Guinea's army still calls the shots
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, commentator and National Public Radio correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton considers the shocking violence in Guinea.
Guinea's unelected coup leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, would have us believe that rogue soldiers, unruly elements within the army, were behind the killings of pro-democracy supporters in the stadium in Conakry last week and that he had no control over them.
Others are blaming foreign gunmen, including some English-speakers, apparently with Liberian accents.
Several reports spoke of men in uniform reeking of alcohol and high on drugs. That sounds familiar.
Whether hired guns or home-grown presidential red berets, they were armed and women protestors were not spared.
A shocking trend, increasingly common in other African conflict zones, appears to have landed in Guinea - sexual assaults on women by uniformed men as a weapon of war.
There have been horrifying reports this past week of soldiers using rifle butts, even bayonets, to rape women, while other women were stripped of their clothing and their dignity - and were then violated, humiliated and raped in public by the security forces.
Guineans are still in shock - including opposition leaders who were in the stadium when the troops opened fire and stabbed people with bayonets.
Maybe it is from reading and listening to Western media reports, but it is uncanny how, unbid, many people interviewed - men and women - have mentioned sexual violence, with a sense of foreboding, shame and sorrow.
"This is new," I thought.
Plus ca change?
Then I began looking back through my coverage of the crippling union-led strike and the brutal military crackdown in Guinea back in early 2007.
Human rights groups say 157 people were killed during the protests
I remember the diminutive trade union leader, Hadja Rabiatou Serah Diallo's quiet authority and steely gaze - Guinea's Corazon Aquino or Lech Walesa - as she was dubbed.
She marched fearlessly, demanding sweeping government reforms and the military back to barracks.
Ms Diallo insisted there would be no dialogue in Guinea until the "state of siege" - martial law - was lifted.
That was in the General Lansana Conte era.
He died in December 2008, after clinging to power for more than 20 years.
But what has changed under Capt Dadis Camara? Legacies linger in Guinea.
You know what Ms Diallo told us more than two years ago?
That the army, with its unlimited powers of search and detention, allowed all manner of evil to be committed under the cover of darkness.
The union leader warned that some individuals used this time to rob others, to rape women and other such atrocities.
"It has to stop," she said, "this is really very serious".
But it hasn't stopped.
Dying for democracy
Now women in Guinea are being raped, robbed and sexually assaulted with guns, not after dark, but brazenly and brutally in broad daylight.
Has Guinea changed under Capt Camara?
Do such acts of savagery indicate a society on the skids?
Or is it another case of poor leadership and shabby governance - under the military in this instance - where humanity is jettisoned and anything goes?
A Guinean historian told me, after the 2007 riots, that cannon-fire could not stop his compatriots now that Guineans had tasted victory, by bringing the country to a standstill and General Lansana Conte, the intransigent veteran president, to the negotiating table.
He said that fact had strengthened the courage of the people of Guinea, because they were no longer afraid. They had gone beyond fear.
The historian commented on what young people were saying, "We've suffered so much, it can't get worse. If we die today, it doesn't matter any more. "
But the situation has got worse - and it does matter - and Guineans are still dying, dying for democracy and freedom and the right to choose their leaders.
Thank you for your comments. Please read a selection below:
Africans are yet to learn lesson; Can you imagine there're people living under this terror still chanting slogan that Daddis is their champion. Charles Taylor needs to welcome this hooligan in the prison cell at the Intentional Court in The Hague. It's about time that AU, Ecowas wake up and take action in the interest of the poor suffering Guineans instead of waiting for the West to dictate to them. My sympathy to relatives of all the innocent who lost their lives
D. Max Leboe, Liberian living in Philadelphia, USA
I was born in Guinea, educated in Sierra Leone and spent some of my childhood years in Liberia. I migrated to the States with my family in Jan of 2008 and was on vacation to my native country during the 28th September massacre. I saw the NPFLs, the ULIMOs in Liberia and the RUFs and Kamajohs in Sierra Leone but what happened on Monday the 28th of September at the Stadium is beyond imagination. None of the rebels in both Sierra Leone and Liberia has ever shot into a crowd of thousands of people sitting peacefully waiting for an address. The rapes in the wars in both wars happened in secret, but the one in Guinea was daylight and public. If Dadis, Pivi, Sekouba Konate and Thiegboro at not arrested and judged then Charles Taylor should be released. What has happened is just the smoke if serious action is not taken. The soldiers are used to power, free money and women. The masses are in abject poverty and wants a break. The international community is hypocrite. There lies the problem.
