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Reuters’ Saliou Samb: “When It Comes to Guinea, Please Turn in Your Press Credentials”

June 19, 2012

Col. Moussa Tiegboro Camara – This guy is no Boy Scout. Rather, he is the primary perpetrator in the September 28, 2009 massacre in Conakry, Guinea.  He was indicted by a Guinean court, but will not spend a day in jail.  It helps to be a member of the Alpha Conde’s cabinet.

It appears that Guinea Oye is destined to correct the work of Saliou Samb, a reporter for Reuters who covers Africa. Every time Samb writes an article about Guinea he demonstrates that he is either incapable or unwilling to provide his readers with the appropriate background to understand the current situation. Putting the news in context is a primary function of a journalist. Once again, with the following article, Mr. Samb fails his readers.

Guinea Oye criticizes Samb’s articles because they are filled with holes wide enough to drive a truck through. Reuters, which employs Mr. Samb,is a highly respected, international news outlet and one of the few that reports on Guinea in English. Guinea Oye seeks to fill some of the holes left by Samb to give readers what they do not get from him: historical context, political analysis and, some understanding of what Guineans think about their country and its leader.

Accordingly, Guinea Oye has annotated Samb’s latest article,”FACTBOX-Key political risks in Guinea.”

FACTBOX-Key political risks in Guinea

Wed, 13 Jun 2012 16:30 GMT

Source: reuters // Reuters

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY, June 13 (Reuters) – Guinea is struggling to complete its transition to civilian rule after a December 2008 coup because the final step in the process – parliamentary elections – has been repeatedly delayed amid disputes between rival political camps.

Opponents of President Alpha Conde question his will to hold genuinely free elections. The first of a series of planned opposition protests triggered violent clashes with security forces in May.

[Oh my, Samb leap frogs over the most important part of the Guinea story. Readers are left wondering about the nature of the disputes and why the opposition might not trust Alpha Conde to hold free elections.

The source of the current political angst in Guinea goes back to Alpha Conde’s theft of the 2010 presidential elections which he achieved with the help of a crony from his political party, Louceny Camara ,as a member of Guinea’s electoral commission, the CENI. Perhaps, the most jaw-dropping episode of fraud committed by Camara came when he stole thousands of ballots to prevent the strongest presidential candidate in the race, Cellou Dalein Diallo, from winning the election outright in the first round.

Several stolen ballots were found later in Camara’s home. Subsequently, Camara was indicted and convicted of election fraud and sentenced to a year of prison and ordered to pay a fine.

As for the pressure to hold parliamentary elections, this comes largely from the international community. The opposition is not ready to rush off to elections – too many problems which all lead to fraud in the parliamentary elections. Since convicted felon,Louceny Camara, changed the course of Guinean history with his audacious election fraud in 2010, he has risen to become, you guessed it, president of the CEN. The opposition has been asking for Camara’s resignation since 2010 as well as reconstitution of the electoral commission altogether. Conde would be a fool to grant this request because Camara knows where all the “bodies, er, ballots are buried.” Also, there’s the matter of an electoral rolls review that the government is turning into a census and the award of a no-bid contract to put on elections to a company which has shady connections with Guinean officials. In spite of the pressure from the international pressure to proceed with parliamentary elections, it would be suicide for the opposition to participate in an election under a head of state who was not elected legitimately, supported by an electoral commission president convicted of election fraud.

Before we go further into this article, let’s clarify the last sentence of the excerpt above. “The first of a series of planned opposition protests triggered violent clashes with security forces in May.” The 80,000+ opposition protesters on May 10 did not “trigger” anything, except concern on the part of the Conde government. Guinean security forces, have carte blanche to do what they do best, beat and fire upon unarmed and peaceful fellow citizens.]

Yet despite the uncertain political situation and Conde’s commitment to a wholesale review of mining contracts, the world’s leading exporter of bauxite continues to see strong investor interest, notably in its burgeoning iron ore sector.

Here are some of the factors to watch.

POLITICS

Guinea’s move to civilian rule in late 2010 – thanks to a presidential election which was its first free poll since independence from France – was seen as a powerful model for the region after years of military leadership.

[Once again, the 2010 polls were a scam. Conde’s “election” was a model only in the minds of the international community which knew Conde stole the election, but was so hell bent on getting the election over so it could move to the final transition step – parliamentary elections – that it spinned the Conde “win” into the most inspiring, patriotic stories that journalists ate it up, including Samb.

Not only did the international community look the other way as the election fraud was committed, but serious human rights abuses were taking place as well. Just prior to the second round of the 2010 election, Alpha Conde deliberately incited those of the Malinke ethnic group to commit violence against Peuls, who comprise the majority of the opposition. People were seriously injured, killed, disenfranchised,and women were raped. The elections, a model? This is an insult to the people of Guinea.]

But the failure to hold parliamentary polls is worsening political and ethnic tensions simmering in the West African country.

[Actually, it is Alpha Conde’s impunity that is making everything worse in Guinea, not the failure to hold elections. If you are going to write about “ethnic tensions,” you must go back a bit and start with Sekou Toure, Guinea’s first president, whose penchant for torture and murder affected all ethnic groups, but most especially the Peuls. Also, to help the reader understand more about current ethnic tensions, it is irresponsible not to mention that, during his campaign and through his presidency, Alpha Conde spews anti-Peul rhetoric openly on the airwaves and has formed ethnic militias of his own group – Malinkes.]

What to watch:

– Legislative elections. Guinea’s electoral commission set a July 8 date for the polls after they were delayed from late 2011 due to a row with the opposition. But Conde has said even this date is untenable given the time needed to fix problems in the voting process.

Opposition leaders welcomed the proposed new delay, saying the credibility of the vote was more important than the date.

They say they still have concerns over the voter registration system and the make-up of the electoral commission, which they fear could have a pro-Conde bias.

But time is pressing: donor nations have urged Guinea to hold the polls and the European Union has said it will resume full cooperation with Guinea only after they are held.

– Protests and ethnic tension. Conde’s chief political rival Cellou Dalein Diallo, who conceded defeat in the 2010 presidential poll, has called for a series of protests.

The political strife has been mirrored by growing unease among Guinea’s main ethnic groups, notably the Malinke supporters of Conde and the pro-Diallo Peul who feel marginalised under Conde.

Corinne Dufka, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch and a longtime Guinea-watcher, said: “There is a perception that winner-takes-all politics is at play – moving to legislative elections would help mitigate that perception.”

– Justice. A Guinean court has filed charges against a top army officer over the killing of scores of mostly Peul protesters during a Sept. 28, 2009 massacre of pro-democracy protesters that shocked the world.

[Yes, it is true that a top army officer was indicted in relation to the September 28 massacre. Natural questions would be: “What do the people of Guinea think of this?” “Is this a step towards justice for victims?” Unfortunately,no. Once again, critical context is missing.

The army officer is Col. Tiegboro Camara, a primary perpetrator of the massacre who was seen by thousands that day orchestrating the assault. After Alpha Conde assumed office in 2011, he selected Col. Camara for a post in his cabinet. Another major perpetrator of the massacre, seen by thousands at the stadium as well, is Claude Pivi whom Conde selected for a post in his cabinet as head of presidential security.

If readers are provided this background, they will understand that the people of Guinea know the “indictment” is bogus and being used as a ruse to appease the international community, most especially the incoming chief of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, to show that Guinea is “working” on the case, rather than the truth, which is, that it’s being buried.]

However the under-resourced judiciary has much to do to erode the widespread belief that serious crimes still go unpunished. The fate of Moussa Dadis Camara – junta leader at the time of the massacre – remains undecided. He remains in comfortable exile in Burkina Faso and the International Criminal Court has warned it could take up his case if Guinea fails to.

– Military unrest. Guinea’s army has a history of meddling in politics and some military elements were implicated in an assassination attempt targeting Conde in July 2011.

The government said 26 military officers and 13 civilians had been arrested in connection with the attack and that they had spoken of links to political and business circles.

[After much analysis, long-time Guinea watchers say that Alpha Conde choreographed his own “assassination attempt” and that he did so for three important purposes: 1) an excuse to round up lots of military soldiers thought to be loyal to his predecessor, interim President, Sekouba Konate ; 2) an excuse to round up and persecute members of the opposition, most importantly, the no.2 guy in the UFDG, the largest opposition party, who had to flee the country to escape death as the soldiers made clear they were heading to his home to kill him. Bah Oury, still fears for his life should he return to Guinea; he remains outside the country and 3) a rush of international sympathy, especially from President Obama, who met with Conde at the White House a mere 10 days after the “assassination” attempt.]

Some analysts say the continued lack of legislative elections could ultimately give the military an excuse to enter the political fray. In the meantime, Conde’s military reforms have led to the forced retirement of more than 4,000 soldiers in a bid to shrink the force and improve discipline.

MINING AND INDUSTRY

Guinea, which relies on minerals for more than 70 percent of exports, is planning to review all mining contracts to “clean up the business environment” and ensure they comply with a recently revised mining code.

It is the world’s biggest shipper of bauxite, the main source for aluminium. RUSAL, with its Friguia complex, has a capacity for 640,000 tonnes of alumina (processed bauxite) a year which it ships around the world for further refining into aluminium.

Guinea also produces gold, and iron ore is its major growth industry. Joint ventures by Rio Tinto and Chinalco, and Vale and BSG Resources, are between them spending more than $5 billion on the Simandou and Zogota iron ore projects.

What to watch:

– Production. The government launched operations at the country’s first iron ore mine in May, a joint venture with Africa-focused miner Bellzone and the China International Fund. Other larger projects, including those run by Rio Tinto- and Vale-led joint ventures, are still in the works.

– Mining review. It is unclear how the review of existing contracts and the planned revision of the new mining code will go down with investors. RUSAL has already said existing contracts cannot be altered unilaterally.

Guinea adopted a new mining code last year under which firms that process minerals in-country pay 6 percent on all imports while those that export without processing must pay 8 percent.

The code would give the Guinean state a free 15 percent of mining projects along with the option to purchase an additional 20 percent, bringing total potential share to 35 percent.

However it subsequently said it planned further unspecified amendments to make sure it did not discourage investment.

– China has shown growing interest in Guinea. Apart from the now-finalised Rio-Chinalco venture to develop the Simandou iron ore project, Guinea is in advanced talks with state-owned China Power Investment to develop a bauxite mine and build an alumina refinery, deep water port and power plant in deals worth nearly $6 billion.

– Labour relations. Workers have shown frustration over pay and conditions in recent years, and have proven they can significantly affect output with strike action.

A strike at RUSAL’s Friguia plant paralysed operations at the refinery in early April but RUSAL said output was unhurt as it compensated the shortfall in alumina from a reserve fund.

– Disputes with government. Aside from looming contract reviews, Guinea has a long history of disputes with major companies.

Chief among them was a row over a decision to remove Rio Tinto’s rights to part of the Simandou iron ore development ; ongoing disagreements with RUSAL over pollution and back taxes; the cancellation in March of a deal with France’s Getma International to manage Conakry’s container port; and the transfer of the deal to port group Bollore.

In April Conde cancelled an agreement with Vale to upgrade a 640 km railway.

More recently, Israeli billionaire diamond trader Beny Steinmetz’s BSGR said in March it would resist any attempt by Guinea to undermine its Simandou joint venture with Vale, a signal of a potential contract dispute.

– Hailing its job creation potential, Prime Minister Said Fofana announced last November it had approved a $2 billion plan by what it said was a British firm called Herman Trading to build a 150,000-barrel-per-day oil refinery in the western Boffa region. Since then, no new information on the project has been issued and some Guinean officials privately question whether it is going ahead.

SOCIETY AND WIDER ECONOMY

Annual mining revenues worth around $100 million to the government have not been enough to alleviate poverty in Guinea, which is ranked 178 out of 187 in the U.N. Human Development Index of living standards.

What to watch:

– Debt relief. Under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed Heavily Indebted Poor Country scheme, Guinea could see the slate wiped clean on around two-thirds of its outstanding $3 billion debt.

In a March statement, the IMF said Guinea was taking the right steps to qualify for debt relief “as soon as possible” without giving a definite timeframe.

In April, the Paris club of creditor governments offered $344 million in debt relief, including more than $151 million in debt cancellation.

– Donors coming back. The European Union in 2009 suspended development aid and withdrew a plan for a fishing partnership with Guinea. While foreign donors are keen to reward democratic progress by unblocking aid, they are awaiting the legislative elections before making a move. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Pravin Char)

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