Viewing cable 07CONAKRY434
Title: Kankan: History Destroyed, Uncertain Future

07CONAKRY4342007-04-19 12:20:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Conakry

DE RUEHRY #0434/01 1091220
R 191220Z APR 07
E.O. 12958: N/A 
SUBJECT: Kankan: History Destroyed, Uncertain Future 
¶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. 
¶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 
¶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. 
¶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. 
¶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 
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State Symbols and Administrators Have Disappeared 
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¶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. 
¶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. 
¶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 
¶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. 
¶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 
¶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 
university officials. 
¶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. 
¶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. 
¶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. 
¶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.