Guinea general strike wins concessions

Issue 

A general strike that shook the African state of Guinea ended on February 27 with the appointment of a new prime minister acceptable to the trade unions and the political opposition.

The deal marked a retreat by Guinea's dictatorial President Lansana Conte, who first tried to crush the strike through martial law and repression that killed at least 250 people, according to opposition activists.

The agreement — brokered by former Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida, a US ally — installed Lansana Kouyate, a career diplomat, as prime minister. Nevertheless, the deal falls short of the opposition's demand for the resignation of Conte, who first took power in a 1984 coup and continues to run the country of nearly 10 million people as his family's private fiefdom.

Economic demands also drove the strikes and protests. Rampant inflation pushed the cost of a 50 kilo bag of rice to US$17 — half the monthly pay of a civil servant and far out of the reach of the majority of the population who live on less than $1 per day.

The average wage in Guinea is $55 per month, and unemployment stands at 45%. Electricity is available just one day a week in most neighbourhoods in the capital of Conakry, and the infrastructure generally is collapsing.

Guinea, however, sits on incredible wealth. In a country about half the size of Oregon lies half the world's known reserves of bauxite, used in aluminum production; the third-biggest supply of gold and diamonds in Africa; and deposits of uranium — not to mention some of the finest agricultural land on the continent and possible oil deposits offshore.

These riches make Guinea a focus of what's been called the new scramble for Africa — bids by US, European and Chinese multinational corporations to grab strategic resources and carve out spheres of influence.

[Abridged from the US Socialist Worker. Visit .]