Civil unrest turns deadly in Guinea

Mouctar Bah had just left the scene of the protests in Coyah, Guinea when he received a call telling him his brother had been shot. Bah told Al Jazeera that by the time he got to the hospital, his younger brother was dead.

Bah’s brother was one of five killed last week in Coyah, a town about 50km from the capital Conakry, as local youths took to the streets to demonstrate against what they described as mistreatment and racketeering by police enforcing the government’s lockdown measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Trouble began after the government put Conakry into total isolation, preventing people from Coyah and Dubreka — both neighbouring towns — from entering the capital city. For many people who earn a daily living in Conakry, staying at home was not an option. 

The protesters threw rocks and set police vehicles on fire at various checkpoints into Conakry. They accused security forces of harassment and demanding bribes to enter and exit the capital. At least six people were killed across three towns in clashes between police and protesters on May 12. The minister of security was quoted as saying the police were surprised by the violence of the attacks.

There were more protests in the northeastern town of Kouroussa because of power cuts. In the bauxite mining city of Kamsar, a man was reported dead and the mayor’s home torched after protesters demanded the restoration of electricity. Several districts in the city had gone three months without power.

President Alpha Condé mourned the deaths across the country, urging the justice ministry to “shed light on these serious facts and draw all the legal consequences from them”.

But Cellou Dalein Diallo, a former prime minister and leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, condemned the killings, describing them as an “abuse of power.”

“If you protest to have electricity, they shoot at you. If you protest that elections should be organised in good time, they shoot at you. If you protest against illegal roadblocks used for extortion, they shoot at you,” Diallo told the Mail & Guardian in a telephone interview from Conakry. “An administrative sanction hasn’t been meted out on any police or army official. It is total impunity,” he said.

Just one day after the violent clashes, anti-lockdown protesters in Kamsar and Dubreka forced their way into mosques that had been locked for weeks. The group of young men cleaned the mosques before praying.

“The gels, the soaps, the barriers — it’s all a joke. It is God who cures this disease; that’s why we must open the mosques,” Mouctar Camara, a 26-year-old student who was briefly detained after the incident, told the AP.

The protests lay bare the political and socioeconomic issues underlying the Guinean government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The country has recorded 3 076 cases of the coronavirus (as of May 22), making it the fourth-most affected country in West Africa. Guinea has painful memories of a disease outbreak: more than 2 500 people died from Ebola between 2013 and 2016.

Condé declared a state of emergency on March 27, five days after highly controversial parliamentary elections and a referendum that now allows him to run for a third term in office. Opposition leaders say the elections, held 10 days after the first case was detected, may have been responsible for spreading the virus in the country. The head of the electoral commission, Salif Kébé, died of complications from Covid-19 on April 17. Sékou Kourouma, Condé’s chief of staff, died the next day from the same disease.

There have been reports of a highhanded approach by security forces towards opposition party members since the coronavirus containment measures began. Human Rights Watch has said party loyalists have been harassed and arbitrarily detained in recent weeks.

“We have more than 200 members in prison despite calls by the UN [United Nations] and [the] WHO [World Health Organisation] to decongest prisons in order to avoid the spread of the coronavirus,” Diallo said.

Additional reporting by Amindeh Blaise Atabong

Adeoye and Atabong are media fellows with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Aanu Adeoye
Aanu Adeoye is a media fellow at Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

Related stories

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Elnathan John: Our merciful Nigerian father

“They say people disappear, young men with dreadlocked hair, with tattoos, or even just carrying a laptop in a backpack,” writes Elnathan John in a reflective essay about Nigeria.

Fort Hare students test positive for Covid after partying

The 30 students, who went to a bash at a tavern in East London, were not wearing masks, did not sanitise their hands nor keep to social distancing regulations.

Women are entitled to own land

Too many laws and customs in too many African countries still treat women as minors

The October election season: Guinea, Tanzania and Cote D’Ivoire head to the polls

October is election month as three presidents seek another term in office. For two, it will be their third

Totally gone mad: Covid-19 and the Trump presidency

Tracing America’s bungling of the containment of the coronavirus, Totally Under Control unveils the deep rot in Trump’s presidency

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday