May 29th 2008
The past three days have been increasingly tense here in Conakry.
What began as a mutiny inside the major army barracks has now turned into widespread lootig and all sorts of criminal behavior of the rebelling part of the army. Starting yesterday, there were more and more rumors about soldiers leaving the barracks on big trucks, firing into the air, blocking the cars of civilians to demand money or just beat up the driver and take off with his car, money and cell phone. Since a few hours there appears to be a full scale battle involving machine guns and RPGs between government loyal troops of the "berets rouges" and the rebelling forces who might even be attempting to overthrow the government. There are no real news on the radio or TV, both are controlled by the government. During the massacres of the last strike, people got shot in the streets while the television aired video clips of fat ladies in colorful robes lip-synching songs while standing in front of hotel pools or imported cars.
I'm just glad all my records are already inside a container, on a ship and on the sea.
Looks like this could be a wild weekend. I'll keep you posted what happened a few days from now. It's not easy to find an open inernet cafe these days and I guess I'll just stock the fridge with enough beer and hole up at home until Monday or Tuesday.
Update from Monday morning, June 2nd:
Just wanted to say that I'm safe and the situation appears to have calmed down. I made it downtown this morning without seeing even one road block. Some gas stations have reopened so there is even a considerable amount of shared taxis and mini buses transporting people to work and bringing fresh produce to the markets.
All in all, this was a rather minor disturbance compared to the big uprising last year in spring when we had to flee to Sierra Leone. But since radio and television are controlled by the government, they were only showing video clips and staged pro-government demonstrations. There was no way to get any real information. This led to a lot of uncertainty and fear. Last year, when it was the unions who spearheaded the people's uprising against the government, union leaders would hold press conferences and keep the public up to date on the situation. This time there were fights within the army and those guys don't give press conferences so everybody had to rely on rumors and hearsay.
President Conte has given into the demands of the rebellious military. These demands only concerned the military themselves though. They wanted to get paid their money which had been pocketed by their superious instead of handed to the regular soldiers. The military now also receives rice at a government subsidized price.
As usual, the general population is left holding the short end of the stick with worse living conditions than before last years strike. Their spirit seems to be fully broken by now. At first, around March of last year, when the strike was ended after president Conte gave in on most of the unions demands, everybody was full of hope and almost overjoyed. A new prime minister was apointed who had the trust of everybody and who had previously worked for the UN. This guy proved to be a total fluke and when Conte gave him the boot two weeks ago, no-one seemed to give a shit. When the younger generation of the military began their mutiny last week. Not one person I had spoken to had any hope that this might lead to any positive change. People realized right away that those guys are only looking after their own interests. People are completely disillusioned and without any hope.
The Guinean president Lansana Conte has been in power for some 24 years. Guinea owns 30-40% of the world reserve of bauxite (raw material for aluminum). It also has gold, diamonds, uranium, iron and copper ore. Guinea is also the fifth poorest country in the world. Lansana Conte is amongst the 6 most wealthiest heads of state on the African continent. For decades, Transparency International rates Guinea amongst the worlds 5 most corrupt countries. In 2006, Guinea came in at a close second place right behind Haiti.
Guinea is amongst the countries with the most rain per year world wide. The soil is extremely fertile and the landscape would make it most ideal for the growing of rice which is the staple food of its people. Yet only very little rice gets produced and the rice consumed by most Guineans is imported from Thailand and China. The imported rice is the cheapest quality available on the worldwide market. It consists of broken grains, dust and bugs. because it's so dirty, the rice needs to be washed before cooking. You can wash it 6 times and the water still turns to a milky color. The local rice which is of high quality, delicious and very nutricious used to cost about twice as much as the imported shit. Now that the world market prices for rice have risen significantly, the imported rice in Guinea has more than doubled in price making it almost equal to locally produced rice which is now getting scarce due to the higher demand. Right now there are still enough mangos and avocados on the many trees even inside the big cities but I see some serious trouble ahead, probably with the end of the now aproaching rainy season. I'm not too sad I won't be here to see it.
Conte who is not only a despote but also a cynic with his very own sense of humor once said on the radio: "If the people are hungry, why don't they come to my house and eat me?"
Maybe they eventually will.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
May 29th 2008