Souleymane Barry, Green Valley, Arizona, USA
Where is the outrage from Africa and African Politicians? Such a crime against the people and especially rape in public and in broad daylight show the level of impunity by the perpetrators. Such crimes are add to the continue devaluation of Africa and its people.
It is high time such crimes against defenceless citizens be persecuted by any country in the world. To hear the Guinean authorities counter the French criticism as interference in its domestic affairs is laughable. When a regime perpetrates such baseless crimes against its own people, it has lost its legitimacy and moral rectitude with the people and thus cannot defend them. France should lead the EU to cut ties with the Guinean junta to show a new trend in international politics. This should also be debated in United Nations. A light must shine on these crimes until all the perpetrators are brought to justice. To do anything less will be a disservice to the victims. They have already paid the ultimate price for Democracy let us to let their sacrifice be in vain.
Africans in the diaspora have a greater chance of effecting change. If we speak as one voice we can get the west to put pressure on such despots. If these despots know that the possibility exits of their ill gotten wealth and luxuries stashed in the west can be frozen and returned to the people they can change their behaviour.
We have to show some outrage else it will be assumed we tolerate such reprehensible behaviour. Africa Unite against the foe of despots masquerading as legitimate rulers.
Nelson Bolima, Washington DC, USA
The A.U. which is an African organisation that replaces the O.A.U. has already failed. In its place I recommend an African Military organisation like ECOMOG in West Africa. This organisation will be charged with the responsibility of forcibly dragging out power hungry politicians out of African Paliaments. The African Parliament is the shortest rout to wealth. Soldiers all over Arica have tried this rout and failed. Let us don't forget that there is no coup that do not have disgruntle politicians as directors. I sometimes get mad at some intellectuals leaving Universities to become politicians, only to be molested when they are out of power. The situation in Guinea is very pathetic and needs prayer from men of God. Let us pray for the army to change heart and return to barracks. God bless Guinea, God bless Africa.
Edward J.C. Feika, Matagelema, Sierra Leone
I think the best way settling any conflict of interest is through negotiation there and the coup leader in the name of Camara should know that democracy should not be inherited by naturally practise therefore he should give way to democracy and stop his soldier from killing innocent people which should be a sing of be able to rule
Joseph Swaray, Freetown capital, Sierra Leone
Guinea in real terms is like a rose garden that has been over run by wild flowers. Decades of dictatorship, compounded by illiteracy and ignorant ambitions, has left this wilderness in tatter and turmoil. They need another brother Moses, I hope he is on his way from across the red sea.
Blanshard Meheux, Freetown, Sierra Leone
This is not something new in Guinea; it's been going on for a while. But people are getting sick and ready to die for the country they love. I feel sad that Guinean is not getting the help they need I love my country and I think we were better even under Sekou Toure. I love my country.
Ibrahima Diallo, Belfast
The upheaval in Conakry is a manifestation of the junta leader's incompetence to run Guinea thereby sacrificing innocent souls. He is being unreasonable with himself, because we're in a small world which mirrors what ever we do. Thus, whose grave Dadis Camara thinks he is digging in this age of human rights? Think wisely before the ICC could get your records straight. Give peace a chance Mr Dadis!
