Guinea’s union leaders on Tuesday once again suspended a nationwide strike after President Lansana Conte agreed to appoint a new prime minister approved by civil society.
Tuesday’s suspension follows two months of unprecedented anti-Conte protests in the capital, Conakry, and towns and cities throughout the country that left over 100 people dead and hundreds more injured, raising fears that the country could follow its neighbours Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire and slip into civil war.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in January and early February. They first demanded that Conte relinquish some of his powers to an independent prime minister and then called for his resignation after he appointed a close ally instead.
The new appointee, chosen from a list of four candidates proposed by civil society leaders in Guinea, is Lansana Kouyate, a former Guinean ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Until 2002 he was executive secretary of the West African regional body ECOWAS.
“I welcome this appointment favourably,” Kouyate told IRIN by telephone from Côte d’Ivoire on Tuesday morning before leaving for Conakry. “It is a heavy burden that we will carry together to lift Guinea out of the situation it currently finds itself in.”
Former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, was removed by presidential decree in April last year. The premier’s post was vacant until Eugene Camara, Conte’s personal chief of staff, was briefly appointed in late January.
Diallo’s predecessor, Francois Fall, resigned while visiting France where he sought exile, complaining of corruption in the government and saying that his position as prime minister was repeatedly compromised by President Conte.
According to civil society leaders, Kouyate is expected to serve with more independence and autonomy than other prime ministers.
After the unions suspended the strike most shops, restaurants and government offices were open for business in Conakry on Tuesday, with long lines forming outside banks.
Guinea’s only two independent radio stations remained off the air on Tuesday after being closed down by the army during martial law last week.
Kouyate’s appointment followed several meetings between Conte and senior ECOWAS envoys, and with the UN Secretary-General’s special representative for West Africa.
ECOWAS announced on Tuesday that it would set up a permanent liaison office in Conakry and appoint an official to “accompany Guineans in the implementation of reform”.
"I am very pleased that President Conte kept his word to appoint a prime minister from the list provided by the Unions," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, current ECOWAS executive secretary.
"Kouyate is a diplomat of good reputation and he deserves to be given a chance to help Guineans by undertaking political reforms with the support of the international community," said Chambas, speaking in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions