“We have had enough of false promises
” from the government, said one resident of the northwestern Guinean mining town of Boké, a sentiment shared by many of his countrymen. Long ruled by self-serving autocrats, members of this predominantly youthful society, angered by their lack of access to basic services like electricity, water, and education, have ramped up demonstrations against the central government in Conakry.
Despite its extensive reserves of bauxite—the ore from which aluminum is produced—Guinea, ranked 160 out of 177 countries in the United Nation’s Human Development Index, has long been plagued by underdevelopment and poverty. Pockets of protests have erupted throughout the country over the past two years, with the frequency increasing in recent weeks in response to high fuel prices and continuing lack of access to basic services such as water and electricity. President Lansana Conté has regularly dispatched state security forces to crack down on protesters, and these forces have murdered, raped, beaten, tortured, and unlawfully imprisoned unarmed demonstrators and bystanders. “There is a tremendous amount of frustration and anger in Guinea,” Corrine Dufka, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times. “People protest to express that anger, and security forces respond with excessive force.”
Given Guinea’s very young age structure—46 percent of its population is younger than 15—violent suppression by the central government heightens the already-high risk that the country will devolve into civil war. According to Elizabeth Leahy in The Shape of Things to Come: Why Age Structure Matters to a Safer, More Equitable World, presented at a 2007 Wilson Center event, Guinea, like other countries with very young age structures—including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Uganda—is three to four times more likely to experience civil conflict than countries with more balanced, mature age structures, like the United States. And with the global economic downturn expected to take a devastating toll on the developing world, Guinea may soon find itself embroiled in conflict if the government maintains its violent tactics and fails to provide the services Guineans need.
Photo: In the capital of Conakry, demonstrations fueled by lack of opportunity and civil services have continued unabated despite violent repression by the central government. Courtesy of flickr user martapiqs.