Wednesday, March 01, 2006

General strike in Guinea targets high cost of living

Guinea has been hit by a widespread general strike, which by some account has involved around 80 percent of the country's formal workforce.

The unions are protesting against sharp increases in the cost of living and that wages have not kept pace.

One person was reported killed and several injured in the suburbs of the capital Conakry during the second day of the strike on Tuesday.

The cost of the staple food rice has doubled in the last two years to 100,000 Guinean Francs (FG) or about US$22. In some places, rice costs as much as 120,000 FG a sack.

The average civil servant only makes 150,000 FG per month, according to a union leader. Or barely more than a dollar a day.

And they are paid better than most workers in the country.

Guinea is a perfect example of how bad governance can ruin what should be at last a middle-income country. And it also shows the widespread trickle down effects of massive graft. There is so much corruption, cronyism and general incompetence at the very top of the Guinean regime that huge chunks of the government's revenues are eaten up at the upper echelons.

Ordinary functionnaries are left with barely enough money in the month to buy a single bag of rice. And that doesn't count any other expenses. Is it any surprise that these low level bureaucrats demand bribes to get a drivers' license or a phone line? Bribes that will be used by these small fish not to buy BMWs or fancy houses but to feed, clothe and house their families.

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