Conte's Trumpet of Doom
By Tom Kamara
December 18, 2000
When one of Guinea's Fulani opposition politicians, Mamadu Ba, this week told President Lansana Conte to negotiate with the insurgents currently engaging his troops and leaving horrors behind, he was saying more than words could allow. He was implying that Conte should sign his own death warrant just as successive Sierra Leone and Liberian leaders have. He was paving the way for Guinea's membership in the club of condemned states ruled by terror with anarchy as a trademark.
In an interview with the BBC, Ba said President Conte must put aside who is right or wrong in the current waves of attacks and negotiate with Liberia's President Charles Taylor. He blamed Conte for inviting the waves of attacks because, he alleged, Conte was wrong for sending Guinean troops on peacekeeping missions in Liberia and now Sierra Leone. And because Conte had called for negotiation in both crises, Ba said he must apply the same medicine---negotiations---in ending Guinea's own crisis. Furthermore, Ba accused Conte of allowing ULIMO to exist Guinea.
Indeed, as it is said, failure has many orphans, but success is inundated with countless parents. If Taylor had not been installed President by Abacha's Nigeria, Cote D'Ivoire, his regional partner, could be sitting where Guinea is now sitting because Cote D'Ivoire helped to destroy Liberia and implant a callous, ruthless dictatorship. But because Abidjan backed a winner, it has been free from armed incursions that have reduced its neighbors to wastelands at the mercy of relief organizations, although it, too, is not far from its own brand of horrors and destruction. Guinea was ULIMO's base and so it is paying the price for backing a loser, just as Sierra Leone's children are paying the price with their limbs for their country denying Taylor territory and allowing ECOMOG to use its territory as base during the opening years of the Liberian war.
By suggesting negotiation with Taylor, now effectively the greatest force within the region, (thanks to foreign military advisors and mercenaries paid with Sierra Leone's diamonds and Liberia's forests), Ba is placing Guinea firmly into Taylor's destructive and thieving hands to rule just as he now rules Sierra Leone via the RUF. A number of Sierra Leone leaders have fallen after negotiating with the Liberian rebel king. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah's blessing is that there is a man called Tony Blair in Britain. Otherwise, he would have long disappeared from the political scene, just as his predecessors who negotiated with Taylor and discovered that the Liberian ruler wanted all, not just some of the diamonds. Moreover, Taylor realized that their demands, such as getting rid of his buffer RUF Army, were non-negotiable. In such a case, the strongest man negotiating from the strongest position survives. Former President Joseph Momoh, then later, Valentine Strasser, soon fell. Ba is telling Conte to follow this pattern. But what the Fulani cannot see is that he, too, may not survive in this pattern of terror.
Ba is said to be a controversial politician and he is once again riding high on controversy. When he was arrested some years back for allegedly plotting Conte's violent overthrow, he denied the charge, rallying his Fulani tribesmen to his defence in Conakry. He accused Conte of masterminding a frame-up and his Fulani kinfolks bought his version of the story, that is until the facts were broadcast on national radio. The facts were heard in Ba's own voice telling his tribesmen, Guinea's wealthy and arguably politically despised cast for their clannishness, to rise up and get rid of Conte. He did not see Conte's faceless agents who recorded his voice deep in his Fula stronghold. Faced with the facts, his people mellowed. Ba was later released.
But his prescriptions for Conte, which seems to be aimed at getting even, are filled with catastrophic doses. He must only look across his borders and see the cures of his prescribed medicine. In Ivory Coast, ethnic rivalries are wiping out all the economic and social gains over the decades. Liberia will remain a sad and pathetic state for years to come. Sierra Leone is on the brink of withering, and had it not been the British, it would have long since fallen to the domino of rebel presidents.
Among the stupidities that have hurt Africa most is the politics of personal destruction tied to narrow tribal interests. But tribes do not make stable and prosperous nations. Ivory Coast was thought to have a royal tribe, the Baoles, until Houphouet died. Sierra Leone's problem is far from tribalism, but opposition figures looking for ropes to hang on don't mind grabbing the rebel RUF ropes even if the same ropes are used to hang them later. Liberia's "royal" tribe, the Americos (descendents of freed slaves who settled the country in 1822) are back in business, but only for the time being, for what could befall the country in years to come, if nothing is done to arrest the waves of abuses and theft, could be far uglier than anything imagined.
The waves of Liberian and RUF raids in Guinea have already begun to test political cohesion, and this is an anteroom for anarchy. Tribes along the Guinea-Sierra Leone borders are already held suspect. Six suspected Liberian rebels were shot in Conakry recently with reports that the men were actually Guineans from the "Forest Region". Thus the real danger facing this poor host of over half a million refugees is tribalism becoming the bomb that may send it exploding, and men like Ba may be just too glad to pull its safety string.
When Taylor warned Conte that "I am the first major rebel in West Africa Let Conte not play rebel business with me", he already had the stones in his hands. He said in case of a war with Liberia, "Guinea would lose", and that Conte had "miscalculated." He reminded the Guineans that "He who is down does not fear a fall", indicating that Liberia was already destroyed beyond repair so he has nothing to lose. These indicate that the Guinea invasions have been planned for years.
If politicians like Ba had the slightest foresight, they would see that rebels present no solutions to political biting problems. Men and women desirous of building nations don't burn down hospitals (only to seek medical treatment in Paris as Taylor does), cut electricity lines, amputate children's limbs, etc. Conte may have a lot of problems and there are no doubts that the cornered opposition would like to see his head roll as African political "wisdom" dictates. But Liberians were so anxious to see Samuel Doe's head rolled that more heads are still rolling, following 250,000 others. If it were possible to bring back Doe and his system of Government, Liberians, known for endless dancing, would dance for joy. Gen. Momoh may have been corrupt and Johnny Walker's best friend, but his regime was not a child-amputating one. And in their poverty, Sierra Leoneans loving home, never become refugees.
The Fulas are perhaps the wealthiest people in Guinea. The traditional and historical political rivalry between them and the Mandingos came to the fore when Sekou Toure arrested former OAU Secretary General, Diallo Telli, who died in prison on coup charges. But to allow blind ethnicity and obsession with grabbing power conceal the terrible road ahead of Guinea under the current waves of attacks allegedly coordinated by foreign military advisors based in Monrovia with mercenaries is to be grossly naïve. If such men succeed, men like Ba will find it difficult living in Guinea, let alone be a politically significant figure without commanding rebel troops.
Guinea is facing one its greatest challenges in recent times. It succeeded in beating off an invasion in 1970 when Portuguese officers fighting in neighboring Guinea Bissau led dissidents to oust Toure. But the current attacks are deadlier, for they are waged on two fronts---RUF territory in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and from Liberia itself.
The tragedy is that Guinea seems to be looking up to the impotent and deceptive regional organization, ECOWAS, for solutions. Even as Liberian political parties and religious organizations demand the expulsion of mercenaries and foreign military officers in the country, tying the war in Sierra Leone to the Guinea invasions, West African leaders, in their usual dancing around truth, cannot see where the virus of regional disintegration is coming from. Better not name our "African brothers" for wrongdoing.
What Guinea needs now is national unity and cohesion against
international mercenaries firmly placed within the region in search
of diamonds and other means of fast wealth. Guinea's rich iron
ore deposits remain envied since Liberia depleted hers without
any evidence of where the money went. Conakry should have long
expected this current onslaught. But if it wants a West African
solution, it must look at Liberia and Sierra Leone for inspiration
and courage. Men like Ba are providing the agenda.
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