(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Ailing president in Switzerland for medical treatment

[Guinea] A wall mural of President Lansana Conte in the capital Conakry. [Date picture taken: 02/28/2006]
Sarah Simpson/IRIN

Guinean President Lansana Conte made an unscheduled “private trip” to Switzerland this weekend where the chronic diabetic who is in his 60s will also seek some medical attention, said aides.

“The president is making a private trip to Switzerland and while there he will take the opportunity of having a medical check-up,” said Sekou Konate, Secretary-General of Conte’s ruling party, the Party of Unity and Progress.

“It is not an evacuation, if that were the case then that would have been stated,” said Konate to underline that this was not a medical emergency.

In the small hours of Saturday, Conte boarded a plane for Geneva accompanied by one of his four wives and a handful of aides, including Health Minister Amara Cisse.

Conte has ruled Guinea for more than two decades, and with no heir apparent analysts have warned of possible instability or of a military takeover bid on his demise. Diplomats describe his style of governance as very personal, much like a chief might rule his village.

The health of the president has been of particular concern since he collapsed while overseas in 2002, and missions and trips abroad have since become a rarity for the reclusive president. Conte has been in office since a 1984 coup.

The Swiss government confirmed in a statement on Saturday that Conte had arrived in the country and would also be receiving medical treatment, but provided no details.

An official at the Guinean consulate in Geneva who asked not to be named told IRIN that Conte - who has not been seen walking without the aid of sticks for several years - was “running in the halls” but would likely undergo tests for three to four days.

Despite unrivalled natural resources in the region, including bauxite and iron ore, Guinea has made little economic progress in past years. Conakry, the seafront capital, lacks reliable mains electricity, running water or sewerage infrastructure, and residents complain conditions are steadily deteriorating.

Inflation is raging at around 30 percent, according to the IMF, and the Guinean Franc depreciates on a near-daily basis, so that even the lucky few who have a job are struggling to make ends meet.

An unprecedented general strike called by union leaders at the end of February brought normally bustling Conakry to a ghostly hush for an entire week and forced the government to promise civil servants a 30 percent pay rise and develop a new minimum wage.

Opposition politician Jean-Marie Dore, Secretary-General of the Union for the Progress of Guinea (UPG), told IRIN that Guineans were entitled to more information about their president’s true state of health.

“Under the law he must be in good health to exercise his function as president. When the head of state is affected by an unspecified life-threatening problem, health bulletins should be published,” said Dore. “Therefore I consider it illegal, absurd and inept that President Conte’s health remains a mystery.”

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