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They’re officers and hooligans

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By Owei Lakemfa

THE massacre was expected. It was just a question of time. The international community is still undecided what to do. The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has taken a step; it has sent a veteran coup plotter, President Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso to mediate.

Mediate what? Mediate between the massacred and the mass murderers; between the dead and those who sent them to early graves? No condemnation in principle, no warning that the massacre of unarmed civilians must not be repeated, no demand that the criminals be brought to justice. Just mediation.

Welcome to Guinea, the land of proud warriors like Samory Toure who from 1891 fought the powerful French army for seven years. This is Guinea which produced consummate Pan-Africanist cultural ambassadors like Sekou Toure who rejected plenty in servitude as proposed by France in 1958 opting for freedom and the right to human dignity. This is Guinea, the name Europeans used for the entire West African coast. A land of culture and learning blessed  with gold, diamond, iron ore, bauxite, and washed from its Eastern side by the Atlantic Ocean.

Today, after 25 years of unbroken military dictatorship, Guinea is a basket case,  as are its rulers. On September 28, 2009, courageous Guineans decided to take their destiny into their hands by asking the military junta to take its leave by next year.

They were armed only with  ideas in their heads, patriotism in their hearts, songs on their lips and placards in their hands. But to the hooligans in power, these were destructive weapons which warranted a response with live bullets, jack knives and gun butts.

In a single day they massacred 157  civilians although the junta claimed it killed only 56. Even if its figures were more authentic, only a deranged government would kill so many and rather than be remorseful, would accuse the victims of committing suicide by daring to ask the military to return to the barracks.

For those who express surprise at the massacres, what do they expect in a country where anarchy reigns; where a captain ( Moussa Dadis Camara) is Head of State in an army that has generals?

I was in Guinea six months ago and I realised that it was a tragedy waiting to happen. Right from the tarmac were soldiers loitering around. In the arrival lounge were all sorts of people mostly touts who insist they have to fill the immigration forms of the passengers. Having had to submit myself to this strange system, I caused a stir by refusing to pay the fee, insisting that I am literate enough to fill a simple form printed in English and French.

The immigration officer after stamping my passport refused to release it without either a fee or  entry “visa”. When I refused to leave the queue without my passport insisting that as an ECOWAS citizen I need no visa, he relented. To collect my luggage was another war with more touts and “officials” than passengers and people walking on the conveyor belt. The return journey was much more worse.

I came away with the impression of a failed state and a people reduced to a state of nature; no good roads except that passing in front of the airport, no electricity, and a hundred dollar bill exchanging for a bag full of Guinean Francs.

This may be the first of many massacres to come unless the international community and the Guinean people make a determined stand against the gangsters. As hooligans, the rampaging soldiers in Guinea are uncultured, primitive and believe in violence and the liberal, unrestrained use of the gun. For them, dialogue is an uphill task, they therefore seek to substitute it with violence and a reliance on terror. The massacre is a terrorist attack on the Guinean people by an unrepresentative, unrepentant and irredeemable criminal gang.

Its mindset and level of bestiality can be gleaned from the way it picked out women; raping them in turns right in the stadium, venue of the protest and on the streets before killing some of them. What kind of depravity fuels this resort to bestiality? More so when armies all over the world are supposed to have a tradition of respect for women. Again, this is a mainly Islamic country, a religion that accords lots of respect for women.

Camara whose criminal seizure of power was internationally endorsed by Nigeria’s veteran coup plotter, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida seems to have learnt a lot from Nigeria’s past military rulers. With civilized humanity calling for his exit and that of his gang, he in the fashion of the murderous General Sani Abacha claims that he is the glue holding the country together, that without him, the country will fall apart.

When the General Olusegun Obasanjo regime in the late 1970s burnt the home of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and women were raped, to ward off local and  international condemnation, it set up an “inquiry” with the laughable findings that the crimes were perpetuated by “unknown soldiers” so no one could be held liable. Camara has already exonerated himself from the crimes, blamed the victims, and talks about “investigations” which may produce another version of “unknown soldiers” even when like the Nigerian case, the perpetrators are known.

The soldiers could not just have gone on the streets with arms without officers commanding them. In any case they must have come from particular barracks and issued arms. So if the Camara gang wants to fish out the murderers it can do so easily and without international assistance; except that the deeds were committed under the junta’s supervision.

The rest of humanity, especially Africa, has the duty to call the Guinean butchers to order. What is needed in that country is not “mediation” or “Government of National Unity” but a concerted effort to put an end to military misrule and dictatorship, and to bring the Camara gang to local or international justice.

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