UNCLAS CONAKRY 000434
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ELAB PINS EAID GV
SUBJECT: Kankan: History Destroyed, Uncertain Future
Â¶1. (U) Summary. Kankan, Guinea's second largest city, is still
reeling from the violence and destruction unleashed during the
strike and state of siege earlier this year. The fact that it is a
traditional stronghold of opposition party Rally for the Guinean
People (RPG), led by Alpha Conde, did not spare it from damage. In
February, the disgruntled population set fire to Kankan's public
archive, destroying colonial records dating back to 1891 and all the
administrative records from the region. More than 100 prisoners
were "liberated," and there is nothing left in the offices of the
governor, prefect, or mayor.
Â¶2. (U) On April 3, university students began a strike to demand
better teaching standards, facilities, and resources for more than
6,000 students at Julius Nyerere University. Although students
returned to their classes on April 17, life in Kankan "will never be
the same." In the aftermath of Guinea's political upheaval,
reconstruction and reconciliation have become the priorities, but in
Kankan as in many other cities in the interior, there are few
resources and no plan for where to begin this process. End Summary.
Our History Up in Flames
Â¶3. (U) An important site in the colonial history of Guinea, Kankan
is Guinea's second largest city. Located approximately 900 km from
Conakry, it is the regional capital of Upper Guinea. In the early
1990s when Guinea began its experiment with multi-party democracy,
the majority Malinke area became a stronghold of the opposition
party Rally for the Guinean People (RPG), led by Alpha Conde. In
the local and municipal elections of December 2005, RPG regained
control of Kankan and all of the 26 elected officials represent
opposition parties. However, its proud history and political
orientation were not enough to protect Kankan from the furor
unleashed during the strike and state of siege at the beginning of
this year. On a trip to the city April 11-13, Poloff witnessed the
aftermath of the violence, efforts at reconciliation, and a
population that is unclear as to how it will be able to rebuild a
more positive future.
Â¶4. (SBU) Violent protests erupted in Kankan on February 9, the day
that President Conte named Former Minister of Presidential Affairs
and close political ally Eugene Camara to the post of Prime
Minister. Mayor Fatoumata Maty told Poloff this appointment was a
"direct provocation." She noted that all of the damage occurred on
February 10 and 11, most of it carried out by crowds of youth, the
majority under the age of 20, who "only have known the regime of
Lansana Conte." Rioters descended on all the symbols of state power
in Kankan. They began at the prefecture, sacking and looting the
building before they set it aflame. Moving next door in the same
compound, they did the same to the mayor's office before targeting
the governor's office. Maty said that both the prefect and the
governor, concerned only about their personal well-being, went into
hiding with their families at the military camp.
Â¶5. (SBU) There is absolutely nothing left in the buildings that
once housed the appointed and elected government representatives.
All of the computers, furnishings, books and records -- even
railings and the glass from the windows and railings -- are gone.
Ahmadou Bailo Diallo, General Secretary of Decentralized
Collectivities (and the number two at the prefecture), recounted
that "they descended on the prefecture, taking everything they could
and then destroying the rest." Diallo said the state archives
housed there, including colonial records dating back to 1891, did
not burn easily. To finish the job, a group of youth returned to
the site with gasoline which they used to set ablaze all of the
official correspondence between France and its colonial outpost, the
records during the independence struggle, and the administrative
documents from the region. The registries recording the births,
deaths, and marriages of the citizens of Kankan are all destroyed,
Diallo confirmed. He concluded, "They burned the proud history of
State Symbols and Administrators Have Disappeared
Â¶6. (SBU) The protesters did not discriminate on the basis of party,
ethnicity or status as elected or appointed official in their
violent rampage. They associated all state symbols and public goods
with the regime, seeing Eugene Camara's appointment as the final
straw, and violence as their only recourse.
Â¶7. (SBU) In addition to offices, the colonial residence of the
prefect, known as "the building of 100 windows" was completely
ruined. Kankan was completing its designation of the building as a
UNESCO historical landmark. Rioters also damaged or destroyed
several private properties, belonging to ministers and individuals
perceived to be close to the regime. The Office of the Treasury was
looted along with the pension payments to Kankan's retirees and
their family members. After eight months, these individuals have
yet to receive their allowances. The prison was also ransacked,
with residents "liberating" more than 100 prisoners. Authorities
have reviewed the losses, but have not made a final accounting.
Â¶8. (SBU) Representatives from all sectors of Kankan society agree
that the implementation of the state of siege was the only thing
that stopped the violence. Reflecting on its escalation, many
blamed the prefect and the governor, the only authorities who could
have called in the military to reinforce security forces overwhelmed
by the crowds. The Kankan military base, located just outside of
the city, houses thousands of troops. Colonel Diarra Camara, the
commanding officer of the Third Military Region of Kankan, told us
that without their orders, there was nothing he could do. Siafa
Beavogui, Cabinet Director of the Governor's Office, accepted some
responsibility for the outcome stating, "We saw it coming and let it
happen - we even helped it along." Most officials expressed the
common sentiment that change was needed, and unfortunately the
necessary cost was high.
Looking for Change at the Top
Â¶9. (SBU) On April 12, Poloff met with the majority of Kankan's 26
elected local counselors at the mayor's office, where the community
leaders arranged for a few chairs to be delivered. The day before,
Poloff met with the mayor under a mango tree outside the building -
she told us it where she conducts most official business since there
is nothing left in her office. The counselors were saddened by the
destruction of their administrative facilities, but especially by
the loss of the archives. They emphasized that what happened in
Kankan, was the same fate of cities across Guinea. It was not
caused by political, ethnic, or religious conflict, and not fueled
by external threat -- it was a result of an accumulation of
reprehensible behavior at all levels of the government. The
magnitude of the crisis was exacerbated because people took to the
streets at the same time the state was at its weakest, they said.
One commented, "We need this in our history to announce a new phase
of life - it was an obligatory passage." They also averred that
Guinea deserved kudos for resolving its own issues and not sinking
into the civil wars that have plagued its neighbors.
Â¶10. (SBU) Poloff asked if they felt that real change was possible
while the highest government official was still in power. The
counselors, the majority of whom represent the RPG opposition party,
responded that while they feel somewhat optimistic, fundamental
changes cannot occur until President Conte is removed from office.
"With Lansana Conte at the head, it will fail - guaranteed." They
wished openly that the "consensus government" was instead a
"government of transition". One stated, "Conte is asleep right now
and does not really know what has happened; once he wakes up and
finds out his hands are tied, he will strike back." There was
general consensus that Guinea will experience another wave of
violence before fundamental change occurs.
Trouble at the University
Â¶11. (SBU) Students at the University of Kankan were eager to ride
the wave of change and emulate the labor unions in social activism.
When the strike canceled classes, many students went home to wait
out the conflict. Those who remained in Kankan took part in
peaceful protest marches but denied any involvement in the violence
or property destruction, despite being goaded by Kankan youth to get
involved. It was in the aftermath of the strike that trouble
bubbled up at Julius Nyerere University. For months, student
leaders tried to meet with the university rector to address their
concerns but stated that they were rebuffed at every turn. On April
3, students went on strike to protest low educational standards,
poor living conditions, lack of resources, and the corruption of
Â¶12. (SBU) On April 11, Poloff met with three leaders of the student
unions who eloquently detailed their situation and their demands.
Active negotiations were taking place at the time of our visit,
mediated by the local civil society president, union leaders, and
Colonel Camara. Under the specter of a lost academic year, on April
12, student barricaded university entrances, administrative
buildings, and demanded a swift resolution. Just prior to this
turn of events, our visit to one of the dormitories at the center of
campus revealed deplorable conditions.
Â¶13. (SBU) The four-story structure houses more than 1,300 students
without electricity or an internal source of water. There were two
spigots at the front of the building where students retrieved water
for their daily needs. The morning of our visit, we found more than
50 students crowded in the courtyard, bathing, brushing their teeth,
washing clothes - all less than 200 yards from the university
rector, administrative offices, and classrooms. The larger dorm
rooms house more than 30 students on thin metal bunk beds squeezed
into a space that does not provide room for desks or personal
storage. Most students live from boxes, trunks, or suitcases
crammed under their beds. The students were eager to ensure that
Poloff witnessed their living situation, especially the bathrooms.
Â¶14. (SBU) Prior to our tour of the dormitory, Poloff made a
courtesy visit to the university rector and his administrative
staff. We encouraged them to continue the dialogue with the
students and to do everything in their power to reach a resolution.
These sentiments were echoed later that evening in a "family dinner"
Poloff hosted for Mayor Maty, Col. Camara, Emmanuel Felemou Bishop
of Kankan, union and civil society leaders, and the student leaders.
Kankan's leaders urged the students not to let the conflict drag on
because they would soon realize, as had the Conakry-based union
leaders, they could no longer control the actions of their
followers. The students promised to communicate these sentiments to
the entire student body. After an April 14-15 visit by newly
appointed Minister of Education Ousmane Souare, himself a labor
leader, students and university administrators reached an agreement.
On April 17, students resumed their classes.
Â¶15. (SBU) While the most recent crisis at the University of Kankan
has been resolved, the underlying issues facing the city have not.
In the aftermath of the political upheaval that marked the last few
months, residents in Kankan are still reeling from the effects.
There have been no town meetings to reconcile or resolve intense
sentiments that are just below the quiet demeanor of the majority of
the population. Many noted an up tick in crime as the "bandits"
released from the prisons take advantage of the relative absence of
security officers. The unemployed and out-of-school youth who
ransacked the state edifices have yet to be placed into productive
activities. All of the individuals with whom we met made a plea for
U.S. assistance of any kind to help them begin rebuilding efforts.
Without offices, equipment, or resources to work, officials have not
devised a coherent plan on where to begin. All agreed that
international partnerships would be necessary to help empower Kankan
its residents to leave the past behind and begin collectively to
build a new future.