The protest march in Guinea and the tragedy of the stray bullet, by Joschka Philipps (Conakry, August 18, 2016)

Thierno Hamidou Diallo, may he rest in peace, was fatally shot on August 16th, 2016. He is the tragic victim of the anti-government demonstration in the Guinean capital Conakry, which he had nothing to do with. The 21-year old man was hanging out the laundry to dry on a balcony when the bullet hit him.

Until then, it had been the most peaceful anti-government demonstration that one could imagine, and probably the first after which the Guinean opposition and the Guinean government congratulated one another for “the discipline and professionalism of the security forces“ (opposition leader Cellou Diallo) and for having successfully taken “another step in our democratic advancement” (government spokesperson Albert Damantang).

About half a million people had attended the political rally at the central stadium, the atmosphere was hopeful, and when the rally was over, the great majority went back to their homes in peace.

In the neighborhood of Bambéto, police and demonstrators got into a conflict. Some say police blocked the road and did not let the demonstrators pass to walk home, others argue that demonstrators attacked the police unit. Whatever happened, a shot was fired and it killed Thierno Hamidou Diallo three floors above the road. The key suspect, police captain Kaly Diallo, who headed the Bambéto intervention unit CMIS, was taken into custody. He was carrying a firearm, which police were not allowed to during the demonstration.

The opposition then changed its tone immediately. Cellou Dallein Diallo announced more demonstrations if the policeman was not judged severely. Opposition spokesperson Aboubacar Sylla argued that “we do not believe in isolated acts” and that this was an evident “provocation by the security forces”. In a matter of hours, Guinean politics was back to crisis mode.

To understand this turn of discourse, and the Guinean opposition’s quick recourse to confrontational tactics, one has to understand their frustration with formal politics. The 2013 legislative elections, for instance, which the opposition lost just like the preceding 2010 presidential vote, were arguably too flawed to be legitimate (in certain districts, about half of the ballot papers simply disappeared). And yet, the results were largely accepted by international observatory institutions such as the European Union, who favored Guinea’s political stability, and who ‘persuaded’ the opposition not to contest the outcome. The opposition accepted, possibly hoping to win the 2015 presidential elections, but they lost those, too.

At the same time, the more President Alpha Condé’s presidency evolves, the more his political strategy is looking illusory. While Condé has arguably worked diligently to re-establish Guinea on the international level, attract investment, employment, and economic growth, his deals with Abu Dhabi-based investment firms and the debt relief granted by the IMF have not trickled down to the general population, which faces increasing poverty and inequality levels, particularly in urban areas. Though the new Kaléta dam, built by the Chinese, now provides steady electricity to the capital city, Conakry’s cafés and street corners burst with talk about an international complot behind Guinean politics. Fuelled by international investigations about mining company Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, which in 2008 had bribed its way to iron ore exploration rights in Guinea which it later sold for 2,5 billion US dollars—the double of Guinea’s annual budget that year—the impression hardens that democracy, as preached by donor institutions, bespeaks less the donors’ interest in political justice and the well-being of Guineans than a poorly veiled instrument to open up the country to foreign interests.

Doing politics in such a context is complex, which is why the peaceful demonstration and the positive exchange between the opposition and the government should have gotten at least some of the spotlight that is now exclusively directed towards the tragic, accidental death of Thierno Hamidou Diallo, a bystander, as if things always have to go wrong.

Joschka Philipps holds a PhD from the University of Basel. He has researched urban violence and social protest in Guinea and Uganda, topics discussed in his thesis Crystallizing Contention that he defended last week. Based in Conakry he is currently doing post-doctoral research.

1 Comment

  1. There’s a chance that some people just don’t want the differences settled in peace.

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