STATE DEPT BRIEFINGS
This section will contain transcripts and articles about Guinea drawn from US State Department press briefings and policy statements.
4 November 2009
Two events in Washington last week focused specifically on the crisis in Guinea. The first article below describes an October 30 press briefing given by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, William Fitzgerald, who also serves as the US envoy to Guinea . The second article reports on an October 28 panel discussion sponsored by the Institute of Peace that featured the following speakers: Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, William Fitzgerald; former US Ambassador to Guinea, Dane Smith; and Guinean professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, Siba Grovogui.
America.gov (Washington, DC)
3 November 2009
Charles W. Corey
Washington — Now is the time for the people of Guinea to elect a democratic government of their choice, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters October 30.
At a briefing on Guinea at the U.S. Foreign Press Center in Washington, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Fitzgerald said the people of Guinea have the right and deserve the opportunity to have a democratically elected government now.
“Fifty years of authoritarian rule has been debilitating to the country. Money that went to the armed forces that could have been or should have been spent on health and education, social services, was basically squandered. In any case, the time is right, now, for the people of Guinea to get the elections they were hoping for,” he said.
Fitzgerald visited Guinea following the September 28 massacre in which more than 150 pro-democracy demonstrators were killed when government security forces turned on them and countless women demonstrators were raped.
During his visit to Conakry, Fitzgerald said he reminded Captain Moussa Dadis Camara — leader of the military junta ruling Guinea — that he bears full responsibility for the massacre and sexual violence perpetrated against the demonstrators. Fitzgerald said he also delivered a message on democracy to the junta leader: “The United States wants you to step aside and we want you to allow the transition that you called for earlier to go forward” so there can be open and transparent elections in Guinea.
Fitzgerald, whose portfolio includes West Africa, cautioned, however, that the United States has no illusions.
“Part of the reason why we are all reacting to the situation in Guinea beyond even the really horrific violence of September 28 is … looking at Guinea — which stands as the first independent Francophone country in Africa — from 1958 to 2008 they had a total of two leaders. Both served approximately 25 years. Both were authoritarian and both completely ruled the country. There was little democracy or no democracy and that is important.”
Fitzgerald said the last time anyone heard from Camara, elections in Guinea were slated for January 31, 2010. The projected date is quickly approaching and a lot of preparations have already begun, he told reporters. U.S. funds to help hold elections have not been shut off like other development funding, he said, because “we have a strong hope that in fact the elections will take place.”
But right now in Guinea, Fitzgerald said, “there is no political space. The opposition is shut down in the same way that the journalists have been harassed and driven to silence. I think the opposition is in a very difficult spot. Can you have credible elections tomorrow? Absolutely not! Can you have credible elections if Captain Dadis Camara runs? No. The people of Guinea deserve more.”
Fitzgerald said the massacre, the killings of opposition figures and the rapes are meant to intimidate the opposition. “What happened on September 28 should never happen again,” he told reporters.
Asked about China’s role in Guinea, Fitzgerald said the Chinese are now increasing their investment there. “As you know, the Chinese have played a major role inside Africa in recent years,” he said. Fitzgerald called the situation “very difficult — no doubt about it — that anyone should be supporting the Dadis Camara regime and accepting it as the legitimate government of Guinea,” but he credited the Chinese for not blocking a recent U.N. Security Council resolution on Guinea.
Asked about the Obama administration’s policy towards Africa, Fitzgerald recommended that everyone read the president’s remarks delivered in Ghana, which set out “straightforward” goals for U.S. policy. “When I met with Dadis Camara he did not seem to understand that,” Fitzgerald told reporters. “Our goal, our Number 1 objective, is to strengthen democratic institutions and to ensure the basic human dignity and human rights of people on the continent. And he missed the point.”
Fitzgerald said the international community recognizes that “the people of Guinea have put up with authoritarian leaders for 25 years at a time — Ahmed Sékou Touré and President Lansana Conté. My concern is that the longer Dadis is in office, the more likely the Guinean people used to such authoritarian leaders are going to say, ‘Well, he is there. We are just going to have to get on with our lives.'”
The United States is calling for a U.N. commission of inquiry, which would likely be investigative rather than forensic, to begin as soon as possible. Camara has accepted that a U.N. commission of inquiry can enter the country to do such an investigation.
The United States is also calling for Camara to step down and allow a legitimate government to take Guinea to elections next year, Fitzgerald said, noting that the United States is working with Burkinabé President Blaise Compaoré to mediate the situation with Guinea.
Fitzgerald said the United States is also working very closely with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union to help resolve the situation.
29 October 2009
Civil society groups can help lead transition to democracy
Diallo Souleymane, above, was injured during a pro-democracy rally in Conakry, Guinea, on October 1, the day after Guinea’s military leader banned all gatherings and demonstrations. Former U.S. Ambassador Dane F. Smith strongly urges the international community to pressure the military to vacate power so that Guinean civil society groups can help transition the country to democracy.
By Charles W. Corey
Washington — The most important step the international community can take to help Guinea is to press the military to vacate power so Guinean civil society groups can help the country transition to democracy, says a former U.S. ambassador to Guinea, Dane F. Smith Jr.
Speaking at an October 28 panel discussion at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington on political reform in Guinea, Smith said, “The narrowly based National Conference for Democracy and Development (CNDD) must step down very soon in favor of a transitional government with a mandate to lead the country promptly to elections.
“The international community, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the U.N., the United States, the European Union and others have been clear on that point and so far seem to be on the same page. That objective is urgent. The danger is that another group of military officers may seize power at any moment. The CNDD is based largely on young officers from Guinea Forestiere (a forested mountain region in southeastern Guinea) — a minority within the military. So its hold on power is precarious.”
Smith also said, “There is an acute sense of insecurity in (Guinea’s capital) Conakry today because of reported assassinations and assassination attempts. So to restore a sense of security, it seems that a West African force of military observers should be brought to Guinea in the near future.”
Such a move, he said, will be a task for diplomacy and what he called “the continuing forward leadership role” of the African Union, ECOWAS and the international community.
Smith served as the U.S. ambassador in Conakry from 1990 to 1993 and is a member of the West Africa Advisory Committee of the BEFORE Project, a nongovernmental, international conflict-prevention organization. In 2008, Smith led a multinational team to Guinea on behalf of BEFORE for a preliminary study of possible conflict-prevention initiatives.
The BEFORE group’s conclusions based on that visit are relevant to the situation in Guinea today, he said.
“We found the political system in an advanced state of decay,” Smith said. “At that point, there had been an extended death watch of more than five years for President Lansana Conté, who in fact died less than three months later” in late December 2008.
With Conté in a “periodic comatose state, the centralized presidential system which he had created was not functioning. Decisions by the prime minister were being countermanded or blocked at the palace, and Conté’s retinue was stealing large sums of money on a daily basis.”
All Guineans were “deeply worried about the future of the country,” Smith said.
Smith said there was a “widespread misunderstanding of Conté’s government” — that Conté presided over an “iron-fisted dictatorship.”
“There was no such thing,” he told his audience. “It was what political scientists refer to as a neo-patrimonial state with the trappings but not the reality of democracy. There were violations of human rights, lots of corruption and a nonfunctional judicial system. There was vocal political opposition” that tended to divide along ethnic lines.
During Conté’s 24-year rule, Smith said, there was much international activity in Guinea, resulting in a “burgeoning of civil society” groups that were outspoken.
“This flowering of civil society — with all of its imperfections, and there are many — is a factor … in international efforts to facilitate a transition to more responsive government.”
The new role of civil society is important, he said, because civil society groups — often organized across ethnic lines — are strong proponents of a democratic order and “must be harnessed into a political transition.” Civil society groups in Guinea are also well integrated into regional civil society groups, such as the West African Network for Peace-Building and the Mano River Union Peace Network, Smith said.
The BEFORE team’s study found that the major areas of conflict revolved around the absence of the rule of law, ethnic distrust, undisciplined violence and rapacity on the part of the security forces, and economic hardship and inequity. Postponed elections and the expected death of the president were also identified as potential flashpoints, he said.
“When we visited, elections had been postponed already twice and the schedule for elections in the future was vague. Conté’s death, under the constitution, should have triggered elections under the leadership of his designated successor, the president of the national assembly. However, in seizing power, Commandante Moussa Dadis Camara and his CNDD junta pushed aside the national assembly president and suspended the constitution.”
Since then, Smith said, the political struggle has focused on the timing of elections and whether Camara would stick to his initial promise not to be a candidate. “It was his explicit failure to rule himself out that was the trigger for the opposition rally and massacre and rapes of September 28,” Smith told his audience. (See “Guinea Violence a ‘Vile Violation’ of Human Rights, Clinton Says.)
