Links and Lessons from Far Away Africa – Sunday, 28.12.2008

Posted on 30 December 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 592 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 592

When we mirrored, on 26 December 2008, that Captain Moussa Dadis Camara had declared himself president of Guinea, after a coup following the death of President Lansana Conte, 74, I first did not think that this deserved much attention in the Mirror.

Then I remembered some connections: on 19 June 2008 we had mirrored that the Cambodian Prime Minister had decided to sell 120,000 tonnes of rice and to send agricultural experts to Guinea, responding to a request by the prime minister of Guinea. At that time I had wondered what kind of link might exist to this small country in Africa – hardly anybody knows where it is located.

But already in 2001 an ambassador of Guinea had presented his credentials and diplomatic relations were established – though Cambodia does not have an embassy anywhere in Africa, while having diplomatic relations with 17 countries in Africa.

In March 2008, 15 artists from the circus school in Guinea “Centre d’Art Acrobatique Keïta Fodéba” were in Cambodia for 3 months.

In November 2008, during the opening of the Least Developed Countries Ministerial Conference in Siem Reap, the Prime Minister spoke about new possibilities of cooperation at a time of rising prices for rice: “I have looked at the list of participants and it reminds me of a number of countries in Africa that I visited in the times when I was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs [1979 to 1990]. Recently Guinea contacted Cambodia to purchase some agricultural products. This has made me think that in time of crisis there are always opportunities as at the time of fuel and food crisis, Cambodia could see the opportunity of expanding production to provide food for both local and the world.”

Research brought to light more and more facts that seem worthwhile to consider in relation to Cambodia. Guinea is obviously a country which has had a lot of problems. The death of the president was considered by a group of younger military leaders as a chance to act They seem to have seen no other possibility to rectify the situation but a coup d’etat – against the constitution and the laws of their country, though completely without bloodshed or using force.

What had happened?

Guinea is in West Africa, about one third bigger than Cambodia, but with only 10 million people compared to Cambodia’s 14 million. It is rich in minerals and has the world’s biggest reserves of bauxite, which is the basis to create aluminum. At present it is fourth in the world in bauxite production, after Australia, Brazil and China. It has also diamonds, gold, iron, nickel, and uranium.

Since its independence from France in 1958 – five years after Cambodia – it has had only two presidents: Sékou Touré until 1984, and General Lansana Conte, who seized power after the death of his predecessor; the support of the armed forces was essential for his power throughout the years. During these years, multi-party elections were held for the first time in 1993 when General Conte, as head of the military government, was elected president of a civilian government – this was the same year that the elections organized by UNTAC were held in Cambodia. Conte was reelected in 1998 and in 2003, but all three elections were said to have had irregularities. In the meantime, an electoral term was extended from 5 to 7 years, after the president’s party had won 91 of the 114 seats. It is said that “he ruled the country with an iron fist for 24 years.”

Guinea’s immense riches have attracted the major mining companies from different countries: AngloGold Ashanti (from South Africa), Billiton (the world’s largest mining company, from Australia – since 2006, Billiton is also conducting bauxite exploration in Mondolkiri, with “the exclusive rights to negotiate a mining agreement with the government” at the end of their study, and there is also a Billiton Petroleum office in Phnom Penh), Global Alumina (from the USA), Rio Tinto (UK and Australia), and RusAl (from Russia). Some pictures show how the bauxite is collected by big machines, and then transported to be shipped out of the country. A major contractor on the Guinean side says:

“In collaboration with the Government and people of Guinea, Guinea Alumina Corporation will develop a world class alumina business that provides value to shareholders, sustained economic and social benefits to the people of Guinea, and a quality supply of alumina to the world.”

But in spite of such lofty declarations and the riches of the country, Guinea is listed in position 202 when comparing the per capita income in different countries – lower than Cambodia. Cambodia is in position 180 on the same list of 225 countries.

A lack of transparency about how “the people of Guinea” benefit from these riches, compared to the share taken by the international companies, led to dissatisfaction, accusations of high level corruption, and strikes in 2006 and 2007, and violent protests.

When Captain Moussa Dadis Camara declared himself president and suspended the constitution, he stated as the justification the mismanagement and corruption of the former government. He created a 32-member National Council for Democracy and Development – replacing the ministers with 26 military officers and 6 civilians – and promised to hold elections in two years. There had been tensions in the military since several months, when younger officers had expressed their opposition to the corrupt practices of some of the higher level officers.

During the coup nobody was arrested, but the members of government were dismissed, as well as 22 generals close to the former political powers. It is reported that Captain Moussa Dadis Camara met with politicians, religious leaders, trade union representatives, and members of civil society, declaring that the main motive for taking power is to fight corruption and to secure the interests of the country: all contracts with international companies, which had invested billions of dollars, will be canceled for review, to root out corruption; whoever has misappropriated state assets or personally benefited from public resources will be punished.

The international reaction? A voice representing the international companies said: “It is very likely that the new regime may seek to extort monies from current operators and prospectors and that a new democratic regime may try to impose heavier royalties and taxes,” even calling it “extortionary pressure” if the new government would try to negotiate more balanced agreements about their own resources being sold abroad.

It is interesting that voices from the international community, which had not questioned the corruption involved in the arrangements of “exporting” the mineral wealth of the country without transparency and without benefits for the people, is now raising mainly the concern about having violated the results of the electoral system of the country.

It is remarkable, however, that President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, one of the neighboring countries, is calling to recognize and to support the new government, because of its positive goals.



Considering this history of Guinea – allegations of corruption based on bad governance and misuse of resources, which finally led to an effort for a radical new beginning – it is appropriate to remember that Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly spoken about his concerns of a similar situation for Cambodia: growing dissatisfaction by people who do not see that the society provides them justice, who might resort to attempts to bring about a radical change. On the other hand, he has also raised concerns that people who see their chances of illegal enrichment too much controlled by the government might attempt to grab power in order to exercise their greed without restraint. These statements shall not be forgotten.

In 1999, the Prime Minister had said: “Should we not manage the land issue in a good manner, we might have to face a farmers’ revolution.” He mentioned this again in 2004, addressing the National Forum on Land Management in the presence of national and international representatives.

In 2002, opening the Consultative Group Meeting between representatives of the Cambodian Government and representatives of cooperating countries and international institutions, he said:

“We are conscious that corruption in the public machinery, be it judiciary or administrative or any other, increases transaction costs for everyone and reduces predictability in law enforcement and implementation of the government’s policies… The government believes that enactment of adequate laws and regulations to prevent and punish corruption is crucial for addressing this problem. In this spirit, the Royal Government is committed to finalize the draft of the Anti -Corruption Law before the end of June 2003.”

In February 2007, the Chinese People’s Daily Online quoted the Cambodian Prime Minister:

“The land grabbers dare to get a lot of land illegally while we have always appealed again and again to stop… The land grabbers are not simple people, they must be powerful people in the government. I asked the question, do they dare to conduct a coup d’etat in the future?” And he is quoted to have replied himself that they really dare to do so. “So before they conduct a coup d’etat, we need to take action against them.”

What happened in Guinea should not happen in Cambodia. The political action necessary has been pointed out by the Prime Minister clearly enough.

Please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

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