Mohamed Magazuba, Makeni, Sierra Leone
I am very disappointed with DADIS because as a commander of the armed forces especially the red bereted commandos he must have given them the orders to kill instead of denying. To kill and rape your own citizens is just as evil as waking up at night and rape your own mother, grand mother, sisters and daughters. GOD FORBID. If you do not have the intelligence to lead others, then do not be a leader.
Mindenda Kiboko, LUSAKA ZAMBIA
Kudos to Ofeibea Quist-Arcton for her usual great pieces on Africa. Go African lady, go! More grease to your elbow! And to buttress Ofeibea's points, perhaps what many an African dictator has failed to reckon is: the death or rape of one of their citizens, be it by direct official/political complicity (which is undoubtedly the case in the recent massacres in Conakry, Guinea) or downright Government inefficiency and inability, is one too many.
The point is: the world must henceforth do business unusual by speedily bringing to book sitting African dictators under whose governments such heinous violations occur. In other words, sitting African leaders, like Guninea's Mousa Dadis Kamara, should be made to face the music and not get away with impunity for their misdeeds any more. The focus should not be only on similar crimes when they committed in war/conflict times. The mere prospect of offending African leaders being indicted for those crimes while they are still serving as dishonourable presidents of their people would dangle over their heads like Damolces' sword for the rest of their lives, and thereby deter many others.
Sudan's Omar El Bashir, despite all the rhetoric and frenzied appeal to Sudanese nationalistic sentiments against his indictment for war crimes, is a deeply worried man, and will remain a worried man until he faces the world's human rights court some day, or until his last breath on earth. Did the world community hear the message?
A.M. Collier, Freetown, Sierra Leone
My comment is that the A.U. must form an interim government in Guinea which will run the country for three months so that they can form the electoral commission independently and conduct the election free and fair. Dadis and his fellows must go back to the barracks.
Moses Conteh, Freetown, Sierra Leone
I think is time for democracy in Guinea after long years of dictatorial rule under Sekou Toure and Lansana Conte. This brutal and corrupt man Dadis Camara and his junta members should be punished for the killing, rape, and assault of Guineans who are angry for democracy in their country. I see a bright future for the Guinean people in 2010, if a free and fair elections are held that does not include Dadis Camara as a candidate. If he decided to run the Guinean people are ready this time to sacrifice their lives to force him out of power with the help of the international communities.
I personally feel the pain the Guinean people are going through right now, in fact i even have some family members in Guinea. I am a Sierra Leonean but i am of Guinean descent and i have spent a few years in the Guinean city of Kindia and the capital Conakry. My grandfather came from Guinea years ago as a young man and settled in Kono District in Eastern Sierra Leone.
My thought and prayers go out to the people of Guinea. Those who have lost their lives in this unrest will never be forgotten. God Bless Africa and God bless Guinea.
Mustapha Condeh, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Guinea is a nation at the threshold of explosion since the mid 90s when it erstwhile president started to play the usual black tricks in the wars of Sierra Leone n Liberia. Hatred (bitterness) among the irate Guinean youths n the unemployed ex-combatants in Liberia n SL is being moaning for a long time. With this fragile nation in the hands of illiterate n disgruntled blood thirst-bandits, the peace in the region is at stake! Haven't Guineans learnt from the gruesome wars in SL, Lib, Ivory coast n Bissau? May God help the Guinean people!
Timothy Musa Kabba, St.Petersburg, Russia
The Guinean people can no longer wait to have freedom. The country has suffered for half a century. It is time people rise up and remove the military leader and restore a democratically elected government.
African men have been exercising power since the birth of time. And traditionally, when the people don't like you anymore, or disapprove with your governance, hey overthrow you, or have you killed. Now after being brainwashed into thinking that what ever we do is our fault after being independent, that's where the trouble comes in. who gives us so called aid to buy weapons, who sells us the weapons, who do they sell them to and give the aid to, who sparks that never-seen issue between people, and who comes to try to resolve the problem after starting it. They are making us fight amongst each other while they suck our continent dry, and treat us like puppets. I see two possible solutions; one we work together to form a united states of Africa to balance and centralize a stronger more stable progressive future for oncoming children of Africa, but they will never see that happen because it would be their downfall; or go back to the stone ages with monarchies lead by power hungry African men with big egos.