Smith said Guineans are still proud of their “pioneering role” in leading the Francophone African independence movement by gaining their independence from France in 1958.
Smith appeared on the panel with two other featured speakers: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Fitzgerald and Siba Grovogui, a Guinean, who is a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
US State Department Daily Briefing
P. J. Crowley, Spokesperson
September 29, 2009
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything on Guinea, what’s happening in Guinea?
MR. CROWLEY: We are deeply concerned about the general breakdown in – of security in Conakry, and we encourage the Guinean Government to exercise restraint and ensure the safety and security of all Guineans and foreign nationals. We’re very concerned about violations of basic human rights and call upon the regime to release all political prisoners. Obviously, the reports of deaths now over 150 – very, very significant loss of life and of great concern to us.
US State Department Daily Briefing
Ian Kelly. Spokesperson
October 6, 2009
MR. KELLY: Afternoon. Let me give you, first of all, kind of an update on some of the activities going on. First of all, let me say that U.S. officials have conveyed deep outrage to the highest levels of the Government of Guinea over the horrendous events of September 28.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Fitzgerald have told Guinea’s Foreign Minister Loua and junta leader Dadis Camara respectively that the U.S. Government condemned the massacre and egregious human rights violations of September 28. They called on Captain Camara to restore order, ensure better command and control over the security forces, and permit an international investigation into these events.
It is precisely because of these horrific events of September 28 that Secretary Clinton went to the Security Council last week and called for urgent action to protect women and girls, war’s most violated and vulnerable victims. The UN and the international community must act now to end this crisis.
And then, as you know, the Secretary has a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi this afternoon at 3 o’clock. And this meeting will be followed immediately by a press availability.
So with those brief remarks at the top, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Can I ask —
MR. KELLY: Dave, yeah.
QUESTION: You expressed your outrage, but is there anything else the United States can do sort of tangibly to drive home its concerns? I mean, I think we suspended aid a year ago when they had the coupe. Is there anything – any arrows in your quiver, so to speak, for that?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think one of the most important arrows is the arrow that we’ve been using, really, across the board. And that’s working with our partners and allies. I think you’ve seen that foreign minister – French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has also called for international intervention to the – in the situation. President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso is expected to arrive in Conakry under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States to help resolve the situation. And we are very actively engaged. We continue to stay engaged at the diplomatic level, both here in Washington and in Conakry. I think you’ve probably seen that we have drawn down our personnel there. We are at emergency staffing levels. The Department has also issued a travel warning for American citizens, and we are very deeply engaged in this and extremely concerned with the situation.
US STATE DEPARTMENT DAILY BRIEFING
P. J. CROWLEY, SPOKESPERSON
OCTOBER 14, 2009
MR. CROWLEY: We have expressed concerns about this kind of activity, whether – we think it’s important that, as you do business with countries, that you also have respect for human rights. You have – you find ways in dealing with countries that – to see effective governments, legitimate governments, emerge.
I’m not going to comment specifically on that particular business arrangement. We are significantly concerned about events in Guinea. We have made clear, both in discussion there in Conakry, discussions here in Washington, that the current junta led by Captain Dadis Camara should step aside, should open the door for legitimate elections so that a legitimate government, duly elected by the people of Guinea, can emerge. We also think that there should be an international investigation of the events recently that result in the deaths of over 150 people.
At some point in time, it really does matter what do you do when you engage with a particular country to help that country advance. And we certainly think that it’s a responsibility – we certainly take on this responsibility ourselves that in our dealings with various countries, we are pushing to see better governments emerge, corruption dealt with. And that is our focus right now in – with respect to Guinea.
QUESTION: Right. But the Secretary said last week that she had ordered her staff and Johnnie Carson and all, to kind of take a look at the assistance that – to Guinea and see whether there were any consequences that could apply if – I don’t remember the exact language she used, but that there could be some consequences if this government —
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’ll wait and see. I mean, our immediate concern is obviously for the health and welfare of our own citizens. We have pared down the size of the Embassy in Conakry. Family members were initially sent to Senegal. They are now being brought back to the United States because, actually, we don’t see that this situation is going to settle anytime soon. Meanwhile, our message to the Government of Guinea remains clear: We think the junta should step aside. They’ve got to move, to open the door for elections that can be monitored by international observers and a resumption of a legitimate, civilian-led government.