afrol News, 29 January - As Guinean unions called off their successful general strike this weekend, citizens will closely watch whether ailing President Lansana Conté follows up on his reform promises. He is now to appoint a Prime Minister that will take over much of the President's powers. If reforms fail, Guineans are as eager as ever to stage another popular uprising.
The more than two-week general strike managed to cripple the nation totally, and even had world market prices of aluminium - Guinea's main export product - to climb significantly. Almost 60 persons were killed by security agents during the strike and the protests against the Conté regime, but protesters demonstrated an unheard of will to push for change until victory - something that finally led President Conté to the negotiation table.
President Conté on Friday agreed to cede some powers to a to-be-appointed Prime Minister, who is to take over the heading of government from the President. Unions and President Conté on Saturday finally reached an agreement, detailing the conditions for ending the strike.
Ibrahima Fofana, head of the USTG union, thus declared the general strike for ended. "The union association has decided to suspend the strike this Saturday, 27 January, and invites all Guineans to return to work," Mr Fofana said in a broadcasted message to Guineans
Not all details of the deal between unions and the presidency have been made public yet. But besides agreeing to cede some of the President's powers to a new PM, it was agreed on a stronger fight against corruption and the lowering of the prices of some key products, including fuel and rice - the main staple food in Guinea.
President Conté within short is to name a new Prime Minister, only in theory according to his own choice. Union leader this weekend made it clear they had clear ideas of which kind of government leader would be accepted by citizens. "He must be a civilian, he must be competent and honest, a patriot who loves Guinea and is prepared to serve it," union leader Fofana said.
Unions also want a word when it comes to the policies the new PM is implement. Fighting corruption will have to be of utmost importance in a country that is termed the world's most corrupt in the latest report of Transparency International. Also, the government will have to focus on public services such as water and electricity supply, which have totally degenerated during the last decade.
There is little trust in ailing President Conté to solve these severe problems among the public. Since coming to power in a 1984 coup, Mr Conté has slowly improved the human rights situation in Guinea and somewhat opened up for a democratisation process. In his early years, the run-down economy also improved as private initiative was allowed
But President Conté has never allowed for real reforms, neither when it comes to democratisation or economic reforms. As a consequence, no well organised opposition has emerged in Guinea, the country has slid into rampant corruption and no major investments have made in the run-down infrastructure.
With President Conté suffering from diabetes and an unknown heart disease, he has been mostly unable to run government during the last five years, let alone driving new reform initiatives. At the same time, however, he has still concentrated all powers in his hands, being President, head of the armed forces and chief of government. The last PM was sacked in April 2006, and President Conté has taken over his powers.
It remains to be seen whether the naming of a new PM will be able to control popular anger, which is growing more than ever before. Analysts agree that the popular support for radical change demonstrated during the strike marks a new threshold in Guinean history, which could lead to repeated action and the fall of President Conté if real changes are not seen quickly.
Guinea holds half of the world's bauxite resources, gold and diamond ores and enough waterways to provide itself and neighbouring countries with electricity. But the country is rather falling apart to corruption. Many parts of Conakry have not been provided with water or electricity for years due to the lack of investments and maintenance.
The only popular force in the country now is the trade union movement, which has managed to stage several general strikes during the last few years. The two main unions, which have united their forces in the political fight, also count on the support of the global union movement, such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
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