Guinea: PM committed to 'free and fair' elections in December

Katy Gabel and Brian Kennedy
Washington, D.C.

Guinea's recently appointed Prime Minister, Lansana Kouyaté, has committed himself to holding "free and fair" elections in December this year, but has stressed the international community has an important role to play in facilitating them.

In a wide-ranging interview with during his first official visit to Washington, DC last week, Kouyaté said his country did not even have the necessary buildings from which local election officials could work. "Immediately," he said, "we need money."

Kouyaté also discussed issues including his relationship with President Lansana Conté, his handling of discontent in the army, his efforts to combat corruption and his response to past human rights abuses.

Conté was forced to appoint Kouyaté as prime minister on February 26 in response to nationwide strikes, led by labor unions, which paralyzed the country. In January and February, tens of thousands of Guineans protested in the streets, and more than 100 were killed and hundreds more injured when police opened fire on demonstrators. Kouyaté was one of four names on a list of candidates approved by the unions.

Discussing the prerequisites for credible elections, he told allAfrica that administration in the countryside was "non-existent," adding: "All of the infrastructure ... has been destroyed during the turmoil period.... We have to rebuild all this before December, so elections can take place very safely and in total transparency."

In May, soldiers mutinied over low pay, at one time marching down the streets of Conakry, firing their weapons into the air. The government met their demands, but many questioned how the government could afford to pay the soldiers. Kouyaté said in the interview that there would be no increase in the military budget but that pay increases would be covered by scaling back other army spending.

Kouyaté also stressed the need to revitalize the country's economy, noting that contracts with companies such as Hyperdynamics, an offshore oil and gas company, are being explored. However, he said, such contracts must benefit all Guineans: "You cannot do that without giving priority to justice - precisely, social justice. To give people [the knowledge] that they are not abandoned."

Kouyaté said a meeting with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during his visit had gone very well.

"I did not know she was very aware of the situation in Guinea," he said. "She was following it personally. For me, it was a good surprise." He said Rice promised a "total commitment" to the elections.

Kouyaté also met with officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The IMF had decided to renew Guinea's program, he said, which had been stopped "a long time ago."

The World Bank is sponsoring a donor meeting in Paris on July 23 for Guinea. Kouyaté said the bank was also sending a delegation to Guinea to tackle electricity and water problems.