From The Economist print edition
The neighbours of a shaky west African state fear that its instability could spread
WHEN Moussa Dadis Camara, a 45-year-old captain, seized power at the end of last year, many Guineans and foreigners were by no means unhappy. He seemed sure to be better than his corrupt and dictatorial predecessor, President Lansana Conté, who had just died after 25 years in charge. But hope evaporated at the end of September, when security forces smashed up an opposition rally in a stadium in Conakry, the capital. Soldiers and police killed at least 150 demonstrators and raped scores of women, says Human Rights Watch, a lobby based in New York.
A worldwide storm of outrage ensued. The African Union has frozen the assets held abroad by junta members. The European Union has imposed an arms embargo and has also, along with the United States, stopped giving visas to Guineans close to the regime. France, the former colonial ruler, has cut military ties. Its foreign minister has called for “international intervention”, so far unspecified.
But such pressure may—it is argued—split the junta rather than remove it. Captain Camara has blamed errant officers for the September killings, exacerbating tensions in his own ruling group. He has described himself as a hostage to competing factions. Some say Colonel Sekouba Konaté, the defence minister, could lead a mutiny. Others say that General Mamadou “Toto” Camara, one of a group of older officers, may seek to topple the captain.
So there are fears that Guinea could descend into civil war. This prospect worries other governments in the region, whose leaders recall how civil strife in one country has infected neighbours and sucked in foreign troops. Guinea shares borders with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, all of which have ended bloody civil conflicts in the past decade, often with foreign help. America and the UN sent peacekeeping forces to Liberia after a ceasefire in 2003. Britain dispatched soldiers to Sierra Leone, a former colony, in 2000.
With various ethnic groups straddling the borders, several of Guinea’s neighbours fear they could be drawn in. Liberian fighters are said to be moving across their border into Guinea’s forest region, Captain Camara’s home area. Barack Obama has written to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president, to express his concern about Guinea. Tension is rising ahead of elections in Côte d’Ivoire that are scheduled for the end of this month.
On November 3rd Guinean opposition leaders met in Burkina Faso, whose president has been asked to mediate by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-country regional group, and again told the junta to stand down. Mouctar Diallo, who heads an opposition party called the New Democratic Forces, is banking on outsiders to squeeze the captain out. In particular, the opposition is putting faith in a promised UN inquiry into the September massacre.
But the captain is unlikely to heed such calls. Guinea, which is rich in bauxite and gold, is said to be set to earn $7 billion in return for mineral and oil rights recently granted to a Chinese company, so it could get by without help from its old friends in the West. Captain Camara has yet to declare his candidacy in a presidential election due in January. In fact, he has not said whether there will be an election at all.