Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Guinea's triple crisis

If you read French, Guineenews has a good analysis of the first six months of Cellou Dalien Diallo's term as Guinean prime minister. He was given the unenviable task as head of a government subject to the every whim of an ailing head of state, Gen. Lansana Conté. Or perhaps of the general's self-serving entourage. It's hard to know exactly how much of his faculties Gen. Conté has remaining.

Diallo was given the poisoned chalice last December, following a tumultuous year in Guinea. The country's economic and social situation was detriorating rapidly. And little has changed. Strikes. Heavy inflation. Rioting over everything from gasoline price increases to shortages of rice (the country's staple food) as well as the skyrocketing rates for basic services like water and electricty (where they're even available). This in a country known as 'the water tower of West Africa.'

Guineenews compares the situation Mobutu's Zaire. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but the country's economic condition is certainly critical. The website notes: An informed observer affirms that between 1997 and 2005, the Guinean franc has seen a 400% devaluation.

Speaking from personal experience... when I arrived in Guinea in September 1995, a US dollar bought approximately 1000 Guinean francs [FG]. Two years later, when I left, a dollar bought 1100 FG. Yet now, eight years after that, a greenback will get you some 3700 FG.

Perhaps just as damagingly, the Guinean franc has collapsed even further in comparison to the West African CFA franc [FCFA], the currency used by all the other French-speaking countries in West Africa... Guinea's main trading partners. Less than a decade ago, 1 FCFA was worth 2 FG; now the same amount gets just under 7 FG.

In less than a year, the price of oil products has gone up by 132%. The consequence: a sharp rise in the price of all products.

The political situation is pretty much frozen while everyone waits for the strongman to die.

Guineenews concludes that Cellou Dalien Diallo's premiership has been pretty much pointless. He doesn't appear to have the power to effectuate real reform that might weaken the stranglehold on economic and political power held by Gen. Conté's cabal; this is precisely the reason Diallo's predecessor, François Loucény Fall, resigned last year.

Update: The UN's IRIN service has another good analysis of the crises in Guinea. An example of how fast prices are rising: a 50 kg bag of the staple food rice that cost US$9.50 in March 2004, now sells for between $20 and $27.


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