Thursday, January 06, 2005

Guinea to allow private radio stations?

Surprising news from Guinea. The country's new prime minister, Cellou Dalien Diallo, has proposed lifting a ban on private radio stations. This is an important step in a country where a majority of the citizens are illiterate and newspapers are available only in bigger cities.

The regime of Gen. Lansana Conté has staunchly resisted efforts to allow local private broadcasters, perhaps mindful of the role private radio stations played in preventing electoral fraud in neighboring Senegal's 2000 general elections (which saw the party that had ruled since independence evicted).

International donors, including the European Union (EU), have been withholding big aid packages to Guinea pending a move towards greater democracy, better governance and liberalisation of the media, reports IRIN. “The situation has become so dire in Guinea that the government has decided this is a lesser evil,” Mike McGovern, the West Africa director of the Brussels-based think-tank, International Crisis Group (ICG) told IRIN. “It’s a good step in the right direction,” he added.

The country has faced a year of social unrest and deteroriating conditions due to the crumbling economy and failure of the sick Gen. Conté to do much of anything. Discontent among Guinea's eight million people is on the rise. Soaring food prices, rising electricity bills and unpaid state salaries have sent former railway workers, students, miners and angry residents out onto the streets in the last few months.

In the worst of the protests, hungry and angry citizens attacked rice trucks in the capital, Conakry, in July. A fast depreciating Guinean franc meant imported rice was selling for US$ 30 per 50 kg bag -- more than many Guineans earn in a month.


At 1:55 PM, Blogger Chippla Vandu said...

This is definitely a step in the right direction but, I really cannot comprehend how the fate of a country would rest on just one man. Should we expect problems in Guinea when Conté eventually dies?

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Brian said...

"Should we expect problems in Guinea when Conté eventually dies?"

That's the $64,000 question, as they say. There's no obvious successor and Conte has done his best to prevent one from emerging. They are multiple candidates in the ruling party with eyes on his seat. No one is quite sure about how the military is going to react. Plus, there's little precedent. Guinea has only had one transition in its history. When dictator Sekou Toure died, there was much rejoicing when the army took power a week later. But now that Guinea's a nominal democracy (pseudo-democracy is more like it), it's not clear if the constitutional process will be respected or if the people will want a constitutional convention and totally fresh start or what. The whole political situation has been almost frozen for several years as everyone waits for the ailing Conte to die for anything to happen. It could be a renewal or it could be a mess, it's anyone's guess. I'd be very slightly optimistic because I think Guineans are very reluctant for too much unrest because they often cite the examples of Liberia and Sierrra Leone as a sort of way of saying, "Never say things can't get worse because they can." So who knows.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Brian said...

" I really cannot comprehend how the fate of a country would rest on just one man"

In fact, it was even worse under the cult of personality of Sekou Toure (dictator from 1958-84). So Guineans have experienced nothing but strongmen in 46 years of "independence."


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