class socialist government of the working people.
There is however, no inkling that the junta is prepared to challenge the prevailing 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 mines monopolies. These are: firstly the request for the mine corporations to come forward and renegotiate their contracts/licences. Secondly, it has made pointed demands on the imperialist countries to give it financial aid on its self-imposed task of making Guinea corruption free! Very significantly however, it has appointed a former banker as Guinea 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 dispensation.
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 turned around to give the same generally loathed Conte a “grandiose” state burial, declaring a national public holiday on the day of his burial while using national TV and Radio to play songs and music in praise of Conte, the military general who had ruled the former French colony with an iron fist since himself seized power in 1984.
In sharp contrast to the appeasing policy of the new military junta towards the capitalist elite and interests, the junta’s treatment and policy vis-Å•-vis the organisation of the masses is characteristically brutal and unceremonious. Hear the junta: “all political and trade union activities are.. suspended”. Thus, the very forces who have the objective interest to wage a consistent fight against capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination are abinitio caged as usually done by all dictatorial regimes, including that of Lansana Conte, the former hated president.
Guinea is thus faced with a well familiar, old practice of making radical rhetorics against an old deposed government by new military usurpers while in all essentials striving and acting to preserve the same unjust capitalist order! For socialists, this is decisive. While opposing the utterly hypocritical criticism of the coup from imperialism and African semi-despots, socialists stand full square in defence of the working class and poor’s democratic rights, including the right to organise and struggle. Bitter experience, like in Ghana after Rawlings’s second coup, has shown again and again 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 barrack room mentality and oppose independent workers’ and masses’ activity, especially when making moves towards a break with capitalism.
WAY FORWARD FOR THE GUINEAN MASSES
In the wake of military putsch in Guinea, President Musa Yar’Adua, in his capacity as current ECOWAS Chairman, sent General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s former military president, to investigate the situation on ground in that country. Predictably, General 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 in fact as “patriots” who were merely out to defend the best interest of Guinea. While Babangida’s openly mendaciously reactionary 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, including the leaders of other pro-capitalist international bodies like AU, etc, the ordinary Guineans should not expect succour and concrete support in their struggles for decent living conditions and a polity free from terror and repression on the basis of ECOWAS diplomatic resolution.
Similarly, the working masses must not for a second place any hope on the new junta’s promises of better life and free and fair elections within a period of two years. To start with, many of such promises were usually made by military usurpers as they struggle to consolidate their hold on the stolen mandate. Both Lansana Conte and several other military usurpers in Africa, including General Ibrahim Babangida himself were renown for making promises only to be broken later as they get used to powers’ privileges and material benefits.
Characteristically, the current military usurpers in Guinea first announced that they would conduct elections within a period of sixty days. Thereafter, the junta has changed its position in this respect, now promising to hold national elections within a period of 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 possibly this military junta will keep its promise in this respect, that would not mean that the junta will not go ahead to organize a purported transition programme that will eventually bring back to power the same ruinous capitalist elites and forces that brought Guinea to its present prostrate condition. This frankly, is the best possible scenario that could emerge from a military-midwifed transition programme going by the experience of all of Africa’s countries that have, at one time or the other, experienced military rule.
Not so long ago in Nigeria, military usurpers spent almost 15 years in power, ostensibly to “fight corruption” and to also organize “free and fair elections”. At the end of their laborious but highly undemocratic transition programme, a most virulent gang of anti-poor, pro-capitalist, kleptomanias were unleashed on Nigerians in the name of “transition to democracy”. Similarly, notwithstanding their current rhetorics, the current military usurpers in Guinea can only lead the Guinean masses to further ruins both economically and politically. From their conducts so far, it should be very clear that they are more interested in holding down the genuine struggles of the working masses while preserving the very economic and political structures that have been holding Guineans down in all of the time.
Of course, under certain severe socio-economic crisis combined with a significant mass actions and pressures of the working masses, the junta could in fact be forced to take certain radical actions in favour of the working masses, which are generally detrimental to the interest of capitalism as a system. However, because of its origin 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 and urge more social independent and democratic mass actions that call into question the preservation of the prevailing unjust capitalist system, where the overwhelming majority live in perpetual poverty in the midst of an 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 is: a repressive, looters paradise! However, it is the incapacity of leaders of this mass movement to take it to its most logical conclusion of removing Conte from power and in his place institute a workers’ and poor government, that has paved way for the military usurpers to seize power from an admittedly hated regime.
This development of course must be instructive for the working class of other African countries including Nigeria. If the working class fails to use its struggle to achieve decisive victory in its incessant struggles against capitalist corruption and misrule, the danger of an ambitious set of elements within the military taking over power with the support or indifference of sections of the capitalist class to try and preserve the entire system will always remain. What therefore 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 wherein the major sources of wealth including major industries and mineral resources, lands, banks and finance are collectively owned and democratically run by the working people themselves with a view to guarantee all the necessaries of lives for everybody, unlike the prevailing capitalist arrangement where the vast majority of the populace are kept in a state of permanent poverty for the glory of a few billionaires.
To be able to carry out this revolutionary task, the working class needs to be independently politically organized 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 that would have no need to protect selfish interests over and above the interests of the entire working people. From the point of interest 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 defeat of the current military usurpers from power. The Guinean working masses must not for a second, place any illusion 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.