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The military's continued stranglehold on power


Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2008-12-30

For the last quarter of a century, the reins of power in Guinea have been held by army officers who have led successful coups. However, the junta is faced by strong generational and tribal divisions it must overcome to remain in charge.

Power in Guinea has been a particularly military affair over the last 24 years.

With the death of "general-president" Lansana Conte, power has shifted over to "captain-president" Dadis Moussa Camara who led a coup to fill the power vacuum left by Conte's death.

Lansana Conte was a colonel when he plotted his own military coup in 1984 after the death of then-president Sekou Toure. He had become general by the time he died.

Olivier Roger, RFI correspondent for FRANCE 24 in Conakry, said that Conte never had an easy relationship with the army.

He said: "The army was his power-base but he was always wary of it and had problems with it throughout his presidency.His policy was 'divide and rule'."

Younger and better educated

One of the biggest divisions in the Guinean army is generational.

Olivier Roger added: "As soon as there was any whiff of a coup attempt, all eyes went to the younger generation of officers.

"Many of these officers have had training in England or Germany. They are better educated than the rest of the army. And these are people who have always felt maligned by the system."

It was them, led by
middle-ranking officer Dadis Moussa Camara, who took control and led last Tuesday's coup.
Camara had already participated in violent action in 2007 calling for unpaid salaries to be settled.

Abdourahmane Macky Bah, an advisor to the opposition Union for Republican Forces in Guinea (UFR) told FRANCE 24: "During the strikes and mutinies of 2007, a younger generation sought to take advantage of the country's wealth.

"These young soldiers felt abandoned by the military status quo."

Discontent grew in May because of the non-payment of military bonuses. By this, and by demanding the release of a number of military prisoners, the young generation succeeded in implementing its will.


Tribal differences

The split in the army is ethnic as well as generational. The vast majority of the officers are Sousou, the same tribe as the late president Lansana Conte.

The Fulani and Malinke tribes are under-represented in the army command structure.

This disparity adds to the problem of the generation gap - many young army members, particularly officers, did not get the same benefits as the seniors who happened to be Sousou.

Last week's coup has exacerbated these tensions.

One of the first things the coup leaders said when they declared themselves to be holding the reins of power was to admit that not all members of the army were convinced of the junta's legitimacy.
It remains to be seen whether Dadis Moussa Camara can muster majority support among the the rank and file of the army.

On Sunday, the junta retired 22 generals, including the chief of staff Diarra Camara.
The self-declared president will also have to win over the general population and convince them that he is leading the armed forces in a positive direction.

The army is not well seen by ordinary Guineans. A strike in early 2007 resulted in clashes between workers and soldiers, in which 180 died.

Abdourahmane Macky Bah appealed earlier this week to the international community pleading "that the army should no longer be the ones in charge" in Guinea.

Moussa Dadis Camara handled this objection early, by promising democratic elections in late 2010.

There is little evidence, and scant historical precedent, to say that these elections will ever take place.

Date created : 2008-12-30