By Osabutey ANNY
When British journalist Richard Dowden described Africa as ‘Hopeless’ in an article published in the Economist news magazine, people were livid. He was verbally thrashed by those Africans who felt he’s done irreparable damage to the beauty of the continent- by describing him as racist and ignorant.
In the article published in May 2000, Mr. Dowden criticized the ineptitude of most African leaders to resolve the many severe problems facing their people; droughts, HIV/AIDS and wars. For example, Sierra Leone was going through one of the most brutish conflicts on the continent- where the limbs of civilians were hacked off in very bizarre circumstances by drugged rebels.
According to Richard Dowden; “Sierra Leone manifests all the continent's worst characteristics. It is an extreme, but not untypical, example of a state with all the epiphenomena and none of the institutions of government. It has poverty and disease in abundance, and riches too: its diamonds sustain the rebels who terrorise the place.”
“It is unusual only in its brutality: rape, cannibalism and amputation have been common, with children often among the victims. For this it can thank, above all, Foday Sankoh, the rebel leader brought into government in an ill-advised "peace" deal last July.”
He further wrote: “In itself, Sierra Leone is of no great importance. If it makes any demands on the world's attention, beyond the simple one of sympathy for its people, it is as a symbol for Africa. Yet the UN has sent troops to Sierra Leone. Mr. Sankoh wants them out, so that he can plunder and torture at will.”
Equally worrying was the inaction of the leadership of the African Union to stem the tide and dislodge elements of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), linked to the many atrocities; from raping women to killing defenceless civilians. The regional body ECOWAS failed to quickly respond but when finally they did they were overwhelmed by marauding rebel elements. It took the efforts of the United Nations to send in troops to manage the situation, though the RUF and other rebel elements managed to pull strings around key areas under their control to continue their pillaging.
Among the countries that suffered the spill-over of the crisis in Sierra Leone were neighbouring Guinea and Liberia. Charles Taylor then President of Liberian, and now facing criminal charges in the Hague, was accused of sticking his fingers in the conflict. The international community directly accused him of funding the RUF in return for huge concessions of diamond mines.
Guinea, then ruled by Lansana Conte, also accused Charles Taylor of arming dissents to dislodge him from power. He however denied the accusation and rather claimed Lansana Conte was running away from resolving the impoverish status he’s ditched Guineans into.
Nine years after Richard Dowden’s article, most of the wars on the continent have not shown any signs of ending: There are still ravaging wars in Congo DR, Northern Uganda and now Darfur. The situation in Somalia is clearly out of hand and the least said about it the better. Somalia has not only become a lawless country but a safe haven for terror activities with the local al-Shabab militias running amok.
Several negotiations to resolve these conflicts have not yielded any positive signs and they have become something more of an albatross around the neck of the continent.
As if by design Guinea appears to be walking on the thin-thread of a potential break of war, if the African Union and Ecowas fail to step in, and bring some sanity into the heads of those wielding the weapons of war. Just last week, Guinean troops opened fire on opposition protesters at a rally in the capital Conakry, killing about 157 civilians, according to witnesses.
But the military denied the figure, according to a BBC news report. The interior ministry however told the BBC a total of 57 people died during the skirmishes. The ministry, according to the BBC, admitted some erratic soldiers fired into the crowd, but added only “four people had died from gunshot wounds.”
“The opposition has accused the army of taking away some bodies to hide the scale of the violence. Human rights groups said there were widespread reports of rape,” the BBC reported.
"The military is going into districts, looting goods and raping women," Mamadi Kaba, the head of the Guinean branch of the African Encounter for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO), told AFP.
"We have similar reports from several sources, including police sources and some close to the military," said Mr Kaba, from his office in Dakar, Senegal.
Human Rights Watch also published on its website an eyewitness account alleging scales of rape and brutality of women.
"I saw several women stripped and then put inside the military trucks and taken away. I don't know what happened to them."
"They were raping women publicly," opposition activist Mouctar Diallon said in an interview with French radio station RFI.”
Souleymane Bah, Guinean human rights activist, was quoted by the BBC to have told Reuters News Agency civilians fleeing from cross fire were "caught and finished off with bayonets".
Captain Camara who was reported to have been “saddened” by the event however said the situation got out of hand and besides, it was difficult controlling such situations especially when the tension in the country is that big.
He himself has fuelled speculations following his comments, soon after the violent crackdown of the rally, that the decision for him to stand will be determined after consultations with relevant stakeholders in the country.
Paul Melly, an African analyst, who spoke to the BBC’s ‘Network Africa’ programme, said sanctions imposed by the AU following the military takeover soon after Conte’s death in December 2008 has not changed the mind of the military junta.
"We were already getting signs that this wouldn't in fact happen, but now we've seen a repetition of the army's traditional resort to violence when facing protest."
Gilles Yabi, described by the BBC as “Guinea expert,” told ‘Focus on Africa’ the rally “was only the beginning” of several demonstrations and counter-demonstrations that might rock the country in the coming months.
Both the AU and United Nations, in a statement, cautioned the junta to exercise caution in order not to endanger the lives of innocent civilians, with the AU warning that "indiscriminate firing on unarmed civilians".
The Ghanaian government, through the ministry of foreign affairs, last week issued a strong worded statement condemning the attacks on innocent protestors in the September 28th crackdown.
Deputy minister of foreign affairs Chris Kpodo, who signed the statement, said “it is particularly distressing that the victims were only demonstrating against moves by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, leader of the military junta, to present himself as a candidate in presidential elections scheduled for early 2010 in spite of his own expressed commitment to the international community to the contrary”.
“The Government of Ghana expresses its deep condolences to the bereaved families and joins the United Nations Secretary General, the African Union (AU), ECOWAS and all peace-loving people in condemning such acts of repression, which are inimical to the development of democratic culture and the progress of the West African Sub-region”.
It also warned the military regime to “desist” from manipulating processes that will lead to the holding of elections next year.
Meanwhile, Ecowas has appointed Burkinabe leader Blaise Compoare to meditate in the impasse- but that has already received criticisms from most pro-democracy activists -who say he is the wrong person to be teaching the Guinean leadership about democracy.
Mr. Compoare shot his way to power after, allegedly, ordering the killing of his then boss Thomas Sankara in the 1980s.
Guinea turned 51 last Friday with nothing to show for except massive poverty fueled by corruption and, this is reminiscent of a declaration by post independent President Sekou Toure who, in 1958, told French President General Charles de Gaulle that: “We would rather have poverty in freedom than riches in slavery.”