"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

10.07.2009

strong condemnation

Well, it took a week, but the State Department finally got around to condemning Guinea's government for the horrible atrocities committed against civilians last week in a more significant way than just issuing a press release. Secretary Clinton commented on the situation at a press conference yesterday and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Fitzgerald met with the coup leader currently in charge of Guinea, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, on Monday. Fitzgerald was tasked with delivering the message that what happened on September 28 is not acceptable and that Camara should not attempt to run for president. According to NYT reporter Adam Nossiter, "The response from the captain was noncommittal."

(As Nossiter notes in an earlier piece, the Captain wasn't even at the rally last Monday. Why? "He could not find the keys to his pickup.")

Nossiter also goes on to say that, "Mr. Fitzgerald's meeting with Captain Camara is seen as significant by Africa experts as an example of President Obama’s push for good governance and human rights on the continent — the focus of a speech he gave in Ghana in July that is still widely commented on." (Nossiter doesn't actually name any of these "Africa experts" and nobody I know would say that a weak condemnation issued by a senior-level diplomat in a place where the United States has almost no influence will do much good for anything, but, hey, it's the thought that counts, right?)

What are the experts on the region saying? As usual, the International Crisis Group has formulated the most comprehensive response to the situation. You can read West Africa Program Director Richard Moncrieff's thoughts on the situation here, and listen to a podcast on the issue (available in French and English) here.

As Moncrieff notes, the stability of Guinea isn't just a domestic issue. A destabilized Guinea has dire implications for the rest of the region:
The regional implications are disturbing. Five years after the terrible conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Monday's protests demonstrate that underlying problems are far from solved. Throughout the region, high levels of unemployment and poor governance continue to cause extreme frustration.

In Guinea, the weakness of countervailing powers – political parties, parliaments, media – has opened space for the military, with the disastrous consequences we now see. More worrying, the border area with Liberia, which suffered a spillover from the Liberian civil war in 2001, is the site of increasing ethnic tension.

If you're looking for more background on Guinea, there's an excellent piece on the country's history in the current issue of African Studies Review (not yet available online, but it will be firewalled here) by Elizabeth Schmidt. Schmidt's article is entitled "Anticolonial Nationalism in French West Africa: What Made Guinea Unique?" and is very helpful for understanding the unique political system that drove Guinea to abandon ties to France altogether at independence. It explains Guinea's forms of leadership, the country's tradition of political radicalism, and why the reality of post-independence was so different from what the people had imagined. I highly recommend a read if you can access it.

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