Page last updated at 09:53 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Obituary: Guinea's Lansana Conte

By Mark Doyle
BBC world affairs correspondent

The late President of Guinea, Lansana Conte, pictured in September 2002
Lansana Conte demonstrated supreme confidence, even arrogance

The President of Guinea, Gen Lansana Conte, has died. He was officially born in 1934 but there is no exact date.

Gen Conte followed a political path familiar to some of the old school of African leaders.

After first assuming absolute military power in 1984, he dabbled with democracy but then appeared to change his mind.

He let some political parties operate but intimidated or jailed other opposition leaders.

In the most recent presidential election campaign he only allowed a virtually unknown politician to stand against him, banning all of the rest.

And during the electioneering he demonstrated supreme confidence, not to say arrogance, by saying he would not be campaigning himself.

He was ill at the time - he is said to have had diabetes and heart trouble - and was quoted by the AFP news agency as telling a congress of his ruling party:

"I am ill. My leg hurts. You have chosen me as your candidate, so you get on with it."

During his time in power, Gen Conte held his country together despite the maelstrom of wars in neighbouring states including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.

But Guinea, a country of eight million people that is rich in minerals and blessed with fertile soil, never really reached its economic potential.

And repression under its ruler meant that Guinea could not join the new generation of African states which could boast political pluralism.

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