For many outsiders across the world, the buoyant capital city of Conakry in the West African country of Guinea probably recalls September 29, 2009, a date that saw the rape and massacre of at least 157 people who protested the attempt by Junta head Dadis Camara to become president.
But for better or for worse, there is much to this port city of 1.5 million people beyond that grisly headline. BAH Mamadou Lamine is a contributor for the Guinean weekly magazine Lynx [fr]. On the blog Konakry Express, BAH shares his point of view on the challenges of everyday life in Conakry and explains the gloomy reality of the city that has yet to fully recover from the recent tragedy. His analysis goes in-depth into three main themes: criminality, lack of structure and public health and sanitation.
Crime is a daily concern in this dynamic urban center. BAH explains why [fr]:
Dès que la nuit tombe, les Conakrykas sont bercés par les tirs d’armes de guerre effectués par les bandits, des bandits souvent en tenue militaire. Ces mêmes individus sèment la terreur dans les rues partout en opérant des car-jackings brutaux et sanglants. Tous les jours des magasins sont dévalisés, des essenceries pillées, des citoyens tués.
When night falls, the residents of Conakry are rocked by gunfire at the hand of bandits, bandits often dressed in military uniforms. These same individuals spread terror in the streets with brutal and bloody car-jackings. Everyday stores are robbed, gas stations are looted, citizens are killed.
The army is often accused of contributing to the lack of safety felt in the city. Increasing mistrust of the regular armed forces has roots in Guinean history: During his mandate from 1958 to 1984, President Sekou Touré kept much of the armed forces in poverty. This situation has not changed much since so a few soldiers are often caught racketeering citizens because they are poorly compensated.
The International Crisis Group reported that:
conditions of service were deplorable, even for officers. The senior officer corps lived on meager rations and saw its privileges and family allowances curtailed over time. Soldiers of all ranks had to find ways to supplement their rations
In the following French-language video, one can see the trial of gang members who were accused of manslaughter during a robbery at an Asian supermarket:
BAH argues that the lack of structure [fr] is also an important factor in the daily uncertainty of the city:
Tout est sens dessus-dessous ; les sens interdits sont autorisés et/ou négociables; nos flics lorsqu’il y en a sont pour le dialogue, surtout tarifé. Très souvent ces flics-ripoux sont aidés dans les carrefours compliqués par des citoyens sans tenue. C’est une première mondiale.
Everything is topsy-turvy here; one-way streets are negotiable and our cops are open to discussion on enforcing them, especially if you are willing to sweeten the pot. These so-called cops are often assisted in the regulation of cross-roads by regular citizens pacing traffic. This is only in Guinea.
Public health and sanitation
Yet, the most worrisome aspect of life in Conakry seems to be public health and sanitation [fr]:
Les générations d’ordures accumulées depuis des temps immémoriaux dégagent des odeurs pestilentielles renforcées par celles des immondices brûlées à même les rues. Ajoutons à cette savoureuse mixture, les eaux évacuées des fosses sceptiques surannées [...] La poussière aussi est omniprésente, obsédante, irrespirable, morbide. [Pour réparer les voies routières] une société industrielle riveraine a versé de la latérite sur la chaussée. C’était au cours de la dernière saison sèche. La boue d’alors s’est transformée en poussière.
The accumulation of waste since it seems, the beginning of times, emits pestilential odors that are only reinforced by the waste that is burned directly on the streets. Added to that “delicious” mixture of smells is the one coming from sewage discharged in obsolete septic tanks [...] Dust is also ubiquitous, haunting, unbreathable, morbid. [To repair roadways] an industrial company paved the main road with mud. That was during the dry season. Now the mud has turned to dust.
Despite these conditions, as BAH points out, the city and the nation are filled with potential for economic growth, mostly from mining resources. The endemic poverty (ranked 178th out of 187 on the Human Development Index) that has held back Guinea could be solved by assertive economic planning and clear management of the military forces. Doing Business, part of the World Bank, highlights some positive economic reforms:
Guinea made starting a business easier by enabling the one-stop shop to publish incorporation notices and by reducing the notary fees. Guinea also put up a one-stop shop for company incorporation and by replacing the requirement for a copy of the founders’ criminal records with one for a sworn declaration at the time of the company’s registration.
The armed forces are also still a potential source of instability that could trample Guinea's quest for recovery and growth. NGO International Crisis Group recommends the following actions to reform the army:
- Frame a national security strategy, including a white paper, to elaborate the role and mandate of the security and defense forces, and work to establish national consensus around reform, including armed forces’ buy-in
- Protect the army from political manipulation by :
building civilian oversight capacity by a training program for members of the key oversight institutions and improving conditions of service, so as to tackle the army’s widespread malaise and corruption.