Ibrahima Ba, Senegal
I think that the Guinean Army must be completely abolished, because the criminal actions on the Guinean people in September 28 is something I have never seen in my live. Each of us is from a mother. The women must be respected not be brutalized or raped. I call for the International Community to send in Guinea the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces to disarm the military in Guinea since the army is disorganized and has no discipline at all.
Aliou M. Gadjiko, Columbia
I get nausea and feel powerless anytime I see or hear of what happened in Guinea. Isn't enough that people have lived through hunger, joblessness and insecurity for past 51 years? I cry and pray for all of those who lost their lives and prides last week. You will never be forgotten. I beg the international community to help us out. Please get rid of this savages. We do not need them and God knows they will get worse by day if we just sit down and no do anything about this.
Thimann Jallah, Indiana, USA
Well if Muammar al-Gaddafi and Yahya Jammeh, etc still in power what make you think Dadis is not going to emulate their example in putting the the Military uniform away and wearing African attire or suit? AU, ECOWAS are all puppet organizations because they just talking and no action while Guinean die.
Seltue Karweaye, Liberian Student studying in Sweden
I am a Guinean living in the UK and I am very distressed and upset to see what has happened in my home country this last week. Too many innocent people have died, and we Guineans know that it was the military who have done this to us and that they are very bad for the country. Everyone knows that there are many bandits within the military who sell drugs and want to cause trouble throughout the country. For many years now, the government have not made sure there is enough food and basic supplies for the people. Too many people are hungry and living with nothing. All the news that you hear about my country is of terrible violence and corruption and poverty, but Guinea is a beautiful country with a rich culture that we want to share with the world. We don't want a military government any more. We don't want any more fighting and violence. We want the right to choose our leaders. We want to be able to take care of our mothers and fathers and ensure a good future for our younger generation.
I Soumah, UK
Just when we thought the ghost of savagery and mindless killing by the military had ended, some beasts are revising it for the 21st Century. Camara and his ilk are the curse of Africa and he is in good company. The juvenile denial where we often blame the West is stale. We are our own worst enemies from Cairo to Cape Town. Elections and democracy mean nothing to our leaders. They consider votes as mere piece of paper and even the philosophy-waxing oppositionists are only making noise to fight for their chance to have their noses in the trough.
The young generation are no better than the dinosaurs. Primitive accumulation of wealth is all they dream of. Until we have an honest look at ourselves and mend our ways we have only one direction to go, DOWN.
taabu, Eldoret, Kenya
United States, Frace, EU, AU, Russia, China, Ecowas, United Nation please please help us. Criminals came to clam Guinea as they own the country alone. Mousa Dadis Camara have get down. We want civilians government now. 51 years lead by dictator. Now is 2009 we need your help please world leaders help us. If you wanna help us, this the minute to complete.
Mohammed Salieu Sow, Oslo Norway
I think it is time for the military to be abolished in the third world not only in Guinea. Costa Rica did it, and the country has prospered and in peace. Founds used for the army should be invested in other sectors to benefit the people. Third world armies are parasites feeding on their hosts. Dadis and his team MOST GO.
Africa cries out for the dignity of our mothers and fathers, children, the infirmed and the old. Africa cries for reprieve from the belligerent beasts that roam its hollow ground. Of men who are boys with guns, knives and pangas with blood in their eyes and voices curdled with broken flesh, a stench of maniacal ignorance and destruction their only etiquette. We are ships without wind in our sails and keels gone askew. There are good folks on this continent but they too are soon killed off. It is time for a new revolution; the cancer of dictators, murderers, profiteers and colonialists must be cast off to right the